I used to scoff at tradition as a kid but grew to learn over the years, that there is value in certain rituals. They connect us to our past and provide us a way of understanding our world as a continuum. That’s the value some traditions provide. But sadly, some others are orchestrated by manipulative small-minded people as a money or power grab.
Take for example the relatively new Fenway Park tradition of the fan sing-along on Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline.
The "official" story is that someone in charge of the music at Fenway loved the song so much they played it frequently during games, so it eventually became part of the rotation. They tell us there were a couple of games in which the Sox made big comebacks after it was played, so they kept playing it, or so the story goes. It was all very innocent. Just a couple of Neil Diamond fans who forced fed Bostonians a new tradition at Fenway. That’s all there is to it they say.
Don’t believe it! An inside source has spoken up and revealed the truth. Once I knew the real story some things fell into place when I looked back at my own memories and experiences at the ballpark.
I was at a few of those games in the late 90s, early 00s. The first time I heard the song played, probably 1999, it was part of a medley along with All Right Now, Dirty Water, etc. No big deal. But more and more over time the speakers blared out the song during the 7th inning stretch while fans sang along.
Being at the park, it was apparent there were a few people - or maybe “plants” is a better term for them, placed among real fans. It was also apparent those “plants” could only have been assigned by team ownership to sing the song with some gusto and infect an otherwise neutral crowd, infusing them with artificial enthusiasm. And It obviously worked!
As I recall during those early days observing the crowd, some of whom were so joyously singing along with the silly pop song, my friends and I exchanged looks, asking each other “what the hell is this?”
After all it was the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. An institution that prides itself on longstanding tradition and revels in the glory of those bygone days when the only meaningful baseball was played by white guys. Rumor had it that more than half the original team arrived on the Mayflower.
There's one story that perfectly captures the spirit of this tradition-laden franchise. Back in the early 1940s, longtime organist John Kiley was suspended for a whole month the first time he played “Take me out to the ballgame”. When owner Tom Yawkey heard it, he blew his stack, shouting obscenities at Kiley as he sat at the organ and accusing him of “going giddy!”
The general attitude around the team, was that If you wanted fads or pop culture, buy yourself a comic book or a movie ticket. Fans went to 'Fenway to worship at the alter of Baseball, an old-time religion.
THE NEW GUYS
Some 55 years after Kiley's suspension, a new ownership group entered the picture to create a whole new movement at Fenway. Fans welcomed change because they were hungry for success, after more than 80 years of futility; 1918 was the last time the sox won a World Series. So fans were willing to roll with the changes. Optimism prevailed and no one seemed bothered by the meager detail that was a cheap 60s pop song.
Little did we suspect at the time, that one of those vaunted Hollywood conspiracies was being hatched while we worshipped in earnest night after night at gay ol’ Fenway. It's just like they say, the devil is in the details. One of the team’s minority owners is Tom Werner, an executive producer associated with shows like Cosby, Roseann and That 70s Show.
THE REAL STORY
One night during a hobnobbing session involving Mr. Werner and his pal Neil Diamond, probably at Werner’s place, the guys inadvertently got into a pissing contest. In their defense, I’d say it was the fault of the two teenage girls that were their dates that night. The girls pretend-laughed whenever they heard a quip by one of these guys, and that only egged them on of course. Before long, it escalated to wild proportions! Our inside source recreated the scene for us as follows:
The pow-wow between Diamond and Werner and their young dates took place on a blustery evening in March 2002. Werner had his butler throw a couple of logs* on the fire, while Neil spoke out on behalf of the many hard luck artists he’s known that, though they were inferior to himself, were much too talented to die in obscurity. Tom just chuckled and proceeded to patiently school Neil on the 'business side' of things in the music biz.
Now we have to remember, even at this time Neil is an aging legend. His best days are behind him and he knows that. He was in the cue for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame but otherwise there’s not much else going on, and Werner knows that.
Meanwhile Werner was feeling his oats at the time, having secured a place with an ownership team that landed a top-tier baseball franchise in the Boston Red Sox. Although TV sitcoms are his bag, Werner can’t resist playing the showbiz bigshot guy, explaining the way of things and how the big acts are made, and often manufactured.
Being an old pro himself, Neil was no novice with such things, but he insisted there were limits to the extent of the behind-the-scenes string-pulling. That was the opening for Tom’s testosterone-fueled clincher. “Tell ya what?” he began, “how much are you pulling in annually for Sweet Caroline?”
Neil was amused, wondering where this was going. Then Tom jumped back in saying “Sweet Caroline! I always loved that song! What do you say to an additional million in royalties annually? Give me just a little time, I’ll make it an anthem!!” It was music to Diamond's ears but he was still skeptical.
“Just leave it to me and watch!” said Tom, to wrapping things up.
One month later, a small army of “Wernerites” joined the crowd at Fenway, saving their lungs for a mid-7th inning croon. Fans were mostly puzzled as the singing began, but they soon joined in. After all, baseball was the American Pastime (i.e. how we LOVE to pass our time in America) and the ballpark was a place for friendly cheer and goodwill – except for Yankees games of course, during which mortal combat in the stands is expected and customary.
NOTE: *Tom was burning “Hollywood Logs” that night. These are logs that come from the butts of top rated movie stars. These celebrities will typically notify their agent who will retrieve the log(s) from the toilet, then wraps them in US currency, preferably $100 bills, before they are sold to the well-to-do.
Around that time, someone planted a story in local media claiming Diamond had written Sweet Caroline about Caroline Kennedy. This story gave Bostonians a reason to really embrace the song. The story implied, it wasn’t a classic love song after all, or was it? The lyrics do seem to hint at romance.
But then again, there was no escaping the fact that Caroline Kennedy was only 12 or 13 years old when Diamond wrote the song, and he wasn’t a known friend to the Kennedys. It would seem there was something very sleazy about the sentiments expressed in the song by an adult male for a pubescent girl.
That’s when we came up with an alternative title. Sweet Diddleline. We submitted it to the press. But before anything was reported, the Hollywood woo woo went to work and the Caroline Kennedy angle was squelched. 'Damn those Hollywood bastards!' we cried.
THE RED HERRING
According to my source, when he sensed danger, Mr. Diamond quickly came up with another story. He claimed he saw a photo of young Caroline shortly after her father was assassinated and was inspired (So good! So good! So good!) to write the song.
That’s how these Hollywood types do things. They could care less about reality. Screw reality. Reality blows.
You say Neil Diamond is a New Yorker who essentially has no Hollywood ties? That’s exactly what they want you to think!
So that's how it all went down. Werner decided to play God to impress his pal Diamond and a couple of teenage girls, knowing his pal could us some help with his declining career. Our source speculates Werner may have also benefited financially with possible kickbacks from Diamond
In the end the plot succeeded, resulting in a serious grab for a couple of Hollywood goumbas. So what if they manipulate the hearts and minds of the people of Boston in the process? Who cares? We’re just sheep to them. Dumb sheep at that!
Oh, and the other outcome is that a few additional generations of people now know the song Sweet Caroline. Inevitably there are a few from each of those generations - that would be Gen-X, Y and of course, the millennials - who will be listening to, maybe even downloading the song and if you listen closely, you'll hear the ka-ching sound that happens with each transaction. And that, my friends, is what is being referred to in the song's chorus "SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!