1949, 1951-1952

Harry Agganis was born in Lynn, Mass. He was the Red Sox first baseman, but he was also a star football player. In two seasons with Agganis as the starting QB, Lynn Classical's record was 21-1-1. He passed for 48 touchdowns and scored 24 himself.

Seventy-five colleges, from Notre Dame on down, tried to recruit Agganis but he wanted to stay close to home. Influential in getting him to go to Boston University was Red Sox owner, Tom Yawkey, who wanted more college football fans at Fenway.

Before Agganis and after Agganis, B.U. was a football nonentity. Harry was like Larry Bird at Indiana State, carrying his team into national prominence.

After his sophomore season in 1949, when he set a school record by tossing fifteen touchdown passes, he entered the Marine Corps and played for the Camp Lejeune football and baseball teams. After he received a dependency discharge from the Marines to support his mother, Harry returned to B.U. to play in 1951.

That year, he set another Boston University mark by passing for 1,402 yards and won the Bulger Lowe Award as New England's outstanding football player.

In 1952's 9-7 win over three-touchdown favorite Miami, Agganis intercepted two passes, made 14 tackles, and punted for 58, 65 and 67 yards, the final kick resulting in the winning safety.

In a game against William & Mary that year, he was 14-for-22 passing for 187 yards and four TDs; he intercepted two passes, had two runs of more than 30 yards each, and punted for an average of 43 yards, including a 58-yard punt.

The biggest game of his football career came a few weeks later at Fenway Park against Maryland, ranked second in the nation. It was Saturday, Nov. 1, 1952, and there were 40,000 fans in Fenway Park. The Terrapins had a simple game plan -- injure Agganis. After several gang tackles his ribs were so badly banged up that he had to be helped off the field. X-rays showed nothing broken, but severe bruises made it painful to breathe and caused him to miss the next two games.

The Terriers finished with a record of 17-10-1 in Harry's three years at quarterback, a minor league school playing against national powers. He made second-team All-American at quarterback.

After the regular season, he dominated the North-South Senior Bowl in Alabama. Agganis had already been drafted #1 after his junior year by the NFL powerhouse Cleveland Browns. They offered him a large bonus and Coach Paul Brown planned to make him Otto Graham's replacement.

But Agganis signed a contract with the Boston Red Sox. In the summer of 1947, Lynn Classical won the state baseball championship, and he hit .352. He was chosen to play in the Hearst All-Star game at the Polo Grounds and played semipro ball in the summer.

Agganis was the focus of much newspaper coverage at the Red Sox 1953 spring training camp, but as expected, he was sent to Triple-A Louisville before the season began.

In spring training 1954 Agganis was competing for the Sox first base job with Dick Gernert, a beefy right-handed slugger from Temple University, who'd had 21 homers for the Sox the year before. Agganis was big for his era (6'2", 200) also, but he was left-handed. Manager Lou Boudreau said he planned to platoon the two at first base.

In the Red Sox home opener against the Senators, on April 15, 1954, Agganis hit a triple into the right field corner. It would have been an inside-the-park homer, but lumbering George Kell was on first base, and Harry had to slow down to keep from passing him.

Agganis batted only .251, but did lead the league in assists, and led the team with eight triples. But it was not the spectacular success he was used to.

In 1955 there was a new entrant in the first base derby, the enormous (6' 4-1/2", 220 lbs) Norm Zauchin who hit well that spring and won the job. But when he started the season 0-for-12, Agganis was back in the lineup.

On May 15th Agganis played both ends of a doubleheader against the Tigers. He showed up at Fenway Park the next day complaining of a terrific pain in his right side. Trainer Jack Fadden took his temperature, saw a fever, and had Harry taken to the hospital., where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and kept there for ten days.

When Harry came back he looked pale, was sweating a lot, and still coughing. He didn't start again until June 2nd in Chicago, where he went 2-for-4. One of the hits looked like a sure triple, but after reaching second he sat down on the base, exhausted.

On the train ride to Kansas City that night, he coughed incessantly. The next morning he had a fever and took a plane home, again going back to the hospital. The doctors diagnosed pneumonia in the left lung, as well as phlebitis in the right leg. He was a lot sicker than he realized when he entered the hospital. His case was a very complicated serious one and his condition did not seem to improve.

On the morning of Monday, June 27th, the doctors had decided to sit him up in a chair for the first time. As the doctors and nurses were lifting him up, he clutched his chest. A blood clot had traveled to his lung -- a pulmonary embolism. Harry Agganis was dead twenty minutes later.

Red Sox announcer, Curt Gowdy nearly broke down and cried during the radio broadcast. Ted Williams said in his biography that he cried on the field that day. Frank Sullivan came back from where the team was playing, for his funeral and said it was one of the saddest things he had ever seen. People were in the streets with tears pouring down.

An estimated 10,000 people had filed past Harry's body the evening before the funeral. Nearly 20,000 people lined the silent streets in the mile between the church and the cemetery. It took nine cars to carry the flowers, which came from everywhere; from teammates, to the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants, the Marines at Camp LeJeune, down to the Little Leaguers.

His athletic feats may have been golden and impressive, but so was Harry Agganis as a person. He was one of the brightest stars that ever twinkled over Boston's sports history.