As a young boy, Bill Galatis would listen to the stories his father would tell about the legendary Lynn Classical athlete, Harry Agganis.
“Growing up in Chelsea, my dad [Bill Sr.] followed Harry’s career at Lynn Classical and BU, not only because my dad was Greek, but my dad played semi-pro football for the Ipswich Red Raiders,” recalled Galatis. “The fact that my father talked about Harry as much as he did, had an impact on my life.”
Galatis said he admired Agganis so much that he wanted to attend Boston University, Agganis’s alma mater.
“I was admitted to BU, but unfortunately I couldn’t go because we didn’t have enough money,” said Galatis, who eventually attended Suffolk University, but later became an adjunct professor at BU for eight years.
Agganis played two seasons with the Boston Red Sox and Galatis – never forgetting those childhood tales from his father about “The Golden Greek” – wanted to do something special at Fenway Park to honor the memory of the former Sox first baseman, who died in 1955 at the age of 26.
“I met with Gordon Edes, the Red Sox historian, and talked to him about Harry Agganis and the impact he had, not only on Lynn Classical and BU, but on the Red Sox,” said Galatis. “So I asked Gordon if the Red Sox would consider honoring Harry.”
Edes responded to Galatis that he talked with Red Sox senior management and the organization wanted to honor Agganis.
“I came up with the idea of honoring Harry on June 27 as part of a wider Greek Heritage celebration and the Red Sox approved it,” said Galatis, noting that the date has special significance as it falls on the 63rd anniversary of Agganis’s death.
Next Wednesday prior to the Angels-Red Sox game, the Red Sox will unveil a bronze plaque in tribute to Harry Agganis.
Haris Lalacos, Ambassador of Greece to the United States, and Greg Agganis, great nephew of Harry Agganis, will each throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
“The Greek Ambassador went to school at Amherst College and became a huge Red Sox fan, so I was able to convince him to fly up and take part in the pre-game ceremony,” said Galatis.
More than 250 students from Lynn Classical, Lynn English and the St. George Greek Orthodox Church, along with athletes playing in the Agganis Football Classic, will attend the game, thanks to the generosity of the Agganis Foundation, the Agganis family, Old Neighborhood Foods, and the Gerondelis Foundation. The Lynn English JROTC will serve as the Honor Guard during the National Anthem that will be sung by a Greek Orthodox choir from Braintree.
Gov. Charlie Baker has proclaimed June 27 as Harry Agganis Day in Massachusetts and will present a special proclamation to Greg Agganis. There will also be a video tribute during the ceremony. Five Greek-Americans, including Channel 5 newscaster Maria Stephanos, will be also be honored as part of Greek Heritage Night.
Galatis is excited that the Red Sox will permanently display the bronze plaque in honor of Agganis behind home plate on the outside wall of the Red Sox Clubhouse.
“The plaque will explain why Harry Agganis has such a special place at Fenway, because not only was Harry their starting first baseman, but all the Boston University home football games were played at Fenway in those days,” said Galatis. “Agganis and the BU football filled Fenway for those football games when he played.”
Galatis, a 1971 Medford High School classmate of Lynn Classical Principal Gene Constantino, said Classical will send three busloads of students to the game. Seventy-five members of the St. George Greek Orthodox Church, where Harry Agganis and his family were members, will also be at Fenway.
“All told, we’ll have 1,700 people on hand to help celebrate Greek Heritage Night and honor Harry Agganis,” said Galatis. “It’s a great tribute. Harry’s story really defines the immigrant experience in those days. And I’m proud to be part of the group that is essentially the keeper of the flame for Harry Agganis.”