Despite some well-chronicled reservations he expressed about Boston fans last year, David Price agreed the other day to pitch for the Red Sox for at least the next three seasons. A good baseball city, with a promise of payroll stubs totaling $217 million, can ease a man’s concerns about how a fan base will embrace him.
Brad Park had serious reservations about Boston, too, although he didn’t have a choice in coming here when the Rangers traded him to the Bruins on Nov. 7, 1975, in what 40 years later still ranks among the biggest, most controversial trades ever made in this city.
“I was public enemy No. 1,’’ Park recalled last week, reached by telephone at his winter home in Boynton Beach, Fla. “And I’m not kidding about that.’’
According to Park, now 67, he was under FBI protection in Boston for some of the days he played here while still a Ranger, a government escort following him from the Garden’s visiting dressing room to the ice and then back to the room when the hated Blueshirts were on Causeway Street.
Threats and vulgarities are posted routinely nowadays on what my colleague Dan Shaughnessy terms “the bathroom wall of social media,” and Price has noted he has paid attention to the new-age cowards and blowhards who lurk in the cloud. In Park’s era, the threats were also anonymous, but they typically arrived in the form of “fan mail’’ sent to him at Madison Square Garden. Some of the rancid letters from Boston couldn’t help but catch Park’s attention.
Asked to characterize the content of those letters, Park last week said, “Oh, they were going to kill me; if they catch me alone in Boston, they are going to shoot me . . . all kinds of stuff like that.’’
None of it truly alarmed Park, he said, although he was concerned enough to hand the letters to Emile Francis, then the Rangers’ general manager and coach, which he contends ultimately triggered the plan for his protection at Boston Garden.
Decades later, Park laughs and says he never took the threats seriously, opting to dismiss it as “just a couple of lunatics letting off steam.’’
But today, in a world where the threat of violence too often becomes reality, he figures he would react differently.
“You know something, in today’s atmosphere, I would probably pay a lot more attention than I did back then,’’ said Park. “I mean, there was no history of that actually happening. Now it seems, you look at the news every day and there’s a bigger history. I would probably pay much more attention to it today than I would back then.’’
Boston fandom went berserk when the 27-year-old Park was dealt here, in part because he was a member of the dreaded Rangers, but most of all because the Bruins, then managed by Harry Sinden, dealt away legendary scorer Phil Esposito and popular defenseman Carol Vadnais to acquire him. Jean Ratelle, who like Park eventually was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame, also came to the Bruins, along with Joe Zanussi.
Price, 30, has pitched for Tampa Bay, Detroit, and Toronto. All are Boston rivals, but Price in no way, no matter what infests his Twitter timeline, will arrive with the villain’s identity that was stitched into Park’s Broadway Blueshirt. Nor will Price arrive on Yawkey Way at the cost of the Red Sox giving up a legendary stick akin to that of Esposito, his prolific scoring pacing the Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 1970 and ’72. The Red Sox only will have to surrender money, albeit bags of it, and Sox fans long ago stopped acknowledging that a gargantuan payroll is linked to a $40 bleacher seat.
Compared to Park’s era, Price arrives in a Pleasantville of pink hats and “Sweet Caroline,” despite the Red Sox’ grandiose flops of late. As a city, we are a vastly kinder, gentler, more accepting version of our 1960s and ’70s selves, save for microbursts of bile and hate belched out on some sports talk radio and the occasional expert evisceration to be found in mainstream print coverage.
Price will arrive with fandom and media cast in a perpetual state of good times that never seemed so good. Park had to win over the whole town.
“I remember when I got here, I had to go back to New York and get more clothes,’’ said Park, who first suited up for the Bruins in games at Vancouver and Oakland. “So I fly in at night and Nate Greenberg [the Bruins’ PR director] comes over to the hotel, the Royal Sonesta, to pick me up to go WBZ to do the Guy Mainella show. OK, so I’m waiting in the lobby at WBZ and they are playing the show over the speaker, and the people are threatening Harry, calling it the worst deal ever. I mean, they are just crucifying me and I am in the lobby thinking, ‘Oh, boy, and I gotta go on the radio?’ ’’
Last summer, Price told WEEI.com’s John Tomase: “I definitely got my fair share of hatred from this fan base as well. Some of the things I get, I just know. Whenever I see something on Twitter, I know where it’s from. That’s part of it. I want no part of it.’’
The turnaround from hatred to huzzah came quickly for Park. He played 10 games at point with Bobby Orr his partner. They had Ratelle, John Bucyk, and Wayne Cashman up front on the power play. The good times rolled. By midseason, the Bruins were in first place and Don Cherry’s Lunchpail Bruins were on a roll.
“One of the great things that happened, the very first game we played back in Boston,’’ recalled Park, “it was halfway through the first period and I think we were up, 6-0. I go on the ice and they are about to drop the puck, and there is a real lull in the Garden. All of a sudden there is one guy in the balcony who yells, ‘Hey, Pahhk, welcome to Baahston!’ ”
Noting the difference in times, Park said the social media wouldn’t be an issue. He wouldn’t tune in because he wouldn’t sign up.
Forty years later, any advice for Mr. Price?
“Uh . . . win,’’ said Park. “Win. Let’s put it this way, the pitcher controls the game for seven innings, right? If he dominates in those seven, he is fine. If the team falls down, it won’t be his fault — fans will still look for him to pitch the next game. His whole thing has to be, ‘I can’t control anything on the days I don’t pitch.’ In that sense, you don’t worry about your days off, worry only about the days you have to go to work.’’
And worry not what people say. Because that’s a very old game, be it delivered by envelope or Internet.