Sports Collectors Digest: Bean and the Cod

By Marty Appel

As Fenway Park approaches its 100th anniversary in 2012, I turned recently to a long forgotten book from 1947, which glorified the Red Sox franchise long before it became the darling of literary society and the focal point of a “Red Sox Nation” concept.

The book was called “The Red Sox: The Bean and the Cod,” and if you grew up in the ‘40s and ‘50s as a Red Sox fan, it was “must reading,” because there wasn’t much else.

But about that title….

The title would sound strange to those not from New England, but Cod and Bean are among the many dishes unique to the area’s menus. One supposes they were intended to be “feel good” things for Boston area readers, but “I have no idea what it means, it’s just a lousy title,” notes Al Silverman, 85, who grew up in New England and became a noted sportswriter himself. It would be like a book called “The Mets: Bagels and Pastrami.”

Perhaps the title was conceived by the publisher, Waverly House.

Written by Al Hirshberg, who later collaborated with Jimmy Piersall on “Fear Strikes Out,” it was essentially a history of Tom Yawkey’s 13 years as owner of the Sox, culminating in the team’s 1946 pennant – its’ first since the sale of Babe Ruth.

So joyous was Boston after its long awaited triumph that Hirshberg even got Ted Williams to write a foreword.

“I’m glad that Al Hirshberg is writing the story of the modern Red Sox,” he wrote, “for the modern Red Sox are my team, and I am proud to be a member of it….I hope it is the only major league team I will ever be with.”

The 220-page volume essentially begins with Yawkey’s 1933 purchase of the team from a group fronted by Bob Quinn, and the early pages cover Quinn’s purchase ten years earlier from Harry Frazee, who is already smothered in disdain by the author, and presumably by the fans.

“This was the club that Frazee had wrecked so thoroughly that there was nothing left but the privilege of representing Boston in the American League,” he writes, “plus a ball park which was groaning and grunting under the weight of the years, and thread by thread, was falling apart at the seams.

“The failure was not the fault of Bob Quinn…the glories of the past….would never have slipped away, except for Frazee’s willingness to present the New York Yankees with the great stars of the early ‘twenties, including a powerful young man with the face of a pixie and the legs of a ballet dancer whose name was Babe Ruth.”

Quinn is acknowledged by Hirshberg as helping with the book’s early accounts. Also getting a nod is his son John who was then the general manager of the Boston Braves.

The sale to Yawkey is described by Quinn as owing to the 1932 death of Palmer Winslow of Columbus, who provided the bulk of the capital to run the team in the ‘20s. Now the risk of running a losing operation would land on Winslow’s widow, and Quinn was not prepared to put her to that.

“He knew he would have no trouble finding a buyer,” wrote Hirshberg, (1909-73). (Boston was a magnificent baseball city. The fans there were starry-eyed and faithful. Year after year, they had lived in the same fool’s paradise as had Quinn.”

It was Eddie Collins who introduced Quinn to his friend Yawkey, described as a “hopeless baseball fan. He loved the game, and all his life, he had sneaked off to the ball park eery time he could. He was very young, very enthusiastic, and very wealthy…..a Yale graduate…not quite 30 years old.”

The book features wonderful portraits of Lefty Grove and Jimmie Foxx, with details provided by Connie Mack’s son Earle; of Joe Cronin and Collins and of course Williams, and of the ’46 team that finally got to the World Series, although they couldn’t get past the Cardinals and make it a world championship. Vintage ink sketches were provided by “Ferguson”, in the quaint style of the day.

Modern Boston writers have taken Yawkey to task for the slowness of integrating the team, and the current owners have certainly shown that there was a lot more potential in rehabbing Fenway than Yawkey may have realized. But “Bean and Cod” places him at a time when he was much admired, and that esteem tended to last until his death just after the nation’s bicentennial celebration of 1976.

This book is a celebration of a long-awaited pennant, done in the style of post-war America when everything seemed possible. Even, at long last, a pennant for the Red Sox.