SHREWSBURY — She has watched Ted shoot pigeons at Fenway. Heard the sickening sound of the fastball that crushed Tony C’s cheekbone. Hung out with the DiMaggio brothers. And written letters for an appreciative Yaz.
As personal secretary for longtime Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey and general manager Dick O’Connell, Mary Trank was the gatekeeper to power at Fenway Park from 1946 through 1976.
Trank was summoned to the mental hospital by Jimmy Piersall after his nervous breakdown, and Johnny Pesky confided in her about whether or not he held the ball in the 1946 World Series.
There is something about Mary that everyone loves.
“She was a happy person, always joking, she was just enjoyable to be around, such a wonderful personality,” says former Red Sox pitcher Bill Monbouquette, who won 20 games in 1963.
A 1958 Boston Globe feature called her a “vivacious sparkplug.”
The still-elegant Trank was born in August 1920 just days before the 19th Amendment passed, giving women the right to vote. That is apropos, because Mary Trank has an opinion about all things Red Sox.
Now 92 and in an assisted-living retirement community, she still has as much edge to her as a Clay Buchholz cut fastball, but she doesn’t flaunt her past with the other guests.
“Nobody knows who I am,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t wave a flag around saying I knew Ted Williams.”
Truth be told, she says, Teddy Ballgame was often misunderstood.
“You know, people didn’t really know him,” says Trank. “He was never the brash, hard-speaking person that he appeared to be. He wasn’t conceited at all.”
Williams used to trust her with matters of the heart.
“He used to give me all the girls’ letters to read,” she says. “I don’t know if I was supposed to OK them or veto them. Oh my Lord.”
She pulls a thank you note from Williams out of a cardboard box. The note, typewritten and hand-signed, reads:
“Thanks for sending along the cards. You are absolutely right, this girl is nuts and I hope harmless. She has written me all kinds of garbage the last 15 years and I have talked to her once over the phone. After she started her conversation it continued for one hour without letting me get a word in. And you know if they can do that, they have to be able to gab. In any event I’m glad you are alerted to her. Best to everyone up there,
“As always, Ted.”
Trank still remembers the day Yawkey and Williams grabbed shotguns and went pigeon shooting in Friendly Fenway.
“Oh yes,” says Trank. “It was crazy, crazy. There was nobody there.
“I would be underground. I don’t know how Yawkey could shoot but Ted would be all right. It was really funny. ‘Do I have the next shot?’ Pow.”
Trank doesn’t duck any questions, either.
Throughout the years, there have been persistent charges that Yawkey was a racist.
“Oh, no,” she says emphatically. “I personally do not think he was. I never saw that in him.”
Trank has not seen the movie “42” (her mobility is limited) but she doesn’t think Yawkey should shoulder the blame for the Red Sox being the last major league team to add an African-American player (Pumpsie Green in 1959) — more than 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.
“The more you bring up a subject like that, the more unfair it would be,” she says. “I wouldn’t say he never made a remark about it but he wouldn’t do it in front of me.”
She never heard him utter the N-word.
“Never. Never,” she says. “I never heard him say it. Maybe he was careful in things he said to me, but I never heard him say, ‘Don’t get that guy because he’s black.’
“He never did interfere with anything. He would say [to his general manager], ‘If you think that’s what we need, do it.’ ”
Few people really knew Yawkey, she says.
“He’d go right from his office, right down the ramp, into the wagon they had for him, and then right to the [Ritz-Carlton] hotel,” she says. “You wouldn’t see him till the morning. He never went out in the hotel to dinner, he always had dinner brought to his suite.”
Yawkey was comfortable in his own skin, sometimes sitting around Fenway with his feet up on a desk, Trank says.
“Some guys tried to be big deals to make an impression,” she says. “He was never like that.”
She had no use for Mrs. Yawkey, though.
“She was an absolute horror,” she says. “She was the biggest nothing. She just wanted his money. I didn’t like her at all.”
Names from the past
Trank didn’t date ballplayers and always tried to be nice to children.
While living in a close-knit neighborhood in Waltham in the mid 1950s, she saw a neighborhood kid throwing the same dirty rubber ball against his house, over and over.
“I thought, ‘I’ve got to help this kid out,’ ” says Trank. “I asked him if he wanted some real baseballs.”
She returned with a bag of slightly used batting practice baseballs from Fenway Park — shiny pearls to a wide-eyed kid.
“Mary Trank used to bring me baseballs that Ted hit,” says Roger Berkowitz, now CEO of Legal Sea Foods. “Of course, me, like an idiot, played with them and lost them all.”
Nearly a half-century later, at a neighborhood reunion, Berkowitz asked Trank if the Red Sox should re-sign Pedro Martinez, who was looking for a long-term contract at the time. Her answer astounded him.
“You know,” she said in 2004, “good guy, can’t sign him long term, though. Two years max. Look at the way he’s built. He will never be able to sustain that kind of torque without breaking down.”
Trank was spot-on. After a 15-win season with the Mets in his first year (2005), Martinez was indeed plagued by injuries for the rest of his career.
“She blew me away,” says Berkowitz, who still visits Trank in her home.
One of her bosses, former Sox general manager Dick O’Connell, trusted her to pick out a house for him in Belmont. He bought it sight unseen.
Red Sox historian Dick Bresciani remembers Trank as “strong-willed.”
“Mary was quite a woman and an important part of the Red Sox organization,” he wrote in an e-mail.
In his landmark book, “Fear Strikes Out,” Piersall gives a shout-out to Trank for visiting him at Westborough State Hospital.
“Everyone liked Mary,” he wrote.
Trank remembers arriving at the hospital and seeing no one but hearing the sound of a baseball hitting the trees.
“I said, ‘Drop that ball or I’m not walking on that field,’ ” she remembers. “So he did. He was a hot ticket.”
She was also friends with Red Auerbach and several of the Celtics.
“Kevin Connors, remember him?” she says, sifting though her box of memories and pulling out a 1948 postcard from Chicago.
Most people know Connors by his nickname, Chuck. He was “The Rifleman” in a popular TV series and had brief careers in pro basketball and major league baseball.
On the postcard, Connors has written, “Bad trip so far. We play Chicago tonight, root us on, boys feel low, low in spirits, see you when we get home. Kevin.”
The card has a canceled 1-cent stamp on it.
“Where the hell was he when he mailed it, Kenmore Square?” Trank says with a laugh.
She loved Dominic DiMaggio, and visited him often on Cape Cod and in Florida. But she did not like his brother Joe.
“He was so dumb, he had no personality,” she says. “He was just there. He was so self-centered; you were digging to get some personality from him. He was awful, just awful. And Dominic was just the opposite.”
She was best friends with Johnny Pesky and his beloved wife, Ruthie. “I could start a sentence and she could finish it,” she says.
She once asked Pesky if it annoyed him that some people think he held the ball too long before making his relay throw in the 1946 World Series, allowing Enos Slaughter to dash home with the winning run.
“It’s funny, no, it didn’t bother him,” she says. “He said if you know yourself what happened, what difference does it make what some critic thinks?”
Three former Red Sox managers wrote her thank you notes after they left the team. She has no idea why Lou Boudreau, who lived in New Hampshire and liked to return to Fenway, sent her a $5,000 check before he died in 2001.
“Maybe it was only because I was nice to him,” she said.
Still tuning in
Some things still haunt Trank, like the Jack Hamilton fastball on Aug. 18, 1967, that broke Tony Conigliaro’s cheekbone, dislocated his jaw, and severely damaged his retina.
“You know what? I can still hear that sound of that pitch,” she says, shaking her head. “Oh, that was awful. The sound of that thing was terrible.”
She says baseball was different in Boston before the 1967 Impossible Dream season.
“Oh my God, you could go out behind home and whistle and somebody in center field can hear you,” she says. “It was terrible.”
Then came the career year for Lonborg, Yaz & Co., and things were never the same.
“Jim Lonborg, one of the nicest persons you will ever meet,” says Trank. “He was class with every move he made.”
During spring training in Winter Haven, Fla., she recalls that Carl Yastrzemski had to fight for privacy during dinner.
“He would find a place where there would be nobody around and he’d just go there alone and he’d have two or three drinks and that was it,” she says.
Trank still bleeds Red Sox red. Mention the name “Bucky Dent” and she moans, “Oh my God.”
She didn’t like last year’s team. Not one bit.
“Oh yeah, I’ve seen them go down the steps and they don’t speak, there’s no conversation,” she says.
She still watches games but has trouble finding them among the hundreds of cable TV stations.
“By the time you find the channel, it’s the seventh inning,” she says.
Recently, some of her items were auctioned off, unbeknownst to her. They included a 1975 telegram from Sen. Edward Kennedy to Tom Yawkey, a 1976 notice to all major league clubs detailing free agency, and a Red Sox airline bag with “M. Trank” written on it.
“That makes me angry,” she says. “That embarrasses me. I would never do that.”
But she still has her memories of her Red Sox family and a yellowing thank you note from a little girl she helped out a long, long time ago.
“This is more interesting to me than all the other crap,” she says.Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.