The Reddest State in Red Sox Nation
How to explain the curious love affair between the people of Maine and a ball club from Boston?
- By: Rob Sneddon
If you want to understand the depth of Maine's obsession with the Boston Red Sox, don't ask a Mainer. Not now, with the 2006 season upon us. Maine is distracted. Instead, ask someone from away. Let's say Illinois, home of the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs, like the Red Sox, have played out their star-crossed history in a quaint old ballpark. And the Cubs, like the Red Sox, have inspired a cultlike following of devoted fans. At least those fans think they're devoted. Until they come to Maine — as Alex Ciepley did a while back."Maine," Ciepley wrote in a blog called The Cub Reporter, "is baseball territory like I've never witnessed elsewhere." After checking into a B-and-B in Newcastle, Ciepley was amused that the proprietor, an older woman, was making tea and watching the Red Sox. Ciepley told her he was a Cubs fan. She expressed her sympathy — then returned her attention to her tea and the Sox.
Ciepley discovered that this was not an anomaly. Seemingly everywhere he went in Maine, someone had the game on. Ciepley noted this with an anthropologist's fascination: "To say they're Red Sox fans seems a slight, like saying Mario Batali likes to dabble in the kitchen. Baseball was woven into their daily routine. Cook dinner, wash the pots, watch the Sox, go to sleep."
Tell us about it.
On a typical July night last season, an estimated 35,000 homes in the Portland television market were tuned to a Red Sox game. And when Mainers can't watch, they listen. The Boston Red Sox radio network has more stations in Maine than in any other state. One of the newest additions is WEGP-AM in Presque Isle, which started carrying the games last year. Station owner Mac Smith can't tell you what a huge hit the Sox have been. (Literally, he can't tell you — Aroostook County has no ratings service.) But based on the number of people who have personally thanked him, he says the increase in WEGP's audience has been significant. He recalls only one other recent programming change that moved the needle in the County. "Rush Limbaugh," Smith says. "But that was nothing like the Red Sox."
The Sox have had an even more profound impact at Portland's Sports Radio WJAB, which has carried the games since 2000. That was also the year that the station replaced a low-rated syndicated morning show with its own sports-talk program, the Morning Jab. Among men, it's now the top-rated drive-time show in Portland. It got that way, says cohost Joe Palmieri, through a simple formula: "All Red Sox, all the time."
"They are a year-round topic," says WJAB general manager Jon Van Hoogenstyn. "It's a compulsion, [the debate over] what trades they could make or who's gonna get re-signed. It's a soap opera in the off-season." Never more so than this year, with the stunning departure (and return) of general manager Theo Epstein and the defection of hirsute centerfielder Johnny Damon to the Yankees, among other plot twists.
Even when football, basketball, and hockey are in full swing, the Red Sox remains topic No. 1 on the Morning Jab. Palmieri and cohost Dave Schumacher dissect every move the team makes, then argue about it with each other and with callers. (A third member of the morning team, longtime Maine sportscaster Frank Fixaris, died in a house fire in January.) Typical Sox talk is a cocktail of news, speculation, and opinion, spiked with a shot of vitriol.
Okay, so sometimes it's a double shot. Like when manager Grady Little chose not to remove starting pitcher Pedro Martinez after the seventh inning of the seventh game of Boston's epic 2003 playoff series against the hated New York Yankees. Martinez gave up the tying runs; the Sox went on to lose the game and the series. And much of Maine was traumatized. "We actually got a psychiatrist on the air a couple of days later to try to explain to Red Sox fans what their feelings were," Van Hoogenstyn says. "It was great: 'You're going through a grieving process now. . . . ' "
Little lost his job after that disaster. But that punishment wasn't severe enough to suit some Sox fans. Reacting to recent news that Little had signed to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006, one Morning Jab caller declared, "He should be boiled in oil and tarred and feathered!"
Maine's Sox fanaticism starts at the top, with Governor John Baldacci. Some politicians land awkwardly when they try to jump on the baseball bandwagon; during the 2004 presidential campaign Massachusetts Senator John Kerry cuisinarted the names of Sox sluggers Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz into "Manny Ortez." But let's give Maine's governor this: He came by his citizenship in Red Sox nation honestly. "I'm a diehard!" Baldacci says. As a child, he and his seven siblings enjoyed an annual Patriots Day pilgrimage to Fenway Park. His mother took the kids to the game in the family station wagon while his father stayed home to watch the family restaurant. Young Baldacci also played catcher in the Bangor Little League.
The constituents of this baseball-savvy state have felt an attachment to the Red Sox from the time the team was founded in 1901. Boston won the World Series four times in its first sixteen seasons, and every one of those sixteen teams had at least one player from Maine on the roster.
Rooting for the Red Sox is one of the few aspects of Maine life that has remained essentially unchanged over the past century. When Governor Baldacci, the former catcher, appeared at Fenway on Maine Day 2005, he was standing on the same field that another catcher from Maine, Bill Carrigan, had played on during Fenway's first season, in 1912.
Carrigan, a player/manager, was nicknamed "Rough." But that's not what the Portland Evening Express called him on October 13, 1916, after he'd led the Red Sox to a second straight World Series title. Instead, the paper led with a not-so-subtle reminder that a Mainer was calling the shots in Boston: " 'Lewiston Bill' Carrigan has piloted his Red Sox hands to the 1916 world championship in baseball."
From the beginning, it appears, Mainers have believed that their connection to the Red Sox is special. And according to Will Anderson, a pop-culture historian from Bath, their connection is special. Anderson, author of the book Was Baseball Really Invented in Maine?, maintains that Maine has more Red Sox fans per capita than any other New England state, including Massachusetts. Why? Because Maine is farther from New York than any other New England state. "You don't have as much of the damn Yankee influence up here," Anderson says.
The numbers bear him out — except for that wishful thinking about Massachusetts. In a nationwide 2004 Sports Illustrated poll of fans' favorite teams, Massachusetts had the greatest disparity between Red Sox fans (86 percent) and Yankee fans (6 percent). Maine was second, however, with Sox fans trouncing Yankee supporters 77 percent to 7 percent. Compare that to Vermont, where just 46 percent of respondents picked the Sox while 23 percent chose the Yankees, or Connecticut, where New York actually finished ahead of Boston, 42 percent to 26 percent. This confirms statistically what Mainers know intuitively. When it comes to baseball, theirs is the reddest of red states, with only a trace of Yankee blue.
And since 2002 there hasn't been any Florida teal. After that season the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs switched their major-league affiliation from the Marlins to the Red Sox. They also gave their home park, Hadlock Field, a Boston makeover. There's a replica of Fenway's famous "Green Monster" in left field, complete with an oversized Coke bottle and a Citgo sign reminiscent of the one in Kenmore Square. (Hadlock also has a couple of self-consciously "Maine" touches, such as a retractable lighthouse and a giant L.L. Bean boot beyond the right-field fence.)
The benefits of the Red Sox affiliation go beyond Hadlock's superficial resemblance to Fenway Park. Mainers now get to see Boston's top prospects in action. "I was overjoyed when they made the switch," says Red Sox/Sea Dogs fan Richard Harder of Steep Falls. Although he grew up in Yankees country, Harder became a Sox fan in the early '60s. Back then, Boston had a farm team in Wellsville, New York, near Harder's hometown. Harder began following the team and became impressed with Tony Conigliaro, an eighteen-year-old Wellsville outfielder. Conigliaro went on to become one of the brightest young stars the Sox have ever had. Now Harder, who moved to Maine twenty years ago, enjoys going to Hadlock Field to see if he can spot the next Tony C. "The Red Sox and Sea Dogs are a marriage made in heaven," he says.
This marriage is more passionate than the Sea Dogs' first liaison with the Marlins. Which isn't always a good thing for the current Portland players. "It used to be that you'd rarely hear anyone boo a Sea Dog player if they didn't do well," says the team's president and general manager, Charlie Eshbach. "Now you might, because people care more. We've gone to where we're more than the hometown team — we're part of [Mainers'] birthright as Red Sox fans."
Quiz: The Local Nine
How much do you know about Maine's ties to the Red Sox? Take our quiz and find out. (Answers on page 83)
1. Who was the first Maine native to play for the Red Sox?
2. Babe Ruth played his last game in a Red Sox uniform at which Maine ballpark?
3. The Jimmy Fund, the Red Sox's official charity, was named after a twelve-year-old Maine boy. Who was he?
4. This Red Sox pitcher, a Portland native, faced one batter in Game Six of the 1986 World Series. Who was the pitcher, who was the batter, and what was the outcome?
5. Which former Red Sox pitcher compiled a 10-0 record with the Bangor Blue Ox of the Northeast League in 1996, five years after his last major-league game?
6. In Stephen King's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, nine-year-old Trisha McFarland has a fantasy in which Gordon, a Red Sox pitcher, offers to buy her a hot dog in exchange for directions to which Maine town?
7. Which member of the 2005 Red Sox once pitched in both games of a doubleheader at the Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach?
8. How many former Portland Sea Dogs were on the Red Sox's 2004 World Series roster?
9. Who won last year's game between the Red Sox and White Sox on Maine Day at Fenway Park?
1. Freddy Parent, born in Biddeford in 1875. When the Red Sox, then known as the Boston Americans, played their first game, at Baltimore on April 26, 1901, Parent was the starting shortstop. And when Boston beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first-ever World Series in 1903, Parent led the team with eight runs scored.
2. The exhibition game between the "Red Sox All Stars" and Sanford Professionals was played at Sanford's Goodall Park on October 1, 1919. Ruth hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning to lead the Sox to a 4-3 win. Goodall Park, rebuilt after being destroyed by arson in 1997, is now home of the Sanford Mainers of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
3. Carl Einar Gustafson of New Sweden. Gustafson was being treated for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at Children's Hospital in Boston when he appeared on the Truth or Consequences radio program on May 22, 1948. He was given the pseudonym "Jimmy" to protect his family's privacy. Gustafson made a full recovery but kept his identity a secret until the Jimmy Fund's fiftieth anniversary in 1998. "There was really nothing to say about it. That was bragging," Gustafson told Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy. Wrote Shaughnessy of Gustafson's reticence, "Must be a Maine thing." Gustafson died after a stroke in 2001.
4. Bob Stanley was the pitcher and the New York Mets' Mookie Wilson was the batter. There were two men out, two men on, and the Sox led 5-4 in the bottom of the tenth. Stanley first threw a wild pitch that allowed the tying run to score, then delivered what would become the most infamous baseball in the game's history: the one that Wilson hit on the ground to first baseman Bill Buckner, who had it roll through his legs as the winning run scored.
5. Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd.
6. North Berwick.
7. David Wells, as a member of the Triple-A Syracuse SkyChiefs. Working in relief, Wells got the loss in game one and a save in game two, on August 7, 1987, as the SkyChiefs split with the Maine Guides.
8. Three: Kevin Millar, Kevin Youkilis, and Gabe Kapler.
9. Nobody — the game was rained out in the fourth inning. (Check redsox.com for details on how to enter a lottery to buy tickets for this year's Maine Day game.)
Year Opened: 1912
Named After: Fenway Real Estate
Mascot: Wally the Green Monster
2006 Seating Capacity: Approx. 38,000
Price of a Field-Level Box Seat: $95
Sellouts in 2005: 81 (in 81 games)
Hot Dog: $3.75*
Ticket Information: 617-482-4SOX or redsox.com
2006 Season Opener: April 11, Red Sox vs. Toronto Blue Jays, 2 p.m.
*Prices as of 2005
Year Opened: 1994
Named After: Longtime Portland
High School Baseball Coach
Edson B. Hadlock Jr.
Mascot: Slugger the Sea Dog
2006 Seating Capacity: 7,365
Price of a Field-Level Box Seat: $8
Sellouts in 2005: 28 (in 71 games)
Hot Dog: $2
Ticket Information: 207-879-9500 or firstname.lastname@example.org
2006 Season Opener: April 13, Sea Dogs vs. Binghamton Mets, 6 p.m.
Ties That Bind
A partial list of current members of the Red Sox organization who have a Maine connection.
The Alfond family Dexter Shoe Company founder Harold Alfond became a part owner of the Red Sox in 1978 and his sons, Ted and Bill, are now limited partners.
Tom Caron This Lewiston native is the Red Sox studio host on the New England Sports Network.
Lynn Jones The Sox first-base coach managed the Sea Dogs in 1998.
George Mitchell The former U.S. senator from Waterville serves as a director of the ownership group that acquired the Sox in December 2001.
Phillip Morse This UMaine graduate serves as vice chairman of the ownership group that acquired the Sox in December 2001.
Les Otten The founder of the American Skiing Company and former owner of Sunday River ski resort in Bethel serves as vice chairman of the ownership group.
- By: Rob Sneddon