Ethics Hero: The Boston Red Sox [Updated]

Of late, a lot of institutions that have been important to me have disappointed or embarrassed me. Yesterday the Boston Red Sox made me proud to have been a devoted follower, fan and supporter for my entire adult life. This is a nice tale even if you don’t know a baseball from a kumquat. Trust me on this,

The ethics category is caring.

I have written about the 1967 Red Sox before.They taught me that miracles do happen, that underdogs sometimes prevail, and that perseverance and foolish hope are sometimes rewarded, while giving me the best, most exciting, most inspirational summer of my life. One of the bit players who had a role in that “Impossible Dream” season” was a Double A infielder named Ken Poulsen, an obscure farmhand  called up mid-season when the Sox bench was thin. He postponed his wedding for the chance to play in the big leagues, and had what is called ” a cup of coffee,” playing only five games, getting five at bats, and collecting one lonely hit, a double that had no impact on the game at all.

It was better than Moonlight Graham, but not much. Poulsen was soon returned to the minors and never reached the Major Leagues again. From the SABRE website:

As the Red Sox magically wound their way to the A.L. pennant–with Yaz winning the MVP Award and Lonborg the Cy Young trophy–and then lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, Poulsen languished in baseball obscurity in the Carolina League. By October, his Red Sox teammates had already forgotten about Poulsen when time came to vote on World Series shares. The players decided not to allocate Poulsen any part of the player proceeds, not even a small token gesture to serve as a wedding present. The Boston Globe on October 31 reported that the Red Sox players had voted a one-third share to George Smith, who was injured in spring training and never played an inning during the season, and a flat $1,000 to Ken Brett, a late-season addition from the minor leagues. Jim Landis and Gerry Moses, who both had short stints with the team, received a flat $250 apiece. But nothing was parceled for Poulsen. “Other recipients of Red Sox generosity were two bat boys, a clubhouse boy, two groundskeepers, and a parking lot attendant,” the Globe story noted. “All received $750 each.” There is no record to indicate why Poulsen was left out of the shares.

The snub was long-forgotten—I always assumed Poulsen had at least been given a small  World Series share—though not by Poulsen or his family. He was hurt by the snub, and never attended any of the team reunions through the years. Poulsen died in 2017 at the age of 70.

Then a collector of Red Sox memorabilia, engaged in tracking down and acquiring the bats used by Red Sox players, uncovered the story of the team’s ingratitude to Ken Poulsen along with his bat. He was struck by the injustice; after all, the Red Sox won the tightest pennant race in baseball history in 1967 by a single game. Every contributor to the miracle deserved some part of the glory, but Poulson, for some reason, had never received his share. The collector alerted the team, the team contacted Poulsen’s son, and in last night’s game against the Dodgers, he threw out the first pitch wearing his father’s number 17, as the rest of the family looked on from the field.

But that wasn’t all. Red Sox president Sam Kennedy and the Red Sox pitching ace in 1967, “Gentleman Jim” Lonborg, the team’s 20 game winner and the Cy Young recipient, presented a 1967 World Series ring to Poulsen’s son, his daughter in law, and his three grandsons.

10 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: The Boston Red Sox [Updated]

  1. Hard to be very proud of recognition the deserving player should have received during his lifetime. Gladstone’s maxim.

    • “Liberalism is trust in the people, limited by prudence; and Toryism distrust of the people, limited by fear.” For the life of me, I can’t imagine how this applies.

      The actors who set out to remedy a past wrong accepted an obligation to do so to the best of their ability. They had no obligation to do so, since the original wrong could not be undone. However, making amends to the family of the wronged man was kind and generous, a graceful way of saying “we’re sorry.” When you have no options, you have no problem. This was the best anyone could do, and they did it.

      • I think he was referring to justice delayed us justice denied. That was the first thing I saw when I googled Gladstone maxim.

        -Jut

        • That would make more sense, though I have found more references to the quote I used as “Gladstone’s Maxim.” “Justice delayed is justice denied” make no literal sense: does trying to do justice to the extent it can be done pointless, then? If someone has been wrongly imprisoned for 20 years, should be just say, “Well, this can’t be fixed at all, it’s too late” and leave him there?

          • I tend to agree, except justice delayed is justice denied is often the motto of the lynch mob.

            I really liked this story. Too bad it was two years too late. The real “victim” never got justice.

            In that sense, the maxim fits.

            -Jut

    • Not to flog this, Michael, but as I am genuinely puzzled by your reaction, I’m going to expand on the reply I made on Facebook.You said there that this was akin to a politician “who does something “kinda right” for the publicity.”

      It’s not “kinda right”—it was the only option if the team wanted to address the original slight, which occurred 50 years ago, and was the players’ fault, not the team’s. There was no big PR upside here: Most baseball fans, even in Boston, neither know or care about an obscure walk-on in the 1967 season. The gesture didn’t make national news. The expense of flying the son and the family to Boston and preparing a facsimile ring was a classic random act of kindness. I’m genuinely curious as to what would have been “right” in your view. The victim is dead. He died feeling slighted. The current ownership knew nothing about any of this until it was recently brought to their attention.

    • If you read the SABR article, giving money would open a whole new can of worms. Ken Brett got the $1000—he actually pitched in the Series. Jim Landis got only $250 bucks, which shocked me, because he hit a game-winning home run in his short stint with the team. Again, the Sox won by a single game. If Landis only got $250 for a inning hit, what was Poulson’s fair share for a single meaningless hit? A tenth of that? Or should the team go back and recalculate Landis’s share?

  2. I am Kendra Poulsen, Ken’s daughter and first born. I was not informed of this honor and presentation of the pennant ring they gave my brother yesterday. Obviously, I am devasted that me and my son were left out! And Ken had 2 grandsons. My child and my brother’s. The other children were step children from a recent marriage. It all makes me sick! The Sox should be ashamed of themselves. I could careless about the money.

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