Fenway is about more than baseball
Park is also a backdrop for Red Sox writers series
“WHAT DOES GLORIA STEINEM have to do with baseball?” an annoyed Larry Lucchino wanted to know.
Lucchino, who was the Red Sox president at the time, was responding to my announcement that Steinem had agreed to speak to The Great Fenway Park Writers Series, which I chair for the team.
Larry’s response ticked me off, so I emailed him back and suggested, “Larry, go to Google, type in Gloria Steinem’s name. You will find it comes up more than 2 million times; your name, Larry, barely 100,000 times.”
Nothing more was heard from the great Lucchino, and Gloria Steinem came to Fenway and spoke at a luncheon of the writers series.
I put her in a Red Sox jacket, which she wore during her speech. Larry came early to the event, a rare occurrence, stayed through Gloria’s speech and Q & A, and had his photo taken with Gloria and Dwight Evans, the Red Sox Hall of Fame player, who I had seen the night before in Larry and Tom Werner’s box at the ballpark, and I invited him to come and hear Gloria. He said he would. I had no expectation he would come, as other players have said the same thing and never showed up, but Dwight did. He also brought a book with him, written by a former Dutch politician, Ayaan Hirsi, then under police protection because she had dared to openly challenge Islam. Dwight asked if I thought he could discuss Hirsi’s book with Gloria. I know my friend and I knew she would be happy to talk with Dwight, so I sat them together and they had a serious conversation. Dwight Evans impressed me.
What is The Great Fenway Park Writers Series?
The short answer: The only literary series ever sponsored by a professional sports team.
It came about because Lucchino and I established a friendship when he was in San Diego with the Padres, when owner John Moores and the ball club wanted out of Qualcomm Stadium. Moores wanted Lucchino to do for San Diego what he had done for Baltimore, where he built Camden Yards, the first of the so-called ”retro ballparks.”
Convinced that notoriously conservative San Diego wouldn’t go for a move, absent a major campaign to win voter approval, I formed the Committee of 2000, an independent citizens group that supported a downtown ballpark. Astonishingly, the ballpark won with 59.7 percent – an unheard of plurality. (Was the vote influenced by the Padres being in the World Series? Probably).
When the relationship between Lucchino and Moores fell apart in 2001, and Lucchino joined John Henry and Tom Werner as part of the new Red Sox ownership group, a whole lot of Padres employees left San Diego to follow Lucchino to Boston – led by Dr. Charles Steinberg, Sam Kennedy, Sarah McKenna, Mike Dee, Theo Epstein, among others.
We gave Plimpton a Red Sox jacket, which he immediately put on and wore home to Manhattan. After lunch, the two of us went to Lucchino’s box and sat outside on a cold winter’s day, where George became wistfully absorbed in the silence of the moment and the beauty of the ballpark; a place where he had often come as a Harvard student to root for his beloved Red Sox. (George was the official Fireworks Commissioner of the City of New York, and in that capacity was invited to ride up Broadway in one of the city’s grand parades, which he did, wearing a Red Sox cap.)
That occasion with Plimpton at Fenway was the genesis of The Writers Series. And so it began – 13-years and more than 100 programs past.
In the beginning we did just baseball-related events, writers who had written about, what I call, “America’s Game.” But it was Lucchino, the Princeton, Yale Law guy, who suggested we expand the series to include writers of other disciplines.
As a result, the list of speakers grew beyond Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessy, Tim Kurkjian and Frank Deford, to include Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, novelist Anita Daimant, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, CBS’ Jim Nantz, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, ABC’s Lynn Sherr, former Senator Bill Bradley, Nixon biographer John Farrell, Robert F. Kennedy biographer Larry Tye, Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski, Save the Children’s Mark Shriver, Canada’s Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff, former Commonwealth First Lady Kitty Dukakis, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren on her book, A Fighting Chance.
Luncheons and dinners of The Writers Series are held at Fenway Park and at the Residence Inn Back Bay Boston/Fenway (two blocks down Brookline). All events are public events and program notices are posted on our web site. The next two are Dr. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, on Friday Aug. 18, and Sally Quinn, a former? Washington Post journalist, on Tuesday September 19. Reservations for programs may be made on the website or by emailing FenwayParkWriters@gmail.com.Finally, to many in Boston and New England, the Great Fenway Park Writers Series is unknown. This is the single greatest frustration I have, that in the Athens of America, in a place that has more colleges and universities than any other in the world, that so few even know The Writers Series exists and that the Boston Red Sox, alone among all professional sports teams, sponsor a literary series.
George Mitrovitch is the chairman of the Great Fenway Park Writers Series.