A great deal of the legacy of Tom Menino, the former five-time mayor of Boston who died Thursday, will have roots in sports that are both unintentionally hilarious and determinedly uplifting in the wake of tragedy.
Menino, the city’s longest-serving mayor, died at the age of 71, left office earlier this year, less than a year after leading the city through the shock and horror of the Boston Marathon bombings even as he was fighting health problems of his own. The Boston Globe’s obituary praised his pervasive presence:
For constituents, Mr. Menino was the perennial mayor in their midst, a constant presence at neighborhood events. More than half of the Bostonians who responded to a 2008 Globe poll said they had met him personally. Anyone who watched the mayor stroll through neighborhoods from Bowdoin-Geneva to West Roxbury might think that figure far too low.
Mr. Menino’s health had declined in recent years, and he was hospitalized with a broken leg three days before the bombings occurred at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Checking himself out against his doctor’s advice, he attended the first news conference and three days later pushed himself out of his wheelchair to stand at the pulpit and speak at an interfaith service. “We are one Boston,” he said that day. “No adversity, no challenge, nothing can tear down the resilience in the heart of this city and its people.”
Menino had plenty of occasion to talk about sports as the city’s teams racked up one professional title after another and, usually, every mention was accompanied by the kind of charming malapropism that guaranteed him a spot on national sports TV. A year ago, he said he hoped that the Red Sox would beat the St. Louis Cardinals and win “the World Series Cup.” Dedicating a statue to Bruins star Bobby Orr a few years back, he praised the defenseman’s “ionic” goal.
Last January, he lauded the Patriots. “We have Tom Brady here, we have Tom Brady here, we have Tom Brady here. He’s been our point person all season long,” Menino said. “And Stevan Ridley, he’s been another great guy. And Wilcock.” That would be Vince Wilfork — and Menino went on to call tight end Rob Gronkowski “Gonk.”
Over the years, Menino spoke fondly of “KJ and Hondo” (Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo), Wes Weckler and Grabowski (Wes Welker and Gronkowski) and former NBA commissioner Donald Sterns (David Stern). Who can forget the moment his mention of “Varitek splitting the uprights”? That would have been, of course, former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri, not former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek.
Menino bore his gaffes with good humor. Dan Shaughnessy writes:
Details, details. It didn’t matter. What mattered was the fact that he was the proud mayor of the City of Boston and he presided at a time when our town did something no town has ever done: win championships in all four major sports in a period of six years and four months.
The man was a Boston sports fans. Just like you. Rest in peace, Mr. Mayor.