April 13, 2005
Professor writes about Boston a city no longer 'darning' its Sox
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Boston's banner year in sports is cause for fans to look back at the blessings and curses that make this sports hub what it is today, said a Purdue University sports history expert.
"No town is richer in sports than Boston, and it's impossible to separate the city's history from sports," said Randy Roberts, a professor of history who has written or edited eight books on sports in America. "Even Boston's physical landscape is defined by the arenas and stadiums from Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon to the Green Monster, Fenway Park's enormous left field wall, and the Boston Garden arena.
"Plus the fans love their players, but it also drives them crazy when things do not go right."
Fortunately for those fans, things are going right.
The city's National Football League team, the New England Patriots, have won the last two Super Bowls, and its major league baseball team, the Red Sox, last fall won its first World Series in 86 years.
But Boston's love for sports was not there from the start, Roberts writes in his new book, "The Rock, the Curse and the Hub: A Random History of Boston Sports." The book, ($24.95) which was published this month by Harvard University press, is a series of essays Roberts edited on Boston sports, including baseball, basketball, boxing, running, crew, hockey and football.
During the colonial period, the city's Puritan founders frowned on sports because they questioned its purpose, Roberts said.
"Physical activity they could accept, but they believed everything should be done to serve God, and they didn't see the merit in sports for sports' sake," Roberts said. "Obviously, that changed, especially as other cultures immigrated to the area. In many ways, Boston's story becomes the American story more than New York or any other city. Who Americans are today has a lot to do with Boston's heritage."
Boston has always been a city divided between the rich and poor, as well as between race and ethnicity, Roberts said. But sports remain the common ground for everyone.
The book is named for Boston, which also is known as The Hub and Bean Town. The Rock refers to Rocky Marciano, an undefeated heavyweight boxing champion in the 1950s, and the curse refers to the 86 years the Red Sox did not win a World Series.
According to legend, the Red Sox dry spell was blamed on the "Curse of the Bambino," named for Babe Ruth, who was traded by the Red Sox to the archrival New York Yankees. Following the transaction, the Yankees went on to win 26 World Series while the Red Sox waited 86 years for a title.
Roberts' chapters are about Bruins hockey great Bobby Orr and the battle between Boston Celtics' Bill Russell and his rival Wilt Chamberlain from the Philadelphia 76ers.
"After watching and writing about numerous athletes in all kinds of sports, there are a number of athletic performers whom I admire, but Bobby Orr is more than just a spectacular athlete," Roberts said. "There is not much difference in how this athlete plays hockey and lives his life. He played with such intensity and great joy. Off the ice, he would consistently make appearances for charities and visit children's hospitals without publicizing his work."
A lot of the book is personal for Roberts, who is a Bruins, Red Sox and Celtics fan.
Russell and Chamberlain are the people who meant a great deal to Roberts during his youth. Roberts looks at one of the "titanic clashes" between these two players during the 1965 playoff series.
"This really isn't about the series as much as it's about the racial tensions in professional basketball and how the sport became more African-American dominated," Roberts said. "Russell and Chamberlain, who were both two of the best African-American players in the 1960s, dealt with such tensions as they set records that are still unbreakable today. Russell was the first African-American to coach a professional sports team, and Chamberlain is the only player to score 100 points in one professional game. Both were named most valuable players multiples times."
Of course, as a Boston sports fan, Roberts himself is not immune from a bit of superstition. His manuscript was going to be sent to the printer on the day of the Red Sox's fourth game with the New York Yankees. Boston was down three in the series, but the team rebounded to win the fourth game and the rest of the series.
"I called the publisher and said, 'Let's not send it off until the end of the series,'" Roberts said. "Of course, the team didn't lose another game en route to the series title."
Roberts also wrote a similar book on sports in Pittsburgh, called "Pittsburgh Sports: Stories from the Steel City." He also co-edited "The Steelers Reader," and has written books on boxers Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey, basketball player Oscar Robertson and actor John Wayne. He also co-authored a book on the prosecution of boxer Mike Tyson.
Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723, firstname.lastname@example.org
Randy Roberts, (765) 494-0040, email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; firstname.lastname@example.org
A publication-quality photo is available at http://ftp.purdue.edu/pub/uns/+2005/roberts-sports.jpg
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