Picked-up pieces while waiting to say goodbye to a horrible year in which we lost so many favorite people . . .
Another Fenway legend passed away at the end of November when longtime groundskeeper Joe Mooney died in Wakefield at the age of 90. For three decades starting in 1970, Mooney had control of the Fenway grounds. Total control. Nobody stepped foot on Fenway’s sacred sod without an OK from Joe Mooney. Woe was any nitwit sportswriter who popped out of the dugout and walked on the grass without Mooney’s permission. That went for ballplayers, too. I can’t prove it, but I believe Mooney was first to utter the now ubiquitous, “Get off my lawn!’’
Mooney was born in Scranton, Pa., where the Red Sox had a minor league affiliate in the Single A Eastern League. He went to work at the Scranton ballpark when he got out of high school and never stopped. He went from Scranton to Louisville to San Francisco and to Minnesota, where in 1960 he threw batting practice daily to a young Sox prospect named Carl Yastrzemski. In 1961, Mooney became groundskeeper for the expansion Washington Senators in the stadium now known as RFK.
In the late 1960s, Mooney’s Washington field bosses were Senators manager Ted Williams and Redskins coach Vince Lombardi. He used to attend Sunday Mass with Lombardi.
“You could tell the mood that Vince Lombardi was in when he pulled into the ballpark at 8 in the morning,’’ Mooney told me in 1996. “I got along good with both him and Ted. They were two fair guys. Lombardi, after the Redskins got through with practice, would come up and hang around the batting cage. The conversations with him and Ted were great. I should have taped them.’’
In 1970, on the recommendation of Williams, Tom Yawkey hired Mooney to take care of Fenway. Mooney and Fenway forged a beautiful friendship. He hired the grounds crew, a lot of kids from Brighton, Hyde Park, and Roxbury. Mooney wanted hungry, hard-working kids who could get the tarp down in 45 seconds. In the offseason, he said the trick to making snow disappear after a big storm was to pile it up against the left field wall. It turns out that The Green Monster is a good conductor of heat.
In the days before there were seats atop the Great Wall, Mooney would find items on the left field grass on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
“Kids from those nightclubs on Lansdowne Street will throw anything over the wall,’’ Mooney said. “We get bottles, nails, car keys. You’d be surprised how many keys you find. Arguments, I guess. People come in here the next day looking for them.’’
Mooney’s cluttered office under the third base grandstand at Fenway was marked by a shamrock on its wooden door. Filled with rakes, clippers, fertilizer, and bags of dirt, the ceiling of his little room was sculpted in the inverted slope of the grandstand above. If the Yankees were in town, Mooney would have the Daily Racing Form for Joe Torre and Don Zimmer.
“My grandfather was a longtime American League umpire,’’ Ed Hurley of North Attleborough recalled. “I would always stop by his office when I went to visit the umpires and he was so gracious to me. He was a special human being and did a lot of things for people that no one ever knew about. He would even drive the umpires to Logan.’’
Mooney’s wife died in 1993. He sent his daughter off to Notre Dame and followed Irish football until his last breath.
Joe Mooney. A Fenway original. RIP.
▪ QUIZ: 1. Name the only player to hit 50 homers in a season between 1970-89; 2. Who is the only pitcher to allow 50 home runs in a season (answers below).
▪ Am I the only one who worries that Liverpool-Lovin’ John Henry now thinks of the Red Sox the way Bob Kraft thinks of the Revolution? Jonathan Kraft managed to make it to the Revolution’s big playoff game in Columbus last weekend, but he was on his phone, not riveted to the Revolution, every time the network television camera caught up with him.
▪ The last time the Patriots and Red Sox both had losing records in the same season was 1993.
▪ Folks in Nashville must not be too happy with Dave Dombrowski, who bailed on them when he took a job running the Phillies this past week. In November, Dombrowski told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, “I’m staying in Nashville. I gave the [Nashville group] a commitment when I moved here that as we continue to pursue a new team — expansion, relocation or if it goes nowhere — that I would stay here with them.’’ Hope the Phillies are ready to spend some money. Dombro is not about draft and development.
▪ Sports Museum curator Richard Johnson points out that Boston has a proud tradition of sports figures who became dentists. Red Sox Cy Young winner Jim Lonborg is the best-known, but we also had Jack Nichols of the Celtics, the late Bill Lenkaitis of the Patriots, and Doc Hoblitzell, who was briefly a member of the 1918 world champion Red Sox. Former Red Sox maestro Dr. Charles Steinberg is another.
▪ Kyrie Irving keeps dodging local abuse. Irving and the Nets will be at the Garden for a preseason game Friday night, but there won’t be any fans on hand to rain boos down on his head.
▪ The day after Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was fired by Adam Gase, the back page of the Daily News featured a full-page photo of Williams with the headline, “Thrown Off The Titanic.’’
▪ Hate-Watch TV tip: No Patriots game this weekend, but Tom Brady and the 7-5 Buccaneers play host to the 6-6 Minnesota Vikings Sunday at 1 p.m. The game is on Fox. Let’s see if the Curse of Antonio Brown continues for Tom. Brady didn’t help himself around these parts this past week when he said, “You won’t catch me dead living in the Northeast anymore.’’
▪ Steve Kornacki is already a star in the political world, and now he’s going to be a star on “Sunday Night Football.” ‘Tis the season for playoff path breakdowns. Kornacki is the best thing to come out of the town of Groton since Peter Gammons.
QUIZ answers: 1. George Foster, 1977 Reds; 2. Bert Blyleven, 1986 Twins (he gave up 46 the next year).