Hartford and the Red Sox – likable, but still losers

Hartford is the Boston Red Sox of cities.
    It has some good players, legions of loyal fans, sporadic moments of glory and yet, somehow, never fails to disappoint. And it probably peaked in 1918 – the last year the Red Sox won a World Series.
    Both have provided times of joy and excitement to the people who care about them. There was Ted Williams. There was Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Lonborg and the "Impossible Dream"team of 1967. Then there was Rice and Lynn and Dewey and Luis. But, in the end, hopes got crushed.
    Hartford has twinkled with optimism, too. In the Fifties, it was a nice place to live. Neighborhoods were strong, and commuters took the bus to work and made it home in the evening with time to enjoy their children instead of sitting in traffic.
    And the Red Sox had Ted Williams back from fighter pilot duty in Korea.
    In the eighties we felt like Rocky – real contenders. For a season or two, the Whalers were a pretty good hockey team. Downtown hosted scores of lavish Christmas parties. Developers were lining up to build gleaming new skyscrapers, each proposal higher and grander than the last. Old buildings were being renovated and rented as elegant places to live.
    Then the Whalers were owned and/or managed by one bozo after another. The most-liked guy in the area ever to lace up skates, Ron Francis, was sent packing. The Colonial Realty pyramid came a-tumbling down and people discovered they didn’t have as much money as they thought. The Latin Kings and Los Solidos were the city’s strongest social organizations and school system administrators decided Spanish was just as good as English. The urban homesteaders headed for the hills of Avon and Coventry.
    The sun even broke through the clouds of the Nineties once in a while. In 1990 and 1995, the Red Sox finished first in their division. Mike Peters was elected mayor in Hartford, the first likable person to grace that office in a decade or two and a person who cared about the city from one end to the other. Blacks, whites and Puerto Ricans all voted for him.
    Economic prosperity came back with a boom in the past few years. Red Sox fans keep coming to Fenway, but the Yankees keep winning World Series. And Hartford’s rivals are also doing better than it is, much better. Stamford is positively exploding, real estate skyrocketing as high-tech and financial companies locate their headquarters there. Steel girders mar the skyline as that city hustles to accommodate them. New London is looking better, with a huge expansion underway for Pfizer and new development around the waterfront just shown off in OpSail 2000. Even lowly Bridgeport is undergoing a mini-Renaissance, with good things going on around its minor league ballpark and the Black Rock area on Long Island Sound.
    And today, though there is cause for hope, doubt and uncertainty linger. The Red Sox boast the game’s best pitcher, Pedro Martinez and today Nomar Garciaparra is batting .400. Speaking of .400, there are houses in Hartford’s West End which are selling in the $400's. Downtown has some restaurants where you actually need a reservation. The cultural foundations – the Bushnell, the Atheneum and Hartford Stage are still solid. There are some terrific things happening in Elizabeth Park, including a great new eatery.
    Hartford maintains its fan base. Some suburbanites still care about it. A few have even moved into it. The Governor and State Legislature have shown a never-before-seen willingness to pony up financial resources to improve the capital city. But, like the Red Sox, one heartbreak after another has left even the most optimistic optimists rubbing their scars of doubt.
    Race still matters more than qualifications over at City Hall. The school system, though slightly improved, would be a joke except it’s not funny. Every day treats us to a new revelation about corruption and incompetence in the city’s police department, culminating this week with the ouster of Acting Chief Deborah Barrows. Barrows is usually described as well-meaning and well-liked, but in "over her head." The same might be true of City Manager Sandra Kee Borges and the rest of her oversight staff, except there is little evidence that they even have heads.
    And Mayor Mike seems stuck on his plateau, unable to lead his team up to the next level.
    The biggest difference between champions and challengers is not necessarily talent, but the ability to overcome one’s own psyche. Hartford focuses itself on its weaknesses and its defeats. No one has a game plan on how to rebuild the city into a winner.
    The most vivid memories for Red Sox fans are Bucky Dent’s winning home run in the 1978 Yankees’ playoff game against Boston and Bill Buckner’s boot of the ground ball in the 1986 World Series when the Bosox were but one out away from having it all.
    Loser memories. Because until you make yourself into a winner, there’s really nothing else.

July 11, 2000