Let Them Watch Television


CONGRESSMAN O'NEILL and Mayor Daley sedately shook hands with arriving well-wishers in the chill midday drizzle. Police officers hustled taxicabs out of the way to allow limousines to ease to the curb, stop briefly, then pull away to join the lines of double-parked Cadillacs and Continentals. Against each leaned a chauffeur, cap pulled over his eyes and cigarette cupped discretely in his hands. Businessmen, politicians and journalists chatted and joked quietly as they strolled through the well-dressed crowd.

America's elite had gathered, but not for a political function--Tip O'Neill stood, not on Pennsylvania Avenue, but on Jersey Street in Boston. The crowd was dressed for opera, but there was no opera house. The reporters were jotting down notes for the sports page, not for op-ed columns or music reviews. The upper class had descended on Fenway Park for the first game of the World Series.

The Red Sox had drawn near-capacity crowds to Fenway throughout the 1975 season, but never such an elegant one as this. During the tense pennant drive, faithful, supportive crowds had come to cheer, fans who cared but didn't take themselves too seriously, good-natured, relaxed rooters. Beer-drinking bleacher sitters; dope-smoking ex-Mets fans; Cub Scout packs from Nashua, New Hampshire; families up from Providence in overloaded Country Squires. A fair mixture of ages and ethnicities had come to Fenway during the summer.

But on the first Saturday of the Series, the melting pot had been replaced by a fine souffle. The crowd was mostly adult, almost all white, and wealthy. They walked self-consciously into Fenway, nervously ignoring the ticket less Sox fans who hovered resentfully about the gates. Across the street from the park a large tent enclosed a pregame luncheon party; policemen guarded its entrance, allowing the uninvited only a glimpse of white tableclothes and yellow flowers. Inside the tent a dance orchestra played.

The atmosphere within the stadium was moneyed and genteel. In front of my seat (halfway down the third-base line) was a tie-and-jacket, there was a tie-and-jacket to my left, and behind me and slightly to my right, two fur coats. Especially at the start of the game, it seemed as if an entire Boston Symphony Orchestra audience had mistakenly shown up, somewhat bewildered but nonetheless quite polite, at a baseball stadium. The crowd--or rather, the audience--was not so much enthusiastic as appreciative. They did not clap, they applauded; and if they did clap, they certainly didn't yell. A healthy rooter two rows back with a pathological hatred of Pete Rose was one of the few not intimidated by the surrounding patrons, who ogled her at every shout as though she had asked for Captain Crunch cereal in a health food store. Many onlookers had to consult their ($2.00) programs to find out that No. 19 was Freddy Lynn; others couldn't even identify No. 8. Senator Brooke looked as though he regretted not having brought a staff man to explain the rules of the game.

OF COURSE, THERE were some real fans at Fenway, and even the dignified neophytes grew noisier as the game wore on. But it wasn't a baseball crowd, and it certainly wasn't a Fenway crowd. Why not? Where were the hippies, the highschool kids, the experienced bleacher-sitters? Tickets had been expensive, it's true--$10 for grandstand, $15 for upper box--and fifty or a hundred bucks is a lot of money to spend on one family baseball outing. But this was the World Series; diehard fans should have been willing to pay extra, to go to the bank for money orders, to drive them downtown late at night so that the orders would be postmarked 12:01 a.m. on the first legal day of ticket-buying.

It turns out that many did, but it didn't do most of them any good. Thousands of ticket orders, even those postmarked in the wee hours of the first day, had come back unfilled. For relatively few of the World Series tickets were sold to the general public at random, competitive basis. Instead, the front office dispensed its favors through a largely covert system of political and corporate patronage.

There are about 35,000 seats in Fenway Park. During the World Series by far the largest bloc of those went to Boston corporations; the Gillette Company, the Coca-Cola Bottling Company, and three banks--the First National Bank of Boston, the National Shawmut Bank and the State Street Bank and Trust Company. Each had held thousands of season tickets for the entertainment of favored customers and friends, and the Red Sox front office had offered two Series tickets for every season ticket each company owned. Season ticket holders (including some individuals) collected roughly 20,000 of Fenway's 35,000 seats.

The baseball establishment itself held on to at least 2700 tickets to bestow on managers, coaches and players, on executives from the league offices and from the front offices of other clubs, and on various allies in the political and business worlds. Every Massachusetts state legislator was given the chance to buy at least two tickets. The National Broadcasting Company reserved at least 400 seats for its executives and sponsors. Then the Red Sox had to remember the City Council and the Mayor who, in this election year, certainly put their tickets to good use. Various Washington celebrities and their families--Brookes and Kennedys, Ford children, Cabinet members, congressmen from around the country--accounted for two or three hundred more tickets. Sports writers and their friends received about six hundred. Hometown radio and television stations and newspapers were also given a share. Scalpers, in a class of their own, got hold of an unknown number of tickets and sold them for as much as $100 apiece.

NO EXACT RECKONING is possible; the Red Sox front office gave neither a precise accounting of its patronage nor a description of how it decided who its friends were. At most 7000 seats went to fans without pull; the accurate figure is probably even lower. (In Cincinnati, only 12,300 of Riverfront Stadium's 53,000 seats went to fans with no connections).

But if exact figures are hard to come by, the general trend is nonetheless apparent. My cousin's ticket came from her father's friend, a businessman who once pitched minor league ball and now throws batting practice for the Red Sox before gametime. Almost everyone at the first game of the Series had some similar story of at least vague ties to VIP's. A friend of mine got his ticket from a friend of his who had an acquaintance in the Fly Club, to which several tickets had been donated by an Fly alumnus who had once owned part of the Milwaukee Braves. And, I might as well confess, my ticket too was unearned, a gift from a friend in Washington--where tickets were easier to come by than in either Boston or Cincinati--a friend who knew a Pennsylvania congressman who happened to have a buddy at NBC.

The Bicentennial World Series should belong to the people; there's no reason why the Tories have to get all the tickets. Tickets could be granted by a point system based on regular season attendance, with every bleacher stub counting ten points, right field grandstand eight, down to skyview and lower box seats which would be worth two points each. Or tickets could be awarded free to fans who had been rooting for the Red Sox the longest--applicants could be tested with such questions as, "Into which pitcher's head did catcher Bob Tillman throw a baseball in apptempting to prevent a steal of second base?" The free tickets could be financed by a windfall profits tax on Boston hotel and parking lot owners, Kenmore Square barkeeps, local bookmakers and, above all, the banks and multinationals that have lived off the sweat of Red Sox players and fans for so many years past.

The Boston Red Sox lost the 1975 World Series. It is possible that they would have lost even if their real fans had been admitted to Fenway. It is even possible that playing in front of an inept, straitlaced and elitist audience had no significant adverse effect. The principle remains in any case. The Red Sox lost the Series, but the people of Boston had lost before the Series even began.