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Smokey Joe and the Time Bandit: Chapter 5

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20:  Planes fly over Fenway Park during 100 Years of Fenway Park ceremony before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees at Fenway Park April 20, 2012  in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20: Planes fly over Fenway Park during 100 Years of Fenway Park ceremony before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees at Fenway Park April 20, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Previously on Smokey Joe and the Time Bandit:

Intrepid Time Traveler Ryan O'Malley had found himself transported to Boston in the year 1912 and secured employment at the Boston Town Crier as the Red Sox beat reporter after meeting the paper's owner at the legendary sports bar The Third Base Saloon. Skeptical of his outrageous claims, i decided to look into O'Malley's story.

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4

I woke up early and immediately began checking out Mr. O’Malley’s story. A quick internet search revealed some interesting details about his supposed place of employment. The Boston Town Crier had indeed existed. It had began publishing sometime in the 1880’s and by 1912 it was one of the more widely read small press papers. Then it vanished from the face of the earth in 1920. A fire at the offices destroyed not only the business, but also took with it the vast majority of archival copies as few had been kept by the public library. Since that time, the Boston Public Library had built up its own archive through donations, but only a tiny fraction of the daily paper’s thousands of issues still remained.

This seemed a convenient detail for an enterprising hustler. Laying claim to a job that was at once intriguing and highly prominent, but also impossible to verify was a perfect piece of plotting in an elaborate con and I had to hand it to O’Malley- the man dug deep. Whatever game he was playing, he was determined to do it right. I decide that I owed him the same dedication if I was going to call his bluff and I went to the public library to see those rare archived issues myself.

It was easy to imagine Ryan O’Malley lost in 1912 as I walked up at the large white marble staircase and entered the McKim building. This palatial building would not have appeared much different back then .The reverberating quiet and the faint, musty scent of ancient books lent to the feeling that I was myself traveling back in time in some way, going to join O’Malley in the distant past.

It took a fair amount of effort to actually locate the archived copies of the Boston Town Crier. The first lady I spoke with at the reference desk had never heard of the paper and pointed me to one of the computer terminals, where all of the archived papers could now be accessed digitally. I felt a bit foolish for not having realized this in the first place. After all, this was not 1912, but 2012 and hard copies were now as rare as the suicide squeeze.

The next stumbling block came when had tracked down the online copies of the paper and tried to access them. I had not considered that a library card would be needed to get to the papers but once I hit that wall, it seemed rather obvious. I was actually glad that I had not just sat in my hotel room and searched for the online archive at that point. I was able to harass the guy next to me to log into the system for me. Once I was in, I had access to every copy of the Town Crier that the library had ever collected; I searched for issues in April 1912.

Though the library’s collection of The Town Crier was spotty, they had an abundance of issues from that year and, surprisingly, nearly the entire 1912 baseball season could be found in the archives. I looked over my notes from O’Malley’s story and realized that he had yet reached the start of the season and his time as a beat writer in the re-telling. I was forced to look up the first game of the 1912 and find that date. It was April 11, 1912 and the Boston Red Sox played the New York Highlanders, as the Yankees were called back then. I entered the following date to look for the recap and found the following entry.

Red Sox Top Highlanders 5-3, Start Season in the Win Column

New York, NY: The Boston Red Sox started the season off the right way beating their rivals from New York 5-3 with a dramatic ninth inning rally.

Stahl’s boys scored quickly, getting a run in the first when Harry Hooper singled and stole second before scoring when the skipper hit a shot to left. The lead was short lived, however, as the Red Sox pitcher, Joe Wood, was wild at the start and the New York nine grabbed two runs off him in the bottom of the first. Highlanders’ pitcher Ray Caldwell held the lead into the final frame, but he could keep it no longer.

In the top of the ninth, Stahl drew a lead off walk and Larry Gardner sacrificed to push him to second. Duffy Lewis then ripped a single to tie the game and Caldwell lost his nerve. Lewis and two more Bostonians scored before the third out. Smokey Joe faltered slightly in the bottom frame, but allowed just one run to seal a 5-3 win.

A concise recap. Just over 150 words. No byline. Of course, I thought, it was the perfect cover. Then, as now, the game recap was rarely ever credited, especially when it was so brief. If O’Malley had really spun this elaborate fantasy, he had at least done so with an amazing ability to keep it from being disproved.

Still, there was something strangely modern about the way the game was recounted in the article. Were the 1912 Red Sox rivals with the New York team? The Yankees had been perennial doormats before the Babe Ruth trade and they were decidedly second class citizens in New York with McGraw’s Giants at their peak. The Red Sox were an established powerhouse, more suited to rivalries against the A’s and Tigers than the lowly Highlanders. The phrase struck me as interesting, anyway. So did the wording that "Stahl drew a lead off walk" It may have been just my own bias against that more primitive time, but I had the idea that most baseball men of the time saw the walk as a mistake made by the pitcher, and not something to credit a hitter for. Whether or not these intricacies held any real value, they did encourage me to press on.

I read over a few more game recaps and found them all to have basically the same voice and style. Nothing about them was definitive proof of time travel, but, expect for a few phrases and expressions that were common to the time, anyone of them could have easily described a game that took place in 2012 instead of 1912. Soon, I decided to skip ahead to the Red Sox first home game. It was in the Saturday April 20 addition that I finally found what I was looking for.

Fenway Park, New Home to the Red Sox is an Instant Classic

By Ryan O’Malley

Today marks the opening of what is certain to be the most beloved field ever created for the game of baseball., Fenway Park, the new home of the Boston Red Sox., is immediately endearing with its stately red brick entrance way and comfortable, spacious grandstands. Even the most hardened devotee to the old

Huntington Ave

Grounds is certain to be won over by the simple beauty of this new park.

Fenway Park will seat more than four time as many fans as the Huntington Avenue Grounds with box seats, grandstand seating and bleacher seats in the centerfield area to give every manner of fan a ticket that they will not find too dear and a view of the game that is second to none.

The full page article continued on in that overly glowing way, serving as more of an ad for the new park than as true review or critique. Even so, the byline was O’Malley’s and there was amble evidence that the writer knew a bit more about the Park’s future than he should. First, there was the phrase "most beloved" in the opening line. In 2012, "America’s Most Beloved Ballpark" was useful advertising copy and, with Fenway standing as the oldest park in America, a truthful enough statement, but in 1912, it was a strange term to apply to a stadium that was neither the most start-of-the-art nor the most architecturally inspired. Even more alarming was a turn of phrase a bit further down the page-

To keep stray balls from wandering onto Lansdowne Street and, more importantly, to keep ticketless onlookers from getting a view of the game, the Red Sox new home features a monstrous wall in left field. Leading up to the barrier, there is a perceivable incline for left fielder Duffy Lewis to contend with, though at around 300 feet from home, few balls will make the slope in the air.

The use of the word "monstrous" was certainly no accident. The nickname "the Green Monster" came into existence somewhere in the sixties or seventies. It certainly would not have made sense to anyone writing in 1912, when the wall was nearly half the size (thanks to the cliff) and yet to be painted green. Was this turn of phrase a cosmic wink, reaching through the ages to prove to me that Ryan O’Malley’s strange, unbelievable story was true? It certainly appeared that way.

I printed out the rest of that day’s sports section and a few more game recaps and stories from that opening week before leaving the library. As much as I wanted to peruse all the articles I could find under O’Malley’s byline, I was even more anxious to speak with him again and get more of his story written down. As crazy as it seemed, I was beginning to believe the whole thing was real.