Not a happy ending for Boomer

BOSTON -- It would be a happier occasion if we could report that George Scott, before he died Sunday at age 69, looked back on his Red Sox years through the same sepia-toned filter of nostalgia employed by so many of us when we recall the 1967 Impossible Dream generation.

That it would all be stories of "taters," which is what The Boomer, as teammate Joe Foy first named him and Boston Globe legend Bud Collins labeled him in print, called his tape-measure home runs. "I love my taters, my sweet potaters, and I love my home runs just like taters," he'd say.

Or of the glove he called "Black Beauty," which helped him win eight Gold Gloves at first base. Or his friendships with Tony C. and Rico, Reggie Smith and Yaz, his love for the fans in what he called his "garden city."

But it isn't so. George Scott, according to his biographer, never got over the bitterness he felt over the fact that Major League Baseball, and the Red Sox in particular, never offered him a job when his playing days were over -- as an instructor, a coach or a manager. Coupled with the slights he endured as a young player in what he perceived as a racially insensitive organization (one of his minor league teams, believing it a harmless prank, once came to his hotel room dressed like Ku Klux Klan members) -- this child of the segregated Mississippi Delta was burdened by sorrows when he died in Greenville, Miss., in the home he built for his mother back in that magical year, 1967.

"I was surprised he died so suddenly," biographer Ron Anderson said by phone from his New Hampshire home Monday night. "He was a diabetic, but when I last talked to him about a month ago, he didn't reveal anything. He was a very proud man, and he may have covered it up if something was wrong.

"He carried too much weight, we all know that," Anderson estimating Scott weighed more than 400 pounds. "He was eating himself to death."

Scott was especially troubled by the fractious relationship he had with manager Dick Williams, which began when Williams embarrassed him by playing him in right field for a game in spring training in 1967 and came to a head in 1968, when he slumped from the .300 hitter he had been in the pennant year to .171.

Williams made his reputation as a taskmaster, but Scott felt that Williams frequently berated him publicly more than his teammates. Williams never showed him the same sensitivity, he said, that Eddie ("Pops") Popowski displayed when he managed Scott in the minors, and later as a Red Sox coach. Scott was keenly aware that he was one of the first African-Americans the Red Sox had promoted as an everyday position player. In 1961, under heavy public pressure for being the last major league team to integrate, the Sox had hired a former Negro League star, Ed Rogers, to scout the deep South.

Rogers, who had discovered a young Henry Aaron, first saw Scott on a rock-filled field in Mississippi, picking grounders with ease. Rogers also showed the power the Red Sox would see first-hand when Scott hit a 500-foot home run in Yankee Stadium in 1966, and throughout a career in which he hit 271 home runs for the Sox and Milwaukee Brewers.

But while Rogers may have discovered him, it was his white counterpart, Milt Bolling, who signed him. Back then, Anderson said, African-American scouts could not negotiate financial terms with players. That was a job left to white scouts.

As fate would have it, Scott was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2006, in the same class as Dick Williams. The manager came up to Scott and thanked him, Anderson said, for letting Williams off the hook with his remarks at the dinner that night. "I was standing right next to him when he came up to George," Anderson said.

But even that evening did not bring about a reconciliation for Scott. He complained afterward to Anderson that no one came to his table to congratulate him. By his reckoning, none of the other former players in attendance, and no one from Red Sox management.

"I really don't remember that evening very well," Sox CEO Larry Lucchino wrote in an e-mail Monday night. "I do know I met a lot of people that night, and I'm sorry if I missed George. "I know that we welcomed him here subsequently, as late as 2010 and 2011, and we were hoping he'd be here last year for our 100th anniversary celebration."

By then, there was probably little the Sox could have done to ease the pain Scott felt for his inability to land a job in a major league organization after his 12-year playing career ended. He managed in the Mexican League, and kicked around a few independent leagues, including a stint with the Massachusetts Mad Dogs in Lynn, but it never went beyond that.

"I think he spent a lot of time waiting for that phone call that never came," said Anderson, who first met Scott in 1996.

When Scott was a freshman in high school, he quit school in order to take a job to help his impoverished mother. School officials interceded. With the help of a local soda bottling plant, they brokered a deal in which Scott would go to school, but have a job that would keep the family afloat. Only then was Scott given the chance to blossom into a great all-around athlete, one who loved basketball more than baseball. The man who became the Boomer.

"George was a man of great character," Anderson said. "He felt misunderstood. He didn't think the game gave him a chance it should have given.

"Some people say George Scott wasn't very smart. He was not a greatly educated man; there were a lot of malapropisms.

"But if you listened carefully, there was a great deal of wisdom."