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Book Review: Wicked Good Year: How The Red Sox, Patriots & Celtics Turned The Hub Of The Universe Into The Capital Of Sports by Steve Buckley

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Steve Buckley has been a sportswriter for 30 years, the last 15 for the Boston Herald, and has also been a frequent face on local TV and radio sports talk shows in Boston, MA, and author of several books, the latest of which is called Wicked Good Year.

Chronicling the highly successful 2007-2008 seasons of the Boston Red Sox, Celtics and New England Patriots, Buckley uses historical research and personal stories from athletes, coaches, team personnel and fans to paint a narrative as to how extraordinary a time it was to be a fan of major Boston sports teams between October 28, 2007 and June 17, 2008. That seven-month span is when the Red Sox won the ’07 World Series, the Patriots achieved an undefeated 16-0 season (before losing the ’08 Super Bowl) and Celtics won the ’08 NBA title.

Doc Rivers' Motivational Techniques

The book starts out with the history of “Duck Boats,” first their use for transporting American soldiers in World War II and starting in 1994, its use as a tourism vehicle in and around Boston. Rivers also knew the Patriots and Red Sox rode them in celebrations of championships in 2002, 2004, and 2005. So just as Celtics training camp for the 2007-2008 season got underway, Doc took the new Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen on a private Duck Boat tour so they can see what it means to win a title in this town.

The C’s coach also found a way of stressing team unity via the South African word “ubuntu,” which means “I am because we are.” Buckley writes that (professor) Rivers even had the rookies, led by Glen “Big Baby” Davis do a presentation of the importance of ubuntu in front of the veterans during training camp, which they aced, of course.

The Fan Perspective: The Nantucket Gals, Andrew J. Urban II & Donnie Wahlberg

Perhaps more unique in the telling of Boston sports success stories than most other Boston-based sports books is the view of it all through the eyes and ears of dedicated fans. Whether it was pro autograph collector Andrew J. Urban II, former New Kids On The Block and avid Celtics fan Donnie Wahlberg making front row friendships with fellow C’s enthusiasts Marty Joyce and Mike Rotondi, or 1995 collective Patriots Fan Of The Year, the Nantucket Gals (sisters Jane, Jeanne and Joan), Buckley masterfully writes of their life stories and perspective on the successes, setbacks and controversies of their favorite teams.

One fan moment among many stands out in this book. Wahlberg, it turns out, not only knows his Celtics past very well but this Boston native predicted the future as well. During an ESPN interview that took place before Danny Ainge traded for Kevin Garnett, he declared with a straight face that Boston would have three championship teams in one year, including his beloved Celtics and the Red Sox – he was a few minutes and an incomplete pass to David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII away from being incredibly correct on all three fronts.

How Dustin Pedroia Came To Boston

Throughout Wicked Good Year, Buckley does a page-turner of a job of writing how the C’s, Pats and Sox planted the seeds of success, which is to say that he writes of the dark years, disappointments and trades and draft picks that eventually paid off. His insight into the Randy Moss trade with Oakland is excellent but the most revealing story is how second baseman Dustin Pedroia got drafted to Boston out of Arizona State. The Sox scouting department initially looked at teammate Jeff Larish as its potential pick from the squad, Buckley reveals, but took a closer look at him after 2003 draft pick Jeremy West told an intern at the scouting department in the fall of ’03 that Pedroia was ASU’s best player. In the 2004 baseball draft, Epstein chose Pedroia after all, passing on catcher Kurt Suzuki as well.

Useful And Obscure Patriots, Red Sox And Celtics Facts

One thing readers of this book will notice is that there are more useful factoids than you’ll know what to do with. For example, the Red Sox won the first ever World Series in 1903 vs. Pittsburgh as the Boston Americans, 5 games to 3. The New England Patriots were the Boston Patriots of the AFL until the 1970 merger with the NFL, which permanently placed them in the AFC East division. The Boston Patriots, with Gino Cappelletti and the late Ron Burton as star players, played at Nickerson Field, formerly the home to the Boston Braves, in its first three seasons (1960-1962) and then played six seasons at Fenway Park.

On the more obscure front, Red Sox manager Terry Francona’s father Tito was part of a Cleveland Indians team that hit four homers in a row off of LA Angels pitcher Paul Foytack on July 31, 1963. In April 2007, Terry himself saw four Sox hitters accomplish this same feat for only the second time in MLB history, off of young Yankees pitcher Chase Wright. Buckley not only relays these facts but was able to find out that Foytack (then age 76) watched this game and felt compelled to write Wright a letter of encouragement afterwards, having gone through this rare shellacking himself.

Also, the official NBA logo’s white silhouette you see on the bottom-left of every NBA game backboard was modeled after Lakers great Jerry West. This is barely scratching the surface of fascinating sports facts, and reading this book will reward you far more than I could ever list here.

Nobody’s Perfect

With all the great research and game recaps of C’s/Pats/Red Sox 2007 regular season and playoff games, interview quotes and historical analogies in this book, there are some errors to point out, however trivial they are. First, Buckley contradicted himself in Chapter 5 (“Savior?”) by writing on page 46 that the late former Sox owner Tom Yawkey bought the “laughingstock” that was the Red Sox in 1932, then (correctly) saying he bought the franchise in 1933 on page 49. Also, 110-85 was not the score to “Game 2” of the ’08 Eastern first round playoff series between the C’s and Hawks, it was Game 5.

Also surprising was some contextual omissions on Buckley’s part in regard to the “Spygate” chapter 12, and his insight and recap of the ’08 NBA Finals. First, the author does an excellent job in laying out the similar background Pats coach Bill Belichick and his once protégé Eric Mangini have but makes no mention of his Jets’ own questionable taping of the Patriots in a wildcard playoff matchup in January 2007 at Gillette Stadium, which the Pats contended the Jets never got permission from the Pats to do in the end zone.

The chapter focuses on a lot more subjects than Spygate itself (and thus should’ve had an expanded title), and I’m not about to rehash the whole thing. But as Buckley wrote, the Jets-Pats ’07 opener that turned into the Spygate game was dedicated to the late Marquis Hill, a young Patriots player who died in a tragic accident earlier in 2007. His telling of Patriots players who paid tribute to Hill throughout the season by wearing in games some of the late player’s equipment, including Super Bowl XLII is valuable and powerful insight.

With regard to this respected sportswriter’s analysis of Game 1 of the ’08 Finals between the C’s and Lakers, I would respectfully argue that his declaration that Paul Pierce’s dramatic comeback from injury in the game the Celtics would later win at home was either a great miracle or one of the best “acting jobs” in modern sports history is way off.

The truth is, The Truth never asked for a wheelchair and drama that made his knee injury seem worse than it was. As he would later say, he was hurting but could still play; Pierce just could not bend the knee down all the way without pain. It was the Finals and he did play through whatever ailed him to lead his team to victory in Game 1 and eventually the NBA title in six games, after which he was named Finals MVP.

Conclusion

All told, Wicked Good Year accomplishes the tall task of weaving together the necessary facts and inside (athletic and fan) stories of the successes of three of Boston’s major sports franchises that occurred in a span of seven months and twenty days. It goes well with other Boston championship-minded items like the fan-centered DVD Return To The Rafters, about the Celtics’ 08 NBA title run, Red Sox Rule, Michael Holley’s semi-bio and story of Terry Francona and his Red Sox’s ’07 World Series run, as well as another excellent read, Peter May’s comprehensive recap of Celtics title #17, Top Of The World.

Buckley uses tons of historical facts to put present-day accomplishments in perspective – and perhaps to show off his thorough research skills as well. And they’re not just Boston-related ones but pro baseball, football and basketball facts in general. It might actually take you multiple reads of the same page just to digest them all. And it is fascinating, enjoyable material to read if you’re an avid sports lover. Even Yankees fans like author Jonathan Eig raved about this book. And enjoying what you read is the ultimate goal, isn’t it?

Boston sports fans and other curious minds, get yourself ready to set aside enough time to get through this 317-page journey, because reading Wicked Good Year will be time well spent. In fact, “Spygate” and Super Bowl XLII aside, you’ll definitely have a wicked good time reading it all the way through.

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About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.