“Any time the Red Sox prevail at Fenway Park, you hear it: the slinky raunch of the guitar, the snide snarl of the vocals…”
– Brian MacQuarrie, The Boston Globe
On April 10, 1998, 22-year old Dartmouth High product Brian Rose took the mound for the Red Sox against Seattle ace and future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson in the home opener. Boston skipper Jimy Williams milked 5 and 1/3 effective innings out of the precocious righty before turning things over to the bullpen; by the ninth inning, the Sox trailed, 7-3.
Despite Johnson’s 15 strikeouts of Boston batters, the moment The Big Unit handed the ball to former Sox punching bag Heathcliff Slocumb, the Seattle bullpen dumpster fire was lit and the comeback was on. Tony Fossas, Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric combined to heave more gasoline on the blaze before Sox slugger Mo Vaughn mercifully deposited a Spoljaric meatball into the right field seats for a grand slam and a 9-7 Boston victory.
Somewhere in the bowels of Fenway Park, an ancestor of @senatorjohn hit a switch and tinny speakers echoed a wait-that’s-familiar-but-I-can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it riff off the painted green walls of the old ball yard:
“I’m gonna tell you a story.
I’m gonna tell you about my town.
I’m gonna tell you a big, bad story, baby…”
Thirty-two years after the Standells had their only top-40 hit with “Dirty Water,” the tongue-in-cheek ode to Boston’s poor water quality and the questionable safety of its streets filled the Fenway air. And it has for every Boston win since.
None of the members of the Los Angeles proto-punk quartet had actually been to Boston at the time of the single’s 1966 release. In fact, the band’s producer, Ed Cobb, actually penned the tune after a visit to the city, when he was mugged on the Mass Ave bridge (with its “lovers, buggers and thieves”).
With the Charles River matching Cleveland’s flaming Cuyahoga as molasses-like inspiration for the forthcoming Clean Water Act and the heinous killing spree of the Boston Strangler (also memorialized in the Rolling Stones’ “Midnight Rambler” – the Standells opened for the Stones in the 60’s) fresh in the minds of residents, Boston was fit to be lampooned. And yet, the song has been embraced in the region, going on 50 years now.
Boston has always been a “warts and all” kind of city – cognizant of its defects to the point of pride. The Standells played this up – the thieves are “cool people” and it’s still “the number one place” despite the fact that women are on a curfew. Boston is “home” — reason enough for the singer to love the foul stream that winds through it.
And so the Yankees have the Chairman of the Board and “New York, New York” to play them off, while the Red Sox have a one-hit wonder garage band and “Dirty Water.”
Music is central to the ballpark experience today, whether it’s Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” popping up at a key point for the opposition, or something TJ Connelly dug up out of a crate somewhere during a pitching change. “Sweet Caroline” sprays the ballpark with schmaltz whether or not the team has the lead. But we only get to hear “Dirty Water” when the Red Sox win. And it never gets old.