What could have been: Harry Agganis


"Harry Agganis, the Boston Red Sox first baseman and former Boston University football star, died today. His age was 25."

"Mr. Agganis succumbed at Saneta Maria Hospital while apparently recovering from a chest ailment which had sidelined him six weeks ago."

"Physicians said in a statement they believed death was caused by “a massive pulmonary embolism.”"

"Mr. Agganis, after a brilliant sports career at Boston University, passed up professional football to sign with the Red Sox following his graduation in 1953. He was sent to Louisville in the American Association where he hit twenty-three homers, drove in 108 runs and batted .281 in his first season."

"Promoted to the Red Sox last year, Mr. Agganis hit only .251, but had eleven homers, eight triples, thirteen doubles and drove in fifty-seven runs. He lost his starting job at first base to a rookie, Norm Zauchin, at the beginning of the season, but won it back after a short time. He was hitting over .300 when he complained of chest pains and was hospitalized May 16 (1954)."

The above quotes are from the obituary of Harry Agganis, who was also known as “The Golden Greek.” Agganis was an outstanding college football player, a quarterback, who was drafted in the first round by the Cleveland Browns. Thomas Yawkey, owner of the Red Sox, outbid the Browns and Agganis started on his path to baseball fame.

My original “team” in Boston was the Braves – yes, I am that old, but they decided to wander elsewhere so my loyalties switched. As a youngster Agganis was my first idol. Agganis was a football, basketball and baseball star, all at Boston University when their programs, especially football, was relevant. Agganis was a local kid from Lynn and a former Marine. And he was now the first baseman for the Red Sox.

Just how good was Agganis? At that young age you tend to just think hitting and more hitting. Agganis was slashing at .313/.383/.458 in his 25 games during the 1955 season. Agganis was not a power hitter – at least at that stage of his budding career. But I really needed through the years to have an objective look at just how he was viewed. That glance eventually came.

Many years ago I was attending a Cape Cod League game in Wareham, Massachusetts and, as in every CCL game, the scouts were out thicker than black flies. I’ll occasional sit near the herd and reminisce about the past or glean some information on the future. I mentioned Agganis to one of the older scouts and that got his immediate attention.

The question was simple: “What type of player was Agganis?” He signaled some of his brethren and the discussion ensued. What was paramount in their collective view was his upside. Agganis was making a remarkable adjustment to MLB. Agganis displayed the nimble skills around first base one would expect from an elite quarterback. His leadership skills, especially with a dysfunction Red Sox clubhouse, would , in their estimation, soon surface, and so would his power. Not elite power but that gap power. When the session finally ended a consensus was reached. If Harry Agganis had lived his career would be most reflective of Don Mattingly. That chapter of my youth was finally closed.