George Scott died last Sunday, word not reaching most of us until Monday, which in these times of near-instant conveyance of every itsy bit of pertinent information stands as a monumental interruption, if not total failure, of the news process.
Surely someone near and dear to the Boomer, or perhaps even the coroner, could have tweeted or blogged something the very moment he died. How were we kept out of the loop until, good grief, the next day?!
Scott, who was 69, was a simple, proud man with a prodigious appetite — for home runs and especially the postgame clubhouse buffet — and a propensity to fracture the language. One day in the late 1970s, upon his return to Boston after a stint with Milwaukee, a frustrated, straight-talking Scott noted the need to pick himself up off the “campus,’’ when he clearly meant “canvas.’’ In September of ’78, with the Sox having frittered away their massive lead over the Yankees in the standings, a proud Boomer professed, “Man, we’re not out of it until we’re mathematically laminated.’’
Those sound bites today would be aired ad nauseam, no doubt to the point of humiliation, on sports talk shows, both on radio and TV. But in those days, most media and fans accepted such malapropisms as delightful “Boomerisms.’’ By and large, we focused more on Scott the player and the large holes that too often cropped up in his bat rather than those divots that existed in his diction.
Although, it should be duly noted that perhaps the city’s hottest media act of the late ’70s, radio talk hosts Clif Keane and Larry Claflin, could be particularly crass when discussing Scott on their zany show on WITS. Scott, 18 when he entered pro ball, was an unrefined black Southerner who struck out a lot, which made him free game for Keane and Claflin barbs, with Keane at times pointedly exaggerating Scott’s love of chicken wings. The digs cut toward the marrow, but were widely accepted, which in retrospect makes them all the sadder for the many of us who heard them and remained silent, perhaps even laughed.
We were a different city then, in many ways, our political correctness yet to take shape. These were days, remember, only a few years into the highly contentious, court-mandated busing era that desegregated the Boston public school system. I logged my first shift as a copyboy at the Globe in February 1973, and it was only months later that large steel panels were hauled into the paper’s second-floor newsroom to shield the windows that faced the adjacent Southeast Expressway. Globe readers, some of them irate at the paper’s editorial support of busing, needed to be deterred from drive-by shootings at the mothership on Morrissey Boulevard.
Not exactly a time or culture for many to be outraged over a black man from Greenville, Miss., being prodded by a pair of white, aging sportswriters who posted big ratings on the radio.
For any Sox fan born before, say, 1962, Scott will be remembered most in Boston for his central role in the daily magic that was conjured up during the 1967 American League pennant race. Then only 23, he was one of the Cardiac Kids, a key member of the “Impossible Dream’ team that scrapped its way to Boston’s first pennant in 21 years.
One successful road trip in the thick of that season brought a brigade of some 10,000 delirious fans to greet the Sox upon their landing at Logan. It was a reception unheard of in its day, a city reawakened from its protracted hardball doldrums of the ’50s and post-Ted Williams ’60s. Carl Yastrzemski, the Triple-Crown-winning No. 3 hitter, and righthander Jim Lonborg, the staff ace and stopper, were the lead magicians.
But the nimble, free-swinging Scott was front and center, belting 19 homers, collecting 82 RBIs, and winning his first of eight Gold Gloves. Could he pick it. A third baseman for his four years in the minors, he soon switched to first base upon his arrival in Boston in ’66, and spent his entire career, despite his expanding girth, as an agile, magnificent, and all-but-flawless presence in the field.
More than just physically gifted, the 6-foot-2-inch Scott was instinctual, a gloved savant, consistently making the right play, being in the perfect position, be it setting up for a relay or backing up a base on a throw. Some players ultimately make the right play. Scott sensed the play before it happened, then executed it almost as an afterthought, at times even with stylish flair, as if to say, “Man, this one here deserves a little dressin’ up,’’ as he scooped a bad throw out of the dirt with a dazzling backhand snap of the leather.
Through it all, through 2,034 games and 8,269 trips to the plate, Scott swung for the fences. He cleared them 271 times and drove in 1,051 runs. He loved his “taters,” his word and his alone, for home runs. They are respectable power numbers, but by no means elite, considering that 173 major leaguers, some still active, have reached the 250-homer/1,000-RBI plateaus (hat tip to the Elias Sports Bureau’s Bob Waterman).
Truth is, Scott swung for the fences and too often whiffed, striking out 1,418 times, at times chasing bad pitches and looking clueless. Easy to say, but had he been able each week over his 14 seasons to swap just one of those strikeouts for a single, he would have finished with 336 more hits and his lifetime average would have soared from a pedestrian .268 to a sensational .313. Just one more strikeout a week traded for a single. At that point, he’s still not in the thick of Hall of Fame consideration, but the .313 and the eight Gold Gloves at least would merit a discussion.
The Boomer we should remember was fun and entertaining, a power hitter with presence and panache, a man with a gold-toothed smile and a matching, glistening glove. For all he brought, for who he was, and the joy he displayed on the field, he was due more of our respect. In that sense, we struck out, too.