Day by day with the Boston Red Sox
Twenty years ago, on July 5, 2002, Ted Williams died.
His passing was not unexpected as his health had been rapidly declining since undergoing complicated heart surgery late in 2000. Still, both The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald published special editions of their newspapers to announce the death. They were quickly snapped up by fans and collectors. We were inundated with stories of Williams's hitting prowess and memories of his colorful life. We were told practically everything we wanted to know about him. Except for one; there was no word on funeral arrangements.
That's because there would be no funeral.
As soon as he was pronounced dead his remains were secretly flown to Scottsdale, Arizona, and taken to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation where, to this day, they are stored, head and body separately, at a temperature of minus 312 degrees in the hope that one day medical science will be able to restore life.
It was left to the Red Sox to hold a celebration of his life, which took place that July 22 at Fenway Park. More than 20,000 fans were in attendance at the closest thing the great slugger ever had to a funeral or memorial service.
You might think that I'm a pretty smart guy, or at least an industrious one, for gathering all that information together, but the truth is that the smart, industrious one is Bill Nowlin, the prolific author and historian of all things Red Sox. One of his books is titled Day by Day with the Boston Red Sox, a chronological tabulation of every trade, player debut, birthday, and death in more than a century of Red Sox history. In addition, it contains brief recaps of games and events of special interest that took place on particular days. Nowlin didn't take any days off in assembling his list, either; it includes Christmas, New Years, and Thanksgiving, days not normally associated with baseball. On Thanksgiving Day, 2003, for example, Red Sox then General Manager Theo Epstein and CEO Larry Lucchino had dinner at the home of Curt Schilling in Arizona where they convinced the big righthander to sign with Red Sox. They'd have never broken "The Curse" without him. Did you know that Patsy Donovan died on Christmas Day, 1953? "Who was Patsy Donovan" and "why should we care," you're probably wondering. Donovan was a former manager of the Red Sox (1910-1911) and his close relationship with a Xaverian brother at the order's Baltimore institution for orphans was a key in the Red Sox signing of Babe Ruth. All that and much, much more is at your fingertips in Day by Day. It's one of my most valued possessions, and it's great fun to read.
The other day, while checking the pages of Day by Day in search of more details surrounding Williams's July 5th death, I began idly looking for other things of interest that happened in July. Sure enough, there was an item that on July 1st, 1949 Ted Williams (who else?) began a streak of reaching base safely which did not end until the following September 28th, a total of 84 consecutive games in which he was on base with either a hit or a base on balls, an all-time record that has never been seriously challenged.
In doing so, he broke the existing record of 74, set in 1941 and held by his long-time rival Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio's iconic 56 game hitting streak was a part of the longer one. Williams himself had almost surpassed DiMaggio later in '41 and extending into the 1942 season when he reached base safely in 73 straight games. Other than that, no one else in the history of baseball has ever compiled an on-base streak longer than 60 games.
It seems safe to predict that Williams's record will never be broken.
It was a monumental achievement, but it is puzzling why it is so lightly-regarded. It isn't even listed among Williams's greatest feats of derring-do. There is his .406 batting average in 1941, his home run in his last at bat in 1960 (also on September 28), his two triple crowns in '42 and '47, and his six batting titles, but you never hear his consecutive games on base streak mentioned. It should be ranked as one of his greatest accomplishments.
Just as Day by Day with the Boston Red Sox is one of Bill Nowlin's greatest accomplishments. When one takes into account the amount of information it contains, the total is staggering. Added to that the fact that Nowlin has made it interesting and even entertaining is to a life-long Red Sox fan like myself, mind-boggling. Nowlin has written, co-written, or edited countless books, most of them about the Red Sox and many of those are about Ted Williams in particular. His titles about Ted include Ted Williams: A Splendid Life, Ted Williams: A Tribute, Ted Williams:The Pursuit of Perfection, and The Kid, Ted Williams in San Diego. Nowlin has also written the definitive biography of Tom Yawkey, the late Red Sox owner in which he found no evidence of Yawkey ever acting or speaking in a racist manner, but that he did nothing to stop his lieutenants from doing so.
If there is one complaint I have, it's that Day by Day was published back in 2006, and since then the Red Sox have won three World Series, suffered a collapse (in 2011) of biblical proportions, signed and developed a player (Mookie Betts) who became so good that they decided they couldn't pay him what he was worth and traded him away, and seem hell-bent on doing the same with Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. Nowlin could spend full-time just updating his book.
Its publisher, Rounder Books, a division of Rounder Records, of which Nowlin was one of the founders, is no longer active in business. Rounder Records releases have won more than 50 Grammy Awards in the fields of folk, blue grass, gospel, polka, and world music. Ir was acquired by Concord Records several years ago, and for all I know, Day by Day is out of print, but if you love Red Sox history and you ever get the chance, grab a copy. You'll be thanking me for years.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.