Ken Harrelson has this big thing for Boston, call it love. That’s why he has been stumping for the Patriots and a stadium.
The stadium, though, he says should be only for football. “I wouldn’t want to see anything change Fenway Park. It’s one of the classic baseball fields left in the country, like Yankee Stadium, Comiskey Park in Chicago. It’s a great thrill for me to play in parks like that. Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth built - that’s great.”
He doesn’t look back at Fenway Park’s past, though. He looks at it in the future, as a model for other parks. “It’s so damned intimate,” he said. “The people are able to sit close to the field and they become a part of the game. You can hear them and everything is so nice and friendly at Fenway.”
If baseball people are smart, he suggested, they’ll style their future fields after Fenway Park, with maybe a little larger seating capacity, but retaining the intimacy of a small field.
“It’s hard to put into words how I feel about Fenway Park and the Boston fans,” he said. “Everybody is so warm and friendly and they just took me in as part of the family. Maybe that’s what it is like to watch a game at Fenway Park, everybody belonging to one family.”
Harrelson’s romance with Boston began in 1967 when he told off Charlie O. Finley of the Kansas City A’s (now Oakland) and found himself a free agent. He was almost a nonentity then. He signed with the Red Sox and found himself caught up in the Impossible Dream.
“Maybe some of my love for Boston is a hangover from that Impossible Dream. That has to be part of it,” he said. “Everybody made me feel at home. I was part of it.”
Harrelson grew into the Hawk in Boston. He appealed to the young, to the feminine. Crowds related to him and he reacted with better baseball than anyone suspected he could play.
Remember all those glorious and frightening one-handed stabbing catches he used to make of fly balls in right field? And those big wings with the ball going up into the nets over the left field fence? That was in 1968 when he hit 35 home runs and led the league in runs batted in with 109.
The Hawk, you see, found himself that year - and Boston forever will hold a special place in his heart. “The sports fans here are the best in the world,” he says. “They can make an athlete react. Boston is a great city.”
The Hawk has taken up permanent residence in Brookline and conceded, “That’s something for a Southerner like me,” as he looked at the snow.
“I really didn’t want to see Boston lose the Patriots. I just think it’s bad for a community to lose a professional team in any sport. I think of the kids. They make pro athletes their heroes and that’s good. It’s good for a city to have a team to root for. Look at ‘67 when we - I mean the Red Sox - won the pennant. Everybody in town was crazy for them - I mean us.
“I’ll bet all the papers had an increase in circulation during the World Series. One paper, they tell me, printed 40,000 extra copies a day and sold them all. All the papers must have printed and sold more. I think it’s great when a city gets all wrapped up in a team like that. And I’d hate to see Boston with a professional football team.”
The other thing he’d hate to see is Boston without Fenway Park.
“Really,” he said, “Fenway Park is such a great ball park. I’d never want to see that changed. Remember, at the Boston baseball writers dinner, Frank Howard and Harmon Killebrew both said they like Fenway Park just the way it is. It’s a distinctive field. I feel the same way.”
And that’s not only because Harrelson, Killebrew and Howard delight in taking aim at the left field fence.
“Fenway Park is a part of baseball’s history,” said Harrelson. “You know, there’s talking about putting in snow fences of something like that to shorten Yankee Stadium. Well, I don’t want any of that. Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium should be left just as they are.”
He’s right about Fenway, you know - for being there is really twice the fun. Come on April 14, hurry up.