Column: Red Sox considering bringing back Old-Timers’ games but should they? (2023)

In less than a month, the New York Yankees will celebrate their 75th Old Timers’ Day, and welcome a notable member into the fold.

On Sept. 9, Derek Jeter will join the ranks of the old timers.

It’s fitting that Jeter agreed to partake this year, though as with last year’s event, the Yankees won’t actually play a game. They’re using this year’s Old-Timers’ Day to honor the 25th anniversary of their 1998 championship team. And, as of last December, there’s a new captain in the Bronx; Jeter passed the torch to Aaron Judge at a press conference last winter.

The Yankees are really the only team in Major League Baseball still putting on these shows.

Why don’t the Red Sox?

Unlike newer franchises, which don’t have as much history to draw from, the Red Sox are an original American League club, and one of the most decorated, popular sports franchises in the world. Fenway Park is MLB’s oldest and Most Beloved Ballpark™, history embodied.

In the spring of 2018, the Red Sox did two things they hadn’t done in almost exactly a quarter of a century: they were the victims of a no-hitter, and they hosted their version of an old-timers’ game, the Alumni Game.

The latter, of course, was a much more enjoyable experience.

Luis Tiant’s Team Tiant defeated Dwight Evans’ Team Dewey 2-0, thanks to the late Julio Lugo’s two-run homer over the Green Monster, a blast hit off none other than Pedro Martinez.

“It was a great event,” Pam Kenn, Red Sox senior vice president of community, alumni, and player relations, told the Herald. “A lot of fun for former players and fans alike.”

Make no mistake: the Red Sox aren’t lacking in maintaining connections to the past. The organization employs several of their greatest former stars in a myriad of ways.

Jason Varitek is a member of Alex Cora’s coaching staff, and Martinez devotes himself to improving the pitching staff like a Jedi Master mentoring Padawans. David Ortiz has a lifetime contract to remain affiliated with the organization. Jim Rice and Tim Wakefield are among the familiar faces on NESN, and until two years ago, Dennis Eckersley and the late Jerry Remy were staples of the game broadcasts. Tiant’s El Tiante stand on Jersey Street offers Cuban sandwiches to ballpark goers, and occasionally, that meal comes with a side of autograph from the man himself.

So much of the Red Sox experience is already a never-ending old-timers’ day. Nearly every home game, fans can wave to Tiant, Dwight Evans, Carlton Fisk, or another beloved star of a bygone era, perched in the Legends’ Suite. Why devote the time and resources to organizing an event that simply consolidates the everyday nostalgia constantly permeating the Fenway experience?

On the other hand, with such an impressive stable of stars, why not actually do another old-timers’ game?

“I certainly think it is our intention to revive the game in the future,” Kenn said, noting that the coronavirus pandemic impacted plans following the 2018 event. “While I am not sure it will ever be the annual event that some clubs have done in the past, I do anticipate that we will have another in the years to come.”

“We’ve always loved the idea of Old Timers Days,” Dr. Charles Steinberg, former Red Sox executive vice president and current Triple-A WooSox president, told the Herald. “I recall that the challenge years ago was finding enough alumni who wanted to actually play, but perhaps we now have more alumni who would play again. It’s fun to imagine a lineup.”

Indeed, consider who might partake these days. Wakefield, Martinez, and Rogers Clemens have each pitched in Steve Buckley’s Oldtime Baseball Game, an annual charity event in Cambridge. Ortiz is still young enough to destroy some baseballs, and the Red Sox are still paying Manny Ramirez. Fred Lynn underwent double knee replacement surgery earlier this year, but recently told The Coast News that he’s planning on checking out the batting cages next door to his physical therapist.

Certainly, in the long list of man who’ve worn the uniform, there are more than enough players who’d be glad to suit up.

There’s also plenty who can’t or wouldn’t; these feel-good events aren’t universally beloved.

In his 1962 autobiography, “Veeck As In Wreck,” the legendary Bill Veeck lambasted the concept.

“I could never understand how it either entertained the fans or benefitted baseball to show the great old names as wheezing, balding, arthritic old men,” the former owner of Cleveland, St. Louis, and Chicago’s MLB teams opined. “To the younger generations, the fabled old stars they have read about are made to look ridiculous. To their contemporaries, there may be a temporary wave of nostalgia but it is followed by a wave of sadness at the realization that they themselves are becoming wheezing, balding, arthritic old men.”

Considering Veeck was baseball’s version of Jerry Buss before Buss created the Showtime Lakers, thereby transforming the NBA, it’s a harsh condemnation of the event.

It’s also not without merit. Baseball is rooted in tradition and nostalgia. It’s a game passed down from parent to child. But there is bittersweet beauty in something like that, for exactly the reason Veeck wrote. No one wants to see their heroes grow old, on the field, or in their own family.

In 1999, Fenway hosted the All-Star Game for the first time since 1961. At the time, folks expected it to be the ballpark’s last chance, as previous ownership planned to tear her down. Where else could the final All-Star Game of the century take place?

As such, the 70th iteration of the midsummer classic would’ve been a particularly emotional event on its own.

And then Ted Williams came home for the last time, and it was, literally, a whole new ballgame.

To prepare for the new century, MLB bid farewell to the 1900s by introducing the All-Century team. Henry Aaron, Sandy Koufax, and Willie Mays were among the greats who took the field.

Last but never least, Williams joined them. As grounds crew member Al Forester drove him onto the field in a golf cart, the Red Sox legend tipped his cap to a starstruck crowd, a gesture he’d famously declined to do after hitting a home run in the last at-bat of his final game.

Forester stopped the ride at the mound, as the Splendid Splinter was set to throw out the first pitch to Fisk. First, though, Williams held court in the cart. Awed All-Stars surrounded him, coming to shake his hand, hear what he had to say, simply be in his presence. They were unable to take their eyes off him, soaking in the experience of sharing the field with one of the greatest hitters to ever pick up a bat.

It’s one of the most beautiful moments in baseball history, but it’s also heartbreaking to see The Kid at 80 years old, juxtaposed with these young men in their prime. He’d been them once, and the best of them all, but no longer.

When I set out to write this column, I planned to make the case that a Red Sox Old Timers’ Game would be a beautiful thing, and a no-brainer for the organization.

That’s still true, but as I thought about what it would really be like to watch the stars of yesteryear try to recapture their glory days, I realized it’s also OK to leave the past in the past. Growing up, my father told me bedtime stories about Williams and Yaz, Fisk’s home run staying fair, his father taking him to see Lonborg’s World Series one-hitter. I’ve spent my life wanting to go back in time, to see all of it for myself, but an Old-Timers’ game can’t do that.

Maybe one more while David Ortiz can still hit a few home runs, though.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Gov. Deandrea McKenzie

Last Updated: 09/07/2023

Views: 6648

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (46 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Gov. Deandrea McKenzie

Birthday: 2001-01-17

Address: Suite 769 2454 Marsha Coves, Debbieton, MS 95002

Phone: +813077629322

Job: Real-Estate Executive

Hobby: Archery, Metal detecting, Kitesurfing, Genealogy, Kitesurfing, Calligraphy, Roller skating

Introduction: My name is Gov. Deandrea McKenzie, I am a spotless, clean, glamorous, sparkling, adventurous, nice, brainy person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.