Keeping Score: Hot stove digest

Published: 2/19/2021 5:58:13 PM
Modified: 2/19/2021 10:17:01 PM

Good morning!
On a cold February day in 1964, Bob Kieras paid 69 cents for a No. 457 Scrap Book, took it home and started clipping spring training stories out of the Springfield Union.

Kieras found it while he was cleaning out the attic and put it in the mail. “I turned 12 in July that year, and my passion for the Red Sox was so great, we rooted for them no matter how bad they were.”

They were bad for many years, but we didn’t know how good we had it until the advent of $100 ticket prices.

I opened the front cover and saw in large black letters: “Boston Red Soxes 1964, Bobby Kieras.”

The press clippings, photographs and exhibition schedules had been Scotch taped onto heavy stock paper. The first, dated Feb. 24, was headlined Dick Radatz Doesn’t Want Starter Role. Radatz stood 6-foot-6, weighed 230 pounds and was nicknamed the Monster.

Fireman Dick Radatz says he doesn’t want to be a starting pitcher — he doesn’t think he has enough pitches. “Frankly,” said Radatz, “I told Johnny (Pesky) I thought the percentages would be all against me. I have only two pitches, a fastball and a slider.”

Radatz terrorized right-handed hitters with a sidearmer that broke waist high over the middle of the plate. His Little League double was a kid from Hatfield named Harry Pilvinis. Harry pitched sidearm and struck me out every time I faced him. Fathers stood behind the backstop and urged me to “Bunt! Bunt!” but there was no way I’d turn to face his pitches and get wood on the ball.

The Red Sox trained in Scottsdale, Arizona, and as the desert days rolled by, Pesky provided updates. He told reporters he was happy that pitcher Gene Conley “wasn’t pushing the ball.”

Conley won 91 games in 11 MLB seasons and played six seasons in the NBA including three with the Celtics.

He was a genial and soft spoken Okie from Muskogee whom I met when I was 11 years old. My parents had taken me to watch the Red Sox play the Yankees and we stayed at the Commodore Hotel.

He was pitching that night and had autographed my baseball outside the team bus. It was July 26, 1962, according to baseball-reference.com, and Conley was pitching against Jim Bouton. The Yankees worked him over for eight runs in three innings. Back at the hotel, I saw him walking up the lobby stairs. “Tough game,” I said, or words to that effect.

He lowered his head for a moment, said he just didn’t have it, and asked if I was going to the game the next night. No, I said we were going home.

“Let me know if you need tickets,” he said.

It killed me not being able to accept tickets from a Red Sox player.

Kieras’ scrapbook included a clipping about pitcher Jack Lamabe, whose red face garnered him the unenviable nickname “Tomatoes.” Lamabe had permission to arrive a day late so he could finish his exams at Springfield College.

The same story mentioned that former manager Mike “Pinky” Higgins was robbed while he was sleeping and that the burglar had made off with $490 from his hotel drawer.

Midway through the exhibition season the Red Sox were 3-11 and the headlines had become alarmingly consistent: Cubs Land on Monbouquette for Four Runs; Sox Hurlers Belted in Loss; Giants Down Bosox, Boston Drops Fourth Straight. 

The team got a reprieve when Ted Williams came to town. Williams retired after the 1960 season after hitting 521 home runs and batting a career .344. He strolled into camp like an old gunslinger, fresh off fishing trips to New Zealand and the Fiji Islands.

He told the press he liked two rookies, a 19-year-old outfielder from Revere named Tony Conigliaro, and a 20-year-old power hitting shortstop from Brooklyn named Rico Petrocelli. “Italian boys seem to mature faster than others,” said The Kid.

The Red Sox were coming off their fifth straight losing season, and in Boston GM Dick O’Connell was asked what he was doing to improve the team: “Constant prayer and laying sod,” he said, referring to Fenway Park’s playing field that had been ripped up “by the cleats of American Football League players during the 1963 Boston Patriots home season.”

The relentless Boston press corps pressured defending batting champ Carl Yastrzemski to get his average up from the .323 hit hit in ’63 to around .350. “The main thing I have to conquer is the long slump,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll go 2-for-30 or 2-for-40. I usually have about two slumps a year.”

Yastrzemski was another I’d spotted inside the Commodore Hotel. He was walking across the lobby and I rushed up behind him and held up a baseball for him to sign.

He never broke stride or stopped reading a letter he was holding with both hands. “Bug off, son,” he said.

Win some, lose some.

Spring training wound down and the Red Sox began to pack for the trip north. The press had come, watched and rendered its verdict: “Red Sox Still Team with Big Problems.”

Opening Day was April 17 at Yankee Stadium, Bill Monbouquette against Whitey Ford on a soaked field and chilly afternoon in front of a sparse crowd of 12,709 fans. Keiras, like all fans, was psyched. “Still too young to be chasing girls. Opening Day was a big celebration.”

The Red Sox won, 4-3, in 11 innings. Ford threw a complete game, Yastrzemski threw out Joe Pepitone at third base and Radatz blew the save but got the win.

Pesky had kept Eddie Bressoud at shortstop and sent Petrocelli to Triple-A Louisville. Conley never pitched again. He was injured and released four days after the season started. Conigliaro hit 24 home runs. Yastrzemski batted .289 and led the majors in double plays with 30.

The Red Sox averaged 10,906 fans a game at Fenway Park. They finished 18 games under .500 and 27 games behind the first place Yankees.

Kieras would have to wait three more years until the Impossible Dream season, but by then he’d be almost 16 and off chasing girls.

SQUIBBERS: All you need to know about this year’s Red Sox is that their biggest offseason move was getting a West Coast guy named Kiké. … Long before he was traded, Chaim Bloom said of Andrew Benintendi: “A great rookie year and we haven’t seen the same guy.” … Jon Wertheim’s ode to late columnist Pete Axthelm mentioned his penchant for hanging around Aqueduct. “You gotta make at least one bet everyday,” he’d say, “or else you don’t know if you’re walking around lucky.” … Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinator at Jacksonville, Joe Cullen, played nose tackle for Jim Reid at UMass. “Definition of intensity but class, loud but encouraging, demanding but caring,” writes Reid. … Bucs defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. laughed off the $7,815 fine he got for giving Tyreek Hill the peace sign in the Super Bowl. “It was only right. When we played (in the regular season) he back-flipped in front of my face and gave me the peace sign.” … After a 24-day layoff No. 10 UMass (11-5-3) will hit the ice at No. 15 Providence (9-6-4) on Tuesday. The two teams have played to a standoff this season, 0-0 in Amherst and 1-1 at Providence. … The February doldrums: FS2 is airing repeats of last year’s Westminster Dog Show. (Spoiler alert: Siba the Standard Poodle wins Best in Show.) … John McClain, the Houston Chronicle’s longtime beat writer, on  JJ Watt: “Nobody did more for his community than JJ Watt.” McClain says Nick Caserio, former Pats player development director and current Texans GM, will cut or trade half the team. The big question is what to do with disgruntled QB Deshaun Watson. … The MLB Network’s Jim Duquette on the Nolan Arenado trade: “St. Louis has three top third base candidates and none came to Colorado? It makes no sense. Rockies fans should find another team.” … The Dixie Chicks are now the Chicks. Does that make the Dixie Cups the Cups? … Mandaloun won the Risen Star at the Fairgrounds on Saturday, and in a race within the race, Midnight Bourbon beat Sermononthemount . .… The Sandman was at Yankee Stadium last week, Mariano Rivera greeted people who were waiting for their COVID-19 vaccine. … Those two kids who were on the news this week for running around Fenway Park is the biggest non-story of the year. … There were 393,922 votes cast in the House of Reps race for Iowa’s 2nd District and the margin of victory was six votes. … Is it true Jack Jones named his boat Lunatic? … Happy 58th Birthday to the Round Mound of Rebound, Sir Charles Barkley.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at
chipjet95@yahoo.com


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