Home of the Braves?

By MIKE MILIARD  |  May 9, 2007

Lefty Johnson loved playing in the majors. And he wasn’t a bad pitcher. But he tore his rotator cuff just before he enlisted in the Navy. And medical science wasn’t then what it is now. “But y’know, that’s life,” he says. “I watch every bunt and fly ball, and still dream of being there.”

New kids in town
The Red Sox (then the Boston Americans) had swooped into town with a vengeance in 1901. American League founder Ban Johnson “knew that if he was going to make his league work, if he was gonna win,” says Richard Johnson, “Boston would be a beachhead in that war.”

The war was won, and the way it happened, he says, “should be a business school case study.” First, Ban Johnson secured a prime piece of real estate for his team, setting up shop at the Huntington Avenue Grounds — directly across from the Beaneaters’ South End Grounds, separated by the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad tracks. “It was like someone building a Dunkin’s across from a Honeydew,” says Richard Johnson, “except in a much bigger way.”

The next step? Poach the Beaneaters’ best and most beloved player, the great third baseman Jimmy Collins, inducing him to literally cross the tracks for a substantial pay increase.

Finally, says Johnson, “They charged half as much for a ticket! So, who are you gonna root for if you’re a fan? Fifty cents or a quarter? And are you gonna rip your Jimmy Collins picture down from the wall? It was basically, ‘In your face! We didn’t just throw down the gauntlet, we came in and burned your house down while you were asleep!’ ”

Nonetheless, while the Red Sox had a major edge in fan loyalty, there was little animosity between the two teams over the 52 years they shared this city. They played a three-game preseason series every year. The players got along and respected each other. And the fans — even while they had their loyalties — weren’t exactly divided into warring tribes. By the ’40s, “it was more sort of a class division, where the Red Sox were the team of the haves, and the Braves were the team of the immigrants and the have-nots. The Braves had the Knot Hole Gang, and the Red Sox didn’t. At Fenway you had to pay full price. At Braves Field, you got in for a nickel.”

“There never was the same animosity between fans of the two franchises that exists in, say, Chicago, where you’re either a White Sox fan or a Cubs fan. Unless you’re Hillary Clinton.”

But the vagaries of fate did allow the Red Sox to outshine their neighbors at inopportune times. “Even when the Braves have their greatest year in 1914,” notes Johnson, “it’s smack in the middle of the Red Sox’ golden era” with the Sox winning World Series in 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918. Ironically, as the Braves played the ’14 series in Fenway, the Sox played the ’15 and ’16 series at newer Braves Field to fit larger crowds. “It didn’t work for the Braves, but it worked for them,” says Johnson. “The Braves never won a World Series at Braves Field.”

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