A front-row seat on Sox history, from Ted to Mookie and everyone in between
At 87, Larry Ruttman can’t yet claim to be the longest-living inhabitant of Red Sox Nation. But as he unspools a lifetime of memories that begins with a 5-year-old’s glimpse of Lou Gehrig — Lou Gehrig! — and is bookended with a story of the letter he sent to the Sox general manager predicting greatness for a hot new prospect named Mookie Betts, Ruttman reveals an unmatched, and highly personal, view of what it meant to have a front-row seat on Fenway Park history.
What for many of us can be summoned only through black-and-white photographs, yellowed newspaper clippings, and dusty tomes, Ruttman offers first-hand recollections in “My Eighty Year Love Affair With Fenway Park, From Teddy Ballgame to Mookie Betts,” the memoir Ruttman has posted on his website.
Ruttman’s first visit to Fenway Park came three years after Tom Yawkey bought the Red Sox, and two years after Yawkey’s rebuilt ballpark featured a new 37-foot wall in left field. Ruttman gazed upon the wall years before it became the Green Monster.
The red seat is one of the legendary tales in Sox lore, Ted Williams hitting the longest home run in Red Sox history to a distant spot in the right-field bleachers. The topic still provokes debate. David Ortiz, among others, has often doubted anyone could have hit a ball that far.
The teen-aged Larry Ruttman, though, was there. He can describe the flight of Williams’ ball — “the ball rose high and fast describing a relatively flat arc in the sky in the sky, more like a gargantuan line drive than a big fly. The ball sailed and sailed…” The only surprise is that Ruttman, who was sitting in the center field bleachers, didn’t retrieve the mangled straw hat of Joseph Boucher, the fan whose head became the landing spot for Williams’s 502-foot blast.
By then, Williams had already become the object of Ruttman’s greatest affection, which is why it was a mild surprise to learn that in 1960, by which time Ruttman had become a lawyer, he missed Ted’s final game, though he was there for a late-August game in which the 42-year-old Splinter hit two three-run home runs.
He was not absent, however, for the 1961 debut of Williams’s successor, Carl Yastrzemski, and he was in the right-field bleachers in the penultimate game of the “Impossible Dream” ’67 season when Yaz lofted a game-breaking home run off Twins reliever Jim Merritt.
The decades roll on; the memories accumulate. Hearing the sickening thud of the fastball that struck the face of young slugger Tony Conigliaro from the third-base grandstand. Sitting in the first-base box seats when the Spaceman, Bill Lee, made his first appearance. Sitting behind home plate, eyes fixated on Carlton Fisk’s foul-line hugging drive that hits the pole for a game-winning home run in Game 6 of the epic 1975 Series. Locking eyes with an inflamed Billy Martin in the visitors’ dugout, barking out an inadvisable insult, and immediately regretting it at the sight of Martin’s fury. Striking up a conversation with the wife of a Red Sox newcomer, Cecil Cooper, who finds a compliment wanting and announces, “My Cecil is going to be a superstar.’’ Surrendering to the irresistible appeal of Pedro Martinez (“No player has dominated my imagination as much as Pedro Martinez”).
They’re all here, Pesky and Doerr, Lynn and Rice, Clemens and Evans, Nomar and Papi and the 2013 band of bearded brothers. There are numerous personal anecdotes mixed in with the reminiscing of favorite players and games, the sharing of moments with family members, friends and the occasional famous personage, like Gov. Michael Dukakis.
And there is a late-in-life development that would give Ruttman even greater entrée into the world of the Red Sox; Ruttman took up writing books, including one, “American Jews and America’s Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball,’’ that gave him access to baseball’s inner sanctum, the player’s clubhouse. Ruttman recounts his interactions not only with the players that were profiled in his book, like Kevin Youkilis and Craig Breslow and Ian Kinsler, but some of the encounters he had in passing with the likes of Manny Ramirez.
“What’s the book about?” he inquired.
“About Jews in baseball,’’ I answered.
“Whaaat?” said Manny incredulously.
It is with something approaching incredulity that we arrive at the end of Ruttman’s memoir, marveling at the obvious love he has sustained for the game, and for the Sox, through good times and bad. There is just one thing missing: A “TO BE CONTINUED” line at the end. The Sox, and Larry Ruttman, remain an interlocking work in progress.
Follow this link to read Larry Ruttman’s memoir. http://www.americanjewsandamericasgame.com/fenway-memoir.html