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Joan Vennochi

Bronx cheer? Boston’s harsher

By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / August 29, 2010

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GO TO New York for affirmation; come to Boston for boos.

Every city has its psyche, as Johnny Damon knows.

The onetime hero of the Boston Red Sox 2004 World Series team won’t return here for an encore. He’s sticking with the Detroit Tigers, a ball club whose season is definitely over, rather than signing on with one that still harbors faint playoff hopes. Either he is “an idiot,’’ as Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy wrote — playing off the title of Damon’s autobiography and famous characterization of his teammates — or “there is some larger force at work.’’

Of course there’s a larger force: Multi-millionaire baseball players have feelings, too. Whenever Damon returned to Fenway Park as a member of the New York Yankees, Boston fans booed him. Blinded by the pinstripes, they saw a traitor. They could not see — or at least refused to honor — the athlete wearing them. It hurt. That, plus Sox management had offered Damon $12 million less than the Yankees did.

Well, boo hoo hoo, this is a tough town, and everyone knows it, from Beacon Hill to the Boston Pops. But Damon’s decision makes you wonder how many others slip away and then stay away from the attitude.

New York is tough in its own way, and the difficulty of making it there is legend and lyric. But it also has a tradition of welcoming winners and resurrecting losers.

During a recent “Today’’ show appearance, Lindsay Lohan’s mother, Dina, said her troubled actress daughter would be returning there after finishing a stint in rehab. The return of the prodigal daughter, who was born in New York City and raised on Long Island, led the New York Times to riff on the “promise of reinvention’’ that New York offers to the disgraced and humiliated.

The list of those who sought solace in Gotham includes Richard Nixon, who went to New York after losing the 1962 gubernatorial election in California; Monica Lewinsky, after her scandalous White House internship; and a host of actors who found redemption on Broadway after disaster in their careers or personal lives.

Boston is no longer the simple parochial city on a hill that is easily defined by chowder and Kennedys. But the heart of classic Boston is still driven by politics, sports and revenge. And classic Boston still delights in kicking people when they’re up — like Damon was after 2004 — and especially when they’re down — like Matt Amorello, the former Turnpike Authority chief who was recently arrested for drunk driving.

Losing politicians can retreat for a while to Harvard’s Kennedy School, but they do not launch many successful second careers from here. Michael Dukakis did it once, long ago. After losing a governor’s race, he plotted a successful return to office. But when Dukakis lost the 1988 presidential contest, local voters who had embraced him quickly turned on him. Twenty-two years later, Dukakis can still count on getting whacked if he speaks up.

John Kerry is still a senator after losing the 2004 presidential race, and Martha Coakley is still attorney general after losing this year’s Senate race to Republican Scott Brown. But neither is celebrated, and their defeated status still subjects them to scorn.

Brown is currently the most popular politician in Massachusetts. But who knows when the tide of popularity will begin to turn on him, too? It turns on local heroes from all different walks of life. Someone becomes big in Boston, then fails; or becomes bigger than Boston and succeeds. Either way, it invites contempt from the hometown crowd.

Some, like actor Ben Affleck can go Hollywood and still wear the local-hero crown. On others, like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the crown starts to slip ever so slightly.

Once, the three-time Super Bowl winner could do no wrong. Then, he married a supermodel, built a California mansion, grew his hair and, worse, started to look like he was outgrowing Boston. Let the boos begin.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com.

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