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Trivial Pursuit

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Dick
Flavin

As a rule, I do not like trivia questions, and that includes sports trivia, even questions about baseball. They are a waste of time, a silly pursuit of useless information, and of no practical or intellectual value. But there are exceptions to every rule. I think that such questions are just fine when I happen to know the answer. Then, in fact, I think they are peachy-keen. Such questions become cleverly designed inquiries designed to measure one's sagacity and intelligence.

Recently, in the New York Times, there was a column consisting of 50 baseball trivia questions. Why bother to read such tripe, much less publish it? I thought. It turned out, though, that the first five questions were about the Red Sox. It happened that I knew the answers to all of them. Well, I cheated a little on one, but I did know the answer, honest, I did. (Question: Who is the Red Sox career leader in innings pitched? Answer: Tim Wakfield.) I just couldn't think of it at the time. What a wonderful, interactive piece on little known factoids of baseball information, I mused. Then, on the ensuing 45 questions, only a few of which dealt with the Red Sox, I got pretty much skunked, and my attention span rapidly waned.

There was one question that piqued my interest. It was this: "Which is the only franchise that has never had a future Hall of Famer, even for one game?" Aha! I thought, the perfect question to spring on my son-in-law, who knows a lot about baseball and, being from Philadephia, is a National League guy. One morning at breakfast, I casually dropped the question on him and then watched with pleasure as he agonized over the answer for the better part of an hour. He's a tenacious guy and I knew he wouldn't quit until he finally got it. (Answer: the Colorado Rockies). I, on the other hand, would have thought about it for a few seconds before throwing up my hands and saying dismissively, "Who gives a rap?"

I did once stump Ted Williams with a trivia question and I have been dining out on the story ever since. Ted was appearing at a celebrity golf tournament on Cape Cod. At the dinner held afterwards, I asked him if he knew what two players who are in the Hall of Fame wore number nine for the Red Sox. Ted loudly intoned, "Well, [expletive deleted], I know who one them was." I said, "Everyone knows that, but who, besides you, wore number nine?" Ted quickly fired back, "No one after me ever wore my [expletive deleted] number." "That's right," I said. "It was someone before you." "Someone in the [expletive deleted] Hall of Fame?" he challenged. "Yes," I said, beginning to feel a little nervous, even though I knew the answer. "You're full of [expletive deleted]," he pronounced. "No one else ever wore number nine." Whereupon I asked Bobby Doerr, who was also at the tournament, to come over to the table at which we were seated. I asked him, "Would you please tell Ted what number you wore as a rookie?" Bobby, who was Ted's best friend when they played, had reached the majors before him. He looked at Ted and said matter of factly, "Number nine." "[Many expletives deleted]! I never knew that!" Ted bellowed. Like most elite athletes, Williams had a highly developed competitive gene. He didn't like losing at anything, and he didn't like the idea that anyone knew more about a subject than he did, especially if that subject was himself. I certainly didn't know nearly as much about most things as he did, but I did have this one piece of trivia in my arsenal. And, knowing him the way I did, I like to think that he used the information regularly in the constant quizzes he used to spring on his friends and associates.

The BoSox Club, the official booster club of the Red Sox, holds a dinner for its board of directors and past presidents every Christmastime at which trivia questions about the team are a featured part of the program. Trivia questions are also on the menu at luncheons held by the Blohards (Benevolent Loyal Order of Honorable and Ancient Redsox Diehard Sufferers), a group of Red Sox fanatics based in New York City. There are serious Red Sox acolytes at these functions, and they know their Red Sox trivia. In fact, to many of them it's not Red Sox trivia at all, it's their very lifeblood. That's how important the team is to them. They snap at the answers like bluefish on a feeding frenzy.

I sit by passively while these sessions are held, grumbling about what an utter waste of time they are -- unless, that is, I happen to know the answer to a question. Then, I frantically wave my hands and shout out the answer, usually too late to be recognized by the guy asking the questions.

It happens that I have particular strength in one area of Red Sox trivia. My age is such that I know a lot about Sox players who have died, especially those who died on due to old age. Ask me something like, "Who was the losing pitcher in the seventh game of the 1946 World Series?" and I'm likely to know the answer (Bob Klinger). My memory might fail me, though, and I would be stumped, if you ask, "Who was the winning pitcher in the final game of the 2018 World Series?" I'll look it up, though, and if you ask me 70 years from now, I might have the answer.

Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox “Poet Laureate” and The Pilot’s recently minted Sports’ columnist.

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