The Universal Notebook: Who’s on first?

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Baseball season couldn’t come soon enough this year. What with all the lousy winter weather and even worse political news, I crave the distraction of America’s pastime, the parallel pastoral reality of Major League Baseball.

In this highly partisan culture, even sports have become politicized. I found myself rooting for the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl, for example, because New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady were all Trump buddies. Like a lot of self-righteous hypocrites on the left, it was enough to know the Pats triumvirate were Trumpsters – I didn’t even bother to do the due diligence to figure out who Falcons owner Arthur Blank, coach Dan Quinn and QB Matt Ryan supported.

Turns out Matty Ice is a Democrat and Arthur Blank spoke out against Trump’s anti-immigrant policies during the Super Bowl. So I feel vindicated and justified in ditching the Pats for the Dirty Birds.

But some things are sacred, so I don’t really want to know who Red Sox principal owner John Henry supported. It’s enough to know he’s a registered D. Although I’d probably root for the Sox even if he weren’t.

My big question on Opening Day last week was not “Who did you vote for?” but “Who’s on first?” I thought it was supposed to be Hanley Ramirez, but it turned out to be a perfect stranger named Mitch Moreland? Seems the Sox signed the Texas Rangers Gold-Glover to a one-year deal when I wasn’t paying attention. Good thing they did, with Ramirez already nursing a sore shoulder.

When I first started following the Red Sox in the 1950s, the first basemen were Dick Gernet, then Pete Runnels and Vic Wertz. I was too young to see Walt Dropo play first for the Bosox from 1949-1952, but the first baseball glove I had as a kid was a Walt Dropo mitt.

Over the 116-year history of the franchise some 110 players have played first base for the Red Sox, and that doesn’t include David Ortiz, who doesn’t show up at first on the Red Sox all-time roster website. In my mind, the Red Sox first baseman will always be either a burly slugger like Big Papi and before him George Scott, Cecil Cooper and Mo Vaughan, or a weak-fielding guy like Dick “Stonefingers” Stuart or Bill “Five Hole” Buckner.

I can’t see Mitch Moreland sticking around for long. He’ll likely be a one-season wonder like Tony Clark (2002), Doug Mientkiewicz (2004), J.T. Snow (2006) and James Loney (2012).

Personally, I tend to identify the Sox each year by their outfielders. When I first became a fan, the Boston outfield consisted of Ted Williams in left, Jimmy Piersall in center and Jackie Jensen in right. That’s who I saw play in 1957 when I attended my first game at Fenway Park at age 8. And that’s who I still look for in the outfield every spring.

By the time the hapless Sox became miraculous contenders in 1967, Williams had been replaced in front of the Green Monster by Capt. Carl Yastrzemski, Piersall by Reggie Smith and Jensen by Tony Conigliaro. When they contended again in 1975, the outfield had gelled as Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans. After them there was the long, slow slide into 1990s oblivion when the starting outfield lineup might look something like Wil Cordero in left, Darren Bragg in center and Troy O’Leary in right. I know: Who were those guys?

When the Sox rebounded in the early years of the 21st century, it did so with Manny Ramirez in left, Johnny Damon in center and Trot Nixon in right. Now there was a trio of misfits – Manny Being Manny, Caveman and Dirt Dog. Add Gabe Kapler, aka The Hebrew Hammer, to spell Nixon in right and those were the self-described “idiots” who “cowboyed up” to break the Curse of the Bambino by sweeping the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series.

On Opening Day 2017, the starting Red Sox outfielders were the youthful Killer B’s – Andrew Benintendi in left, Jackie Bradley Jr. in center and Mookie Betts in right. I saw JBJ play for the Portland Sea Dogs in 2012, Betts in 2014 and Benintendi just last year. Benintendi still looks like a scrawny high school kid patrolling the outfield, but his three-run homer and run-saving catch in the opener made me think this kid might become the next Splendid Splinter.

Now I just have to get used to the Killer B’s doing their Win-Dance-Repeat celebration. Can’t quite imagine Williams, Piersall and Jensen dancing in shallow center after every win, but maybe they would have won more often if they had.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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