A Brief History of the BLOHARDS

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Among us Sox fans—among you, if you’re with us now that we’re World Champs—the Benevolent Loyal Order of Honorable and Ancient Red Sox Diehard Sufferers of New York are, today, something bordering on semi-famous. ESPN found out about us in early ‘04, and FOX followed, as FOX is wont to do. We got better known throughout the season, and Jim Shea, a diligent BLOHARDS exec, now tells me the membership roll is climbing up to some crazy number like two thousand. Front-runners are certainly among our rookies, but, hey, what the hell. They pay their dues, they’re fine with me.

The BLOHARDS are popular. We’re “in.” Like all things Sox, we’re riding high.

It wasn’t this way with the BLOHARDS when I joined in 1985, and it certainly wasn't anything like this way back in the early ’60s, when a championship of any kind appeared impossibly far off to even the truest of believers.

Men such as Jim Powers.

Powers and the history of his club might be of interest to you new citizens of Red Sox Nation. Powers is an exemplar of the kind of fan you have now joined in fraternity. His dedication—indeed, his courage and fortitude—are what this Bosox question is all about, at bottom.

Powers was, forty-plus years ago, a man in exile—a man like I am today, a man like he still is, a man precisely like the one Aeschylus conjured when he wrote in Agamemnon, “I know how men in exile feed on dreams of hope.” Powers was living in Connecticut and working in New York, but it was all Siberia to him. To hazard an even more purple metaphor, his world had become a large cell. The bars were pinstripes. There were pinstripes on his commuter train, pinstripes on his subway, and pinstripes in his office, all reminding him of those damned pinstriped Yankees winning pennant after pennant up in the Bronx. Powers hated pinstripes and he hated the Yankees. In the early ’60s, the Yanks were the last team standing almost every year, so New York was a tough town for a Sox fan to be in—as it would be, and for all the same reasons, for us in the 1980s and ’90s.

Because of his persuasion, Powers, who had been born in Uxbridge, thirty-six miles from Fenway, was shunned and ridiculed by his colleagues. As Aeschylus knew, exile doesn’t dampen the inner flames, it fans them. Powers walked about Manhattan subsisting on his unreasonable dreams of hope, becoming leaner but prouder and more defiant. Such people are dangerous, and by 1965 Powers was poised to commit a desperate act.

He was sitting in the bar of J.J.’s Cellar, a restaurant on East Fifty-fifth Street, hidden in a sea of pinstriped suits at cocktail hour. Significantly, Powers was not alone. He was huddling with others who shared his misery and his sense of mission. The names they whispered were foreign to midtown Manhattan. Not Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, and Joe but Ruth (as a pitcher), Foxx, Williams, and Dom. The group recounted bygone Boston glories and dared to predict future victories. From such hushed intercourse, movements are born. These renegades with their neckties, bow ties, wingtips, and dedication to the Sox weren’t unlike Hancock, Revere, and the gang, huddling in that tavern in Lexington and banging down whatever it was Sam Adams was brewing back in April of 1775.

“We’d get twelve, fourteen guys together and have a couple of cocktails,” Powers told me in 1985 when first I met him, and asked him about the BLOHARDS. He was treating me to a nice lunch at the Yale Club in midtown Manhattan, which has also, in 2004 and ’05, served as the site of the most recent BLOHARDS luncheons. “We were basically transplanted New Englanders. We didn’t call ourselves the BLOHARDS then. That came a couple of years later, when I was thinking about that benevolent-loyal-order stuff of the Grangers back in Uxbridge.”

Although it took some time and rumination to come up with the official acronym, these guys were always BLOHARDS—that’s what brought them together. Like Powers, who spent much of his career as ad director of Family Weekly and then USA Weekend, many of the founding fathers were in the media business. By nature, they were blowhards.

The BLOHARDS gained in organization and sophistication, the membership growing to 150, 250, 350 and more. Officers were selected by Powers, and he became president. “He is the always and forever leader,” was how one member put it to me, back when. “The BLOHARDS without Jim would be the Vatican without the Pope.”

The BLOHARDS convened, perforce, beyond the DMZ: in the New England Room of the Hotel Lexington, in the fiftieth floor dining room of the McGraw-Hill Building, even in the Combo Room of Yankee Stadium. Can you imagine 138 BLOHARDS no more than a short fly ball from Steinbrenner’s box? It happened in the ‘70s.

Over the seasons the BLOHARDS grew stronger, and their ever more reckless bravado proved irresistible to recruits. A lonely Henry Berry, who was also at the Yale Club lunch with myself and Powers that afternoon in ’85, had been riding a late train to his home in Darien, Connecticut, one night many years ago. He had just been to the Stadium, where the Red Sox had lost, naturally, to the Yankees. “I was deep in my thoughts of despair,” Berry remembered, “when all of a sudden, from the back of the car, I heard four or five voices raised in song.” It was the refrain of a folk song indigenous to New England: “Better than his brother Joe, Dominic Di-Mag-gioooooo!” Curious and emboldened, Berry made his way through the car and found Powers leading the chorus. “He seemed to resemble the immortal ’Nuf Sed McGreevey, a leader of the Royal Rooters of the early 1900s. I introduced myself by offering a toast to the great Jimmie Foxx. By mentioning Ol’ Double X, I promptly identified myself as a Red Sox fan.”

Powers recognized a staunch and courageous leader when he saw one, and it was not long before Berry was a lieutenant on the rise within the BLOHARDS brigade. He narrated the slide shows at BLOHARDS gatherings and introduced honored guests, who came to bolster the troops. Johnny Pesky met with the BLOHARDS twice, and DiMaggio, Dom, addressed a gathering at the New England Room. Cleveland Amory and Peter Golenbock debated the relative merits of the Sox and Yanks at a BLOHARDS-sponsored forum. Managers talked strategy.

“Billy Herman was the best of them,” remembered Berry, “but Zim is not gonna win any after-dinner awards.”

As the comment indicates, Berry was wont to zing. His slide shows were raucous, ribald, sometimes even risqué, and seldom were they kindhearted. If they were hilarious to some, they weren’t to all. Young Roger Clemens, a rook, seemed bewildered by the BLOHARDS when he was a guest at the first club lunch I attended. And, memorably, Butch Hobson, when he was manager, threatened to take us on en masse during his remarks after Berry had tweaked Hobson’s third-base coach, the immortal Zimmer, in commentary during the slide show. Hobson really was fuming. It was a tense moment. I don’t think it had anything to do with Butch’s cocaine problem, but I could be wrong.

I should say, many of us BLOHARDS, myself included, have a soft spot for Zimmer. Just last year, when I and a tablemate were dissecting Francona during the spring luncheon, I wondered aloud how many World Series Zim might’ve led the Sox to in a wild-card era. “Yeah,” said the other fellow. “Zim wasn’t so bad.” The Sox were going good at that time in the spring of ’04, and in such periods, when the boys are winning at a spirited clip, the BLOHARDS are sweet and charitable folk.

Berry’s banter at club dinners, and his dedication, loyalty, and inestimable bravery—he did not leave the hall when Hobson shifted to full throttle, and threatened to fully throttle the next BLOHARD to speak—eventually earned Henry the senior vice presidency of the club. Powers, Berry, and Walter Teitz became (and for many years remained) the heart of the BLOHARDS lineup. Powers ruled, Berry regaled, and Teitz collected the dues, much of which was channeled to various anti-Yankee activities—the lunches, the formal debates, especially the ceremonial case of Narragansett Beer, the essential ingredient of the quintessential BLOHARDS function: the Opening Day Bus Trip.

(I am sad to report that, of the early-days triumvirate, only Powers lived to lay hands upon the world championship trophy. Life is not fair.)

As to the bus trip: Back in ’85, this was already a sixteen-year tradition. In it, the exiled traveled back, literally and figuratively, to the homeland. I joined them in the bus that year, and observed that they seemed to become younger by the mile as the bus rolled north through New England. It was something confirmed a time or two more, back in the ’80s—back when I was a better BLOHARD.

I don’t know where the bus leaves from these days—it’s hardly a fitting outing for Caroline or Jack or Mary Grace (our children, who wouldn’t be allowed anyway as they are seven, five and five years of age), so I no longer go. But back then, when Berry was in charge of it, the tradition was for the bus to pull away from a specific curb in Westport, Connecticut. “The trip starts in front of Mario’s bar,” Powers told me emphatically, when giving me my first marching orders. This only substantiated for me an already pretty solid conviction that such establishments played a large part in BLOHARDS lore. If this club left plaques to mark its memories, many would be affixed to various watering holes throughout the Northeast. When confronted with that theory, Powers demurred. “We’re a nice, quiet, refined group,” he insisted. “For instance, on the bus trip, there is a rule: No drinking until the bus passes Bridgeport”—which is nine miles from Westport—“unless absolutely necessary.”

Powers was in good spirits that morning back in ’85, resplendent in his bright Red Sox sweater and a pair of nearly as bright lime green slacks. Although he was already a man of more than fifty years, that day he was a teenager. He stood at the head of the bus and addressed forty BLOHARDS squirming in their seats. He laid out the Bridgeport rule. The bus was a sea of Red Sox caps and painter’s hats (remember the trend?) embossed with nicknames of the era—DEWEY, BIG FOOT, HIT MAN (remember them?). On some of the older hats: YAZ.

We were off. Very quickly, Westport was in the rear-view mirror, and Berry announced that the bar was officially open. The BLOHARDS broke out the beer and cigars.

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