THEY ARE BACK – THE BOYS OF SUMMER – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Opening day at Fenway Park used to be my favorite day of my TV news career.

Fenway’s Opening Day in baseball!  I dodged murders, political scandals, and other mayhem for this special day. Baseball’s opening day is a rite of passage.

As a kid in the 1940’s Brooklyn, I’d devoured all the winter sports magazines which included predictions for the upcoming season and thumbnail breakdowns on players, including the “pheenoms,” prospects sure to be the next mega stars.

President Truman would throw out the first pitch for the old Washington Senators. Calvin Griffith’s bedraggled team — first in the heart of the nation, last in the American league.  Unless you were Mickey Vernon or Eddie Yost, there was little to root for as a Senator’s fan.

Cal Griffith and Connie Mack were the last of the patriarchal baseball owners who dated all the way back to the days of Ty Cobb, Cy Young and the “dead ball.”  I remember the grainy black and white images of these elderly men, dressed in turn of the century street clothes, patrolling their dugouts. Connie Mack managed his Philadelphia Athletics. In his white suit and straw hat, he was a throwback to baseball’s infancy.

You always saw Mr. Griffith and Mr. Mack on baseball’s opening day. They were the fabric of baseball.

In those days, I was preoccupied with the fortunes of my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. Every opening day signaled the beginning of what could be “our year.” A World Series championship. The defeat of our mortal enemies, The New York Yankees.  Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier the previous year and the Dodgers seemed poised to climb the mountain with young stalwarts like Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella and a veteran pitching staff. The “Bad Guys”, the Bronx Bombers lined up with Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer and an élite roster of all-star pitchers.

I would have to wait until 1955 before I could celebrate a BROOKLYN Dodgers World Championship. It would be the first and last for the faithful as our Bums abandoned us for the glitter and gold of  La La Land.

Fast forward through my love affair with Casey Stengel’s “Amazin’ Mets,” their “Ya gotta believe” World Series victory in 1969, and my transformation to a member of Red Sox nation.


Work relocated me to Boston in 1970. I found myself interviewing untested rookies including Carlton Fisk and Dwight “Dewey” Evans. When my status as a baseball maven was established, I leapfrogged over other TV News reporters in gaining access to players. TV reporters were still regarded with suspicion and a little scorn in many dugouts. Print “beat” reporters abhorred their electronic colleagues as “plastic, empty-headed no-nothings” and refused to share information.

Again, I triumphed with my stats and anecdote-filled repartee. Plus, I  had Polaroid pictures of myself with Mantle, Maris, Snider and other luminaries. I could swap John Wayne stories with Ted Williams, who was suitably impressed. The one-of-a-kind Red Sox icon Johnny Pesky, took a liking to me and would greet me at the Fenway players’ entrance. I’d get the latest clubhouse poop plus insight as to what the front office suits were doing. Johnny Pesky even offered to intervene when I was getting some static from my own suits. This was the backdrop for my assignments as opening day “color” reporter at Fenway Park for almost 31 years.

Ironically, the “Curse of the Bambino” would not be broken until after I retired. 2004. My 3rd year of retirement. That historic comeback of comebacks against the dreaded Yankees left me staring at the television with my mouth open.

This year’s opening day game at Fenway is now in the record books including a 3-run homer from rookie left fielder Andrew Benintendi.  A 5-3 interleague win against the Pittsburgh Pirates was just “okay.” Just okay because the bullpen was shaky. Since then, we are on a winning streak and we should be grateful because this may be as good as it gets. You can never be sure. Half the team has the flu, another chunk seems to need some kind of shoulder surgery. We live in hope, but know how it goes.

We watch. We wait. Our Boys of Summer are back — with great expectations — and one major difference.  There’ll be no more clutch home runs from the retired #34, “Big Papi.” Fenway will be a little quieter. On the field, in the dugout, and in the clubhouse.

So far, so good. Not perfect, but not bad. And it’s just the beginning of a very long season.

THE BOYS OF SUMMER ARE BACK – GARRY ARMSTRONG

This used to be my favorite day during my TV news career. Fenway’s Opening Day in baseball!  I dodged the murders, political scandals, and other mayhem for this special day. Baseball’s opening day is a rite of passage.

As a kid in the 1940’s Brooklyn, I’d devoured all the winter sports magazines which included predictions for the upcoming season and thumbnail breakdowns on players, including the “pheenoms,” prospects sure to be the next mega stars.

President Truman would throw out the first pitch for the old Washington Senators. Calvin Griffith’s bedraggled team — first in the heart of the nation, last in the American league.  Unless you were Mickey Vernon or Eddie Yost, there was little to root for as a Senator’s fan.

Cal Griffith and Connie Mack were the last of the patriarchal baseball owners who dated all the way back to the days of Ty Cobb, Cy Young and the “dead ball.”  I remember the grainy black and white images of these elderly men, dressed in turn of the century street clothes, patrolling their dugouts. Connie Mack managed his Philadelphia Athletics. In his white suit and straw hat, he was a throwback to baseball’s infancy.

You always saw Mr. Griffith and Mr. Mack on baseball’s opening day. They were the fabric of baseball.

In those days, I was preoccupied with the fortunes of my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. Every opening day signaled the beginning of what could be “our year.” A World Series championship. The defeat of our mortal enemies, The New York Yankees.  Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier the previous year and the Dodgers seemed poised to climb the mountain with young stalwarts like Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella and a veteran pitching staff. The “Bad Guys”, the Bronx Bombers lined up with Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer and an élite roster of all-star pitchers.

I would have to wait until 1955 before I could celebrate a BROOKLYN Dodgers World Championship. It would be the first and last for the faithful as our Bums abandoned us for the glitter and gold of  La La Land.

Fast forward through my love affair with Casey Stengel’s “Amazin’ Mets,” their “Ya gotta believe” World Series victory in 1969, and my transformation to a member of Red Sox nation.


Work relocated me to Boston in 1970. I found myself interviewing untested rookies including Carlton Fisk and Dwight “Dewey” Evans. When my status as a baseball maven was established, I leapfrogged over other TV News reporters in gaining access to players. TV reporters were still regarded with suspicion and a little scorn in many dugouts. Print “beat” reporters abhorred their electronic colleagues as “plastic, empty-headed no-nothings” and refused to share information.

Again, I triumphed with my stats and anecdote-filled repartee. Plus, I  had Polaroid pictures of myself with Mantle, Maris, Snider and other luminaries. I could swap John Wayne stories with Ted Williams, who was suitably impressed. The one-of-a-kind Red Sox icon Johnny Pesky, took a liking to me and would greet me at the Fenway players’ entrance. I’d get the latest clubhouse poop plus insight as to what the front office suits were doing. Johnny Pesky even offered to intervene when I was getting some static from my own suits. This was the backdrop for my assignments as opening day “color” reporter at Fenway Park for almost 31 years.

Ironically, the “Curse of the Bambino” would not be broken until after I retired. 2004. My 3rd year of retirement. That historic comeback of comebacks against the dreaded Yankees left me staring at the television with my mouth open.

This year’s opening day game at Fenway is now in the record books including a 3-run homer from rookie left fielder Andrew Benintendi.  A 5-3 interleague win against the Pittsburgh Pirates was just “okay.” Just okay because the bullpen was shaky.

Our Boys of Summer are back — with great expectations — and one major difference.  There’ll be no more clutch home runs from the retired #34, “Big Papi.”

Fenway may be a little quieter. On the field, in the dugout … and the clubhouse.

GOODBYE – BOYS OF SUMMER, 2015

They are celebrating in America’s heartland! The Kansas City Royals are the champs of baseball after defeating the New York Mets to win the World Series 4  games to 1.

The “Boys of Summer” finished the season in frigid football weather.

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The suits of Major League baseball need to rethink this scheduling thing. The faithful fans shivered even though decked out in mid-winter clothing. You could almost see the vapors as they cheered on their teams in “the fall classic”.

Yes, it’s all about money. It’s not about making the post season accessible for more teams. It’s about increased revenue for the networks carrying post season games.

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Cheers to the Royals for playing their splendid brand of contact baseball and winning it all with a modest payroll.

Cheers to the New York Mets for making it to the World Series with a rotation of marvelous young pitchers who hopefully will be around for years to come. It seems strange to peruse the New York sports sections and see little or no mention of the New York Yankees. Not that I mind …

A new order of parity prevails in baseball. Star-studded teams with mega contract rental “guns” are no longer guaranteed success.

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The Cubbies are still waiting for that Frank Capra ending. But they are no longer joke fodder. They have become legitimate, and relevant. Kudos to Theo Epstein and his young Turks who made magic in Boston and moved to Chicago to do it again. 2016 could be the long-awaited “next year” for generations of Cubs fans.

Here in Red Sox nation, we wait to see what will happen. We’ve been through the good, the bad, and the ugly in recent years. We need men. Maybe 7 men. Pitchers who throw hard and accurately.

Til then, we’re just drifting.

BYE BYE TO THE BOYS OF SUMMER

It’s almost over for 2015. Summer and baseball. The World Series is playing out … and football has begun.

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The Red Sox ended the season in last place. They perked up towards the end when the new kids were playing well, but it was too late to make a difference.

It wasn’t only a bad year. It was a humiliating, horrible season.

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We might as well laugh ’cause there’s no crying in baseball.

WHO’S ON FIRST – Abbot and Costello at their funniest. They used to run this at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. No longer, much to our chagrin. 

SEPTEMBER FANTASY BASEBALL

The Red Sox are playing the Phillies. Winning. They haven’t won often this year, compiling a record so awful I thought they had an unbreakable lock on last place in the American League East.

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I was wrong. They actually have been playing well enough — while other teams play badly enough — to possibly, maybe slide into fourth place before the season is over.

The Home Run

The Home Run

Such a warm, cozy thought that, as the quiet day continued, I got to drifting into fantasy, thinking … What if they just keep winning? And suddenly, it’s the end of September and they have the wild card spot. And they go on to win the series …

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It would leave the baseball world stunned. Probably leave Red Sox fans the most confounded of all …

I’m not saying it’s likely, but it could happen. Stop laughing. It could!

Garry’s Baseball Movie Picks

Summer will come. It’s already officially well into springtime. To me, this means baseball. Red Sox doing pretty well, so far. What could be better?

You guessed it. Baseball and movies, and especially movies about baseball that combine my two favorite pastimes. Put them together and I’m in heaven! I know it’s all subjective so here is my list of favorite baseball movies plus a few anecdotes.

FIELD OF DREAMS  — Perhaps the perfect film for a life-long baseball fan with memories of baseball “when the grass was green” and they had just 8 teams in each major league. For many years, I had the lineups of ALL the teams committed to memory. James Earl Jones’ monologue about baseball says it all for me and why it remains so dear to my heart.

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THE NATURAL — Robert Redford‘s Roy Hobbs is a sanitized version of the dark Bernard Malamud novel. But Redford who played college ball looks very natural (a welcome change from the awkward Hollywood baseball movies of the past) as the lefty hitter and southpaw pitcher. Hobbs is the reel version of real life baseball player, Eddie Waitkus who I remember from long ago. Redford has said he modelled his stance and swing after Boston Red Sox legend, Ted Williams. “Teddy Ballgame” who didn’t have an affinity for the media, took a liking to me and shared his feeling about movies in general. #9 liked John Wayne movies. So did I. We swapped anecdotes about time spent with “The Duke”. Asked about Redford’s Roy Hobbs, Williams said, “He’ll do”. I still get goose bumps every time Hobbs literally knocks out the stadium lights with his game winning hits.

Cover of "Bull Durham"

BULL DURHAM — Could easily be my number one baseball movie. It’s real, funny and well done. I spent time with our local Triple A team and can tell you “Bull Durham” is right on the mark, smack down to the clichés, the clichés notebook, the bus trips, the small town ball parks and the parallel lives of players ascending and descending as they focus on reaching “the show”. Kevin “Crash Davis” Costner was never better as the career minor league catcher who nurtures brash “wild thing” pitching prospect, Tim Robbins. And, yes, there are real life Susan Sarandons who also “nurture” players. You could look it up!!

PRIDE OF THE YANKEES — Yes, even if you’re not a Yankee fan, there is no way you cannot admire Lou Gehrig — the player and the man. And, there’s no way you cannot appreciate Gary Cooper’s performance as he breathes life into the baseball legend. Coop was a natural right-hander and they needed some photographic “magic” to transform him into the lefty hitting Gehrig. But Cooper captured Gehrig’s professional and private mannerisms. Ted Williams, who remembered Gehrig, said Gary Cooper got it “just right”. The closing scene of Coop/Gehrig walking into the dugout and into the darkening tunnel — is a classic.

MAJOR LEAGUE — Funny and endearing. Reminds me of Casey Stengel and his original lovable, bumbling “Amazin Mets”. The outcasts who become heroes never gets old. I still remember interviews with “The Ol’ Perfesser” extolling the ‘virtues’ of his hapless players like “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry and “Choo Choo” Coleman who would become the character types for the “Major League” comic baseball heroes. Art imitates life.

THE BAD NEWS BEARS — The original with Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal. This is another one that never gets old. It’s the Little League version of “Major League”. It resonates with me because of my hapless days as a kid playing on the street and in pickup games on local fields. I couldn’t hit and couldn’t field. But my imitation of my hero “Duke” Snider at the plate was pretty good.

61*  — Billy Crystal’s HBO movie and homage to his beloved N.Y. Yankees and their memorable 1961 season with the Mantle-Maris chase of Babe Ruth’s home run record. Again, I had the good fortune to interview Mantle and Maris — just a year later when the draining physical and mental effects of that legendary year were still very obvious.

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THE BOYS OF SUMMER — TV documentary of the beloved Brooklyn Dodgers of the 40’s and 50’s. It peaks with the “Bums” finally winning the World Series in 1955 after many, many years of losing to their nemesis, The Yankees. These were the heroes of my youth. The “Duke”, Campy, Pee Wee, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges and all the rest. I lived and died with victories and defeats. When the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles, a piece of me died. *One of the two biggest personal moments in my professional life was meeting my baseball hero, “Duke” Snider. He was in the twilight of his career but still had that sweet swing and classic jog. “The Boys of Summer” keeps my childhood memories alive.

BASEBALL  — Ken Burns multi-segment documentary on baseball. A historical TREASURE looking at the game from its birth, the parallel social environment as the game changed and evolved across decades and a century. It also arrived on the scene amid a baseball strike. Perfect timing for distraught fans!!

(*John Wayne was the other professional/personal highlight that tops a well-remembered list.)