Bill Nowlin is a true renaissance man of Red Sox Nation. A native of Lexington, Mass. he has conducted tours dressed like a Minuteman, co-founded Rounder Records (and later Rounder Books), served as a professor of political science at the University of Lowell, traveled the world visiting some 130 countries, sits as VP of SABR (the Society for American Baseball Research) and has somehow found time to write no less than 17 compelling, informative books about the Boston Red Sox. His newest book co-authored with Chuck Burgess “Love That Dirty Water: The Standells and the Improbable Red Sox Victory Anthem” documents the history of the music associated with the Red Sox.
1. To date, you have published 17 books about the Red Sox. Why do you think one team has been so well covered in literature?
The Red Sox are based in Boston, which has a large number of colleges and universities. And which also used to like to think of itself as the "Athens of America", too. For a long time, there's been a more literary aspect to coverage of the Red Sox. The Boston newspapers may have led the way. There were really rather few books about the Red Sox until the later years of the 20th century, though - really, but a handful in the 1940s - 1960s. (After all, what was there to write about the Red Sox of the 1920s?) I really think the reason the team captured the imagination of so many writers was a reason that would likely elude aspiring authors today: the team's living out of a "Greek tragedy." To have come SO close so many times, only to fall short. The years roll right out of memory: 1946, 1948, 1949, 1950 (save for Ted's injury....), 1967, 1972, 1975, 1978, 1986, right up through 2003! It was a great story that now is the prelude to something else, something we might consider Uncharted Waters.
2. I am so grateful for your new book "Love That Dirty Water". So many Sox and non-Sox fans ask me why certain songs are associated with the team. I finally have the answers. What made you want to delve into this subject?
It was a "who" not a "what." Chuck Burgess is the answer. The book's co-author. It was all Chuck's idea. I thought it was way too narrowly focused an idea at first. The idea percolated for a while, and grew on me. I'd already done a lot of research on music in the history of the Red Sox. Finally, we just started doing it. That I'm in the record business made Chuck think I might be interested in a whole book linking music and the Sox, but it took me a while to come around - and then had a blast working with Chuck on it.
3. You have been producing music and writing about the Red Sox for many years. Is this the first time you've combined your love of the two?
Yep. Though I very much enjoyed writing an article for Red Sox Magazine this season on the very self-conscious use of music to accompany a ballgame as practiced these days to good effect under the leadership of Dr. Charles Steinberg and his colleague Megan Kaiser. Rounder Records turned 37 in October. My writing about the Red Sox began about a dozen years ago. I've really enjoyed looking at the team through so many different perspectives - writing books about some key players (Ted Williams and Johnny Pesky), about the park itself (Fenway Saved), about the people who work there (Fenway Lives), etc.
4. What does this second World Championship in 4 years mean to Sox fans? Will literary interest wane now that the "suffering" is over?
I do think there's a real risk that literary interest will wane. For years, we all wondered what it would be like if the Red Sox ever won it all. Would it rob Boston of its very soul? My answer was: I'd sure like to find out. Let's put it to the test. Well, it felt great, and I think all of us still enjoy remembering how 2004 played out. What could any team ever do to top it? First of all, they'd have to build up 80 years of suffering. OK, the Cubs are primed. But even the Cubs haven't had all those last-minute losses (1946, etc. etc.) Then to have a chance to beat the Yankees and go to the World Series in 2003 - and have that all snatched away at the very last minute by one admitted steroids user hitting two home runs (which I still want disallowed), and to have Pedro taken out of the game, congratulated, and then sent back in! Hollywood couldn't have written a better ending - and didn't! (They had to re-shoot the ending to Fever Pitch!) It could hardly have been better. And then, just three years later, to do it again - well, it wasn't the same, though they did stave off a late Yankees threat, and did have to win three sudden-death games in a row to win the pennant.
To me, the main thing 2007 means is: this ownership, this leadership knows what it's doing. Maybe there is a "Red Sox Way." It also means I am very much looking forward to 2008. Unlike 2004, there are many more reasons to think we could see a repeat. Am I getting greedy? Yes. What am I supposed to do - hope the Red Sox lose? I don't think so!
5. What do you think of all of the "Red Sox bars" that exist outside of Boston? Do other fan bases have such a phenomenon? Could they?
There are dozens of them, as best I can tell. Certainly New York has quite a few, and I'm aware of others in Santa Monica, Denver, Tokyo (pre-Daisuke, even). There is really something very special about Red Sox Nation. I don't know just what it is, nor how long it will endure ("will success spoil Red Sox Nation?"), but it's really a nice phenomenon that seems to be uniquely Boston.
6. 17 books and counting, what's next in your exploration of the Red Sox?
Two books this coming year will be on special teams from the past. One will be on the 1918 Red Sox, done in collaboration with 20-plus members of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). The book - like the ones we've arleady done on the 1967 and 1975 teams - will largely consist of biographies of the men who made up the team. Another will be on the TWO Boston teams of 1948 - the Braves, who did make it into the World Series, and the Red Sox, who fell one game short of playing the Braves. Again, that's a SABR project.
There will be one other book that will gather together all sorts of bits and pieces about various oddities and tangents from Red Sox history. I already had a section on Native Americans who had played for the Red Sox. There have been a lot of them, including ones with such unlikely "Indian" names as Gary Waslewski. Now that we've had a great debut by Jacoby Ellsbury, I've extended that section a little further. Stay tuned....
7. What are your duties as VP of SABR (the Society for American Baseball Research)?
I'm one of the members of the Board of Directors of SABR and have very much enjoyed helping give whatever guidance I might offer as part of the board to this 7,000 member all-volunteer organization that really sets the "gold standard" in baseball research, from stats to stories to depths of database building. There are some very exciting things going on in SABR at the moment, which will begin to be unveiled in the next couple of years that will help researchers interested in deeper and deeper research.
8. Legend has it that when the Sox won the pennant in '67 you were the first to the mound to congratulate Lonborg. Could you describe that moment? Do you miss the days of fans rushing the field?
It's true. My sister Lisa (15 at the time) and I (22 at the time) went to the game and as the last couple of innings played out, we worked our way down into the lower box seats - crouching in the aisle - on the third-base side. There was no security to stop us, so at the final moment - I don't recall planning this; it was purely spontaneous - I jumped over the low wall and sprinted to the mound along with about 20-30 other people, getting there in time that I actually clapped Lonborg on the back (not my usual style, but I'm not sure I was entirely in my right mind). Then I saw hundreds of people headed toward us, and I got out of there quickly. I pulled up a handful of grass and shoved it in my pocket. Wish I still had it today, even if was only dust, but I have no idea whatever happened to it. It truly was "pandemonium on the field." Sure, I miss it in a way - but I do admit to rushing the field in a way as recently as 2004. It was a different situation. I was in the park with my son and a friend and his son. We were watching the players board the duck boats to head out on the parade. I noticed that there were maybe a couple of hundred people walking around on the dirt alongside the first base area near where the tarp is, and there didn't seem to be any security paying particular attention so, once again, I climbed over the wall and the four of us walked along as the boats began to move and head out. A minute or two later, I saw that a couple of hundred other people had followed and then the grounds crew started becoming concerned - not that there was going to be another game for five months. People strolled around out to the scoreboard in left, etc. The new ownership has been wonderful about extending the hours of the tours, welcoming charitable groups onto the field before the game, and working in so many ways to help people enjoy Fenway Park more. I think people today have plenty of contact that way - and I'm glad that it's still possible, even for the World Series, to line up outside the park and have a pretty good chance at a ticket. I did it three times myself this year when I'd already passed on my tickets, but then decided to go to the game. It was great that Mike Lowell and Dustin Pedroia brought tacos to fans waiting in line before the World Series. I've got some nice memories of waiting in line overnight in 1975 and again in 1986. Folks that show that level of commitment are real fans.