|Boston Chapter Awards Dinner History|
The late Joe Cashman, a longtime Chapter chairman, covered the Boston Red Sox for over 50 years for the Boston Daily Record and Sunday Advertiser. He wrote this history of the Boston Chapter Awards Dinner which was included in a dinner program in the 1970s.
On a cold November afternoon in 1937 a small group of baseball writers gathered for their annual meeting at Fenway Park.
It was the normal, boring type of meeting on the annual report and election of officers — boring, that is, until the late Boston Globe sportswriter Hy Hurwitz made a suggestion. The winters for the baseball fans of New England were long and empty, Hurwitz noted. His idea was to have a baseball dinner to keep interest going during the long winter months, as the New York Chapter had initiated.
From that idea was born the huge dinner, spiced with the great past and present stars of the national pastime like you see here tonight. But, that first dinner in the basement Hamilton Room of the Copley Plaza Hotel was a far cry from tonight's.
Two hundred people attended. There were no Hall of Famers, no after-dinner speakers and no stars of the game seated at the head table. The guests included a handful of ballplayers living in the area.
However, as they say, a good time was had by all. It was the unanimous opinion of all that the dinner should continue each January.
That second year the demand for tickets was heavy even before the dinner was announced so it was moved to the larger quarters on the roof of the Parker House. The first writers award was given that night. It went to Milkman Jim Turner, pitcher for the Boston Braves. Seated at the head table was the one and only Casey Stengel, who had been named to replace Bill McKechnie as manager of the Braves.
From that time on the dinner sold out each year and was held at the Sheraton Plaza, the Statler, the Copley Plaza and Bradford Hotels.
Down through the years the top stage and screen stars of the day were brought to the dinner through the efforts of Massucco, the executive picture editor of the old Boston Daily Record. One year a young man walked up to this writer prior to the dinner and said, "I'm Frank Sinatra. Mel Massucco asked me to sing at the dinner tonight. What do you want me to do?''Yes, there was Frank Sinatra, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Lou Holtz, Pat O'Brien, Frank Fontaine, Myron Cohen and Johnny Carson, among those who performed at the dinner. The year Sinatra made his appearance, in the late 1940s, we had a group of wounded World War II veterans as special guests. They were eating in a private suite and Sinatra went up and entertained. The group had their steak dinners and when they were finished Sinatra ordered another complete steak dinner for them and picked up the bill. He sang at the dinner until after midnight and all he took for his evening's work was a "thank you.''
Bojangles Robinson's appearance is quite a story. He was in town and Massucco called his manager. He was told the performer was opening in Detroit on the night of the dinner and couldn't make it.
Robinson found out and said, "The hell with Detroit. Tell them I'll be there when I get there. I wouldn't miss a chance to go to a baseball dinner.'' He was a smash, dancing and telling stories. When I approached him about his expenses he said, "Listen, young man. You don't realize the honor you paid me. I'm thanking you for the invitation, don't thank me. I sat with my friends, Joe Cronin and Joe McCarthy. It was one of the finest evenings of my life.''
Aside from the stars of the stage and screen, the top stars and managers of the game have graced our head table. For Earl Weaver, the live wire manager of the Baltimore Orioles, it's been a must since his first appearance.
There are many stories connected with the guests attending the dinner but they are too numerous to mention. Bob Feller, grounded by weather one year, rented a car and drove from New York. George Steinbrenner, owner of the Yankees, was grounded in Buffalo but he wasn't about to miss it so he chartered his own plane and flew here.
I was among that group which gathered at Fenway Park those many years ago planning the first dinner. Never in my wildest imagination did I envision it growing to what it is today.