“Like the Olmsted Emerald Necklace and Smuggler’s Notch and the Shelburne Museum, Dick Flavin is one of New England’s great and unique treasures, albeit one of the region’s most animated figures,” writes the legendary Boston sportswriter Peter Gammons. “He has been an Emmy Award–winning television reporter, journalist and satirist, and lo these last few years has become the Fenway Bard because of his poems and lyrics about New England’s Olde Towne Team, the Red Sox.
Many know Dick Flavin from his role as an award-winning political commentator on WBZ-TV, or from an earlier stint as press secretary for former Boston Mayor Kevin H. White. Born and bred in Quincy, where he lives to this day, Flavin is a graduate of Archbishop Williams High School and Stonehill College, He has also enjoyed a successful run as a playwright (“Tip,” the story of Speaker Thomas O’Neill,) and he remains a raconteur of the highest order.
But his first love is baseball, as played on the hallowed cathedral-like Back Bay grounds of Fenway Park. “His love of baseball and the Townies led him to friendships with Ted Williams, Dominic DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr, and his drive with DiMaggio and Pesky to visit Williams was captured in the late Dave Halberstam’s “The Teammates, “the journalist’s bestselling book.” He has written a volume of poesy about the trials and tribulations of Red Sox nation, and now the publishing house William Morrow, and imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, has gathered up some of his collected works in the pages of a 224-page book, “Red Sox Rhymes” published in July.
“When I was a kid in grammar school I discovered ‘Casey at the Bat,’ Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s immortal ballad about a star-crossed slugger, “ Flavin says in the book’s introduction. “Wow, I thought to myself, a poem about baseball. Wasn’t poetry supposed to be about the meaning of life, the moon and stars, that sort of thing? This, though, was about a game, one to which I was already addicted. I couldn’t get enough of “Casey.” Eventually I memorized the whole thing and would recite it at the slightest provocation…
“I took the road trip of a lifetime for any baseball fan, especially a Red Sox fan, driving by automobile from Massachusetts to Florida with Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky to spend three days visiting with their old teammate Ted Williams, who was gravely ill and in fact dying. There I was in Ted Williams’s living room with three mythic heroes of my boyhood. I had to do something to justify my presence. I decided to do a quick rewrite of “Casey at the Bat” and turned it into a story of the great post–World War II Red Sox teams when DiMaggio batted leadoff, Pesky hit second, and the great Williams batted third. I recited “Teddy at the Bat” before an audience of three old men, all of whom have since passed on.
Red Sox Rhymes: Verses and Curses
TEDDY AT THE BAT
(With Apologies to Ernest Lawrence Thayer)
The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Red Sox nine that day,
The score stood four to two with but one inning left to play.
So when Stephens died at first and Tebbetts did the same
A pallor wreathed the features of the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go, leaving there the rest
With the hope that springs eternal within the human breast.
They thought if only Teddy could get a whack at that.
They’d put even money now with Teddy at the bat.
But Dom preceded Teddy and Pesky was on deck.
The first of them was in a slump. The other was a wreck.
So on that stricken multitude a deathlike silence sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Teddy’s getting to the bat.
But Dom let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Pesky, of all people, tore the cover off the ball.
When the dust had lifted, and they saw what had occurred,
There was Johnny safe on second and Dominic on third.
Then from that gladdened multitude went up a joyous yell,
It rumbled in the mountains and rattled in the dell.
It struck upon the hillside and rebounded on the flat,
For Teddy, Teddy Ballgame, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Teddy’s manner as he stepped into his place,
There was pride in Teddy’s bearing and a smile on Teddy’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
(I’m making that part up)
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Teddy at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he wiped his hands with dirt,
Five thousand tongues applauded as he wiped them on his shirt.
Then when the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Teddy’s eyes, a sneer curled Teddy’s lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Teddy stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped.
“That ain’t my style,” said Teddy. “Strike one!” the umpire said.
From the benches black with people went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm waves on the stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” someone shouted on the stand,
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Teddy raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Teddy’s visage shone.
He stilled the rising tumult and bade the game go on.
He signaled the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew.
But Teddy still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two!”
“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and the echo answered, “Fraud.”
But one scornful look from Teddy and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Teddy wouldn’t let that ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Teddy’s lip; his teeth are clenched in hate.
He pounds with cruel vengeance his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Teddy’s blow.
Oh, somewhere in this land of ours the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout.
And they’re going wild at Fenway Park ’cause Teddy hit one out!
He wore number eight;
In the field and at bat,
My God, he was great.
He carried the load.
A player like that
Deserves his own ode.
But here is the rub.
Yastrzemski won’t rhyme
With any word I
Have been able to find.
I’ve lain awake nights,
I’ve done the research,
But found not one rhyme.
I’m left in the lurch.
There just is no rhyme
To go with Yastrzemski.
And take that from one
Who’s made the attempt-ski.
THE BEARDS OF SUMMER
In ’oh twelve the Red Sox wound up in last place.
They stunk, but they got themselves back in the race.
In ’thirteen they hit and they threw and they slid.
They won the World Series, that’s what those guys did.
They hustled, they bustled, they played hard, they gave.
In fact they did everything except shave.
In springtime, whenever someone hit a double,
You’d notice that on his face was some stubble.
When spring turned to summer there started a buzz.
The more times they won the more fuzz there was.
The season wore on and the pace became brisker;
They kept winning games, sometimes by a whisker.
By the time it was over (this sounds kind of weird),
Just about every guy had a beard.
So now we can say how they got all those wins.
They won by the hair on their chinny-chin-Chins