Fenway Park Turns 100
The People’s Park
Baseball isn’t the only thing that’s defined Fenway over the years.
FENWAY PARK. We know it as the playground of Youk, Manny, Nomar, Pedey, and Papi, and the time-honored domain of Tris Speaker, the Miracle Braves, Babe Ruth, Bobby Doerr, Ted Williams, the Impossible Dream, and baseball’s eternal sunshine boy, Johnny Pesky. What may come as a surprise as Fenway turns 100 this month, though, is that America’s oldest Major League ballpark has also been home to some of the greatest (and most colorful) non-baseball moments in Boston history.
[sidebar]For Fenway’s first 60 years, the park buzzed with nonstop action of every variety. From high school football games to FDR’s final campaign speech to the 1959 Boston Jazz Festival, it all happened here, at Boston’s very own people’s park. And then — it simply ended. From the early 1970s to 2002, Fenway was reserved almost exclusively for baseball. To understand why, you have to go back to the beginning.
The Red Sox launched their first season at Fenway Park on April 20, 1912, when Boston had two Major League Baseball teams and a nationally ranked football team at Harvard, but no other bigtime sporting activity save for the occasional boxing match. The park — named by then–Red Sox owner John Taylor and designed to fit in with the brownstones of the surrounding Back Bay and Fens — was built in a mere eight months. Just over two decades later, new owner Tom Yawkey reconstructed the facility during a remarkable seven-month stretch between 1933 and 1934, instituting a 24/7 c onstruction schedule after two major fires set progress back. Yawkey used union labor to complete the second-largest contracting project in Depression-era Boston, and in so doing became a local hero.
Decades later, though, Yawkey, his wife, Jean, and the Yawkey Trust would be responsible for an entirely different type of transformation at Fenway. It all started in 1968 with the collapse of Boston’s North American Soccer League franchise, which played its games at the park. Three years after the soccer goal posts were removed came the opening of Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro and the continued expansion of Boston College’s Alumni Stadium, developments that essentially eliminated the need for Fenway to serve as a multipurpose venue. At that point, the Yawkeys decided that there were few ancillary activities with enough revenue potential to justify the wear and tear on their baseball diamond. In fact, the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival and the 1999 Major League All-Star Game were the only really significant non–Red Sox events the Yawkey group would hold at Fenway over their last three decades as owners.
With John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino’s purchase of the team from the Yawkey Trust in 2002, however, the Fenway of yore began to make a comeback. The current owners have spent a quarter-billion dollars on renovations, and opened Fenway up to hockey and soccer games, concerts, daily tours, and other non-baseball events. In other words, they’ve returned the park to the people. Which is why it’s appropriate that, in honor of Fenway’s 100th year, fans can expect an unprecedented free open house on April 19, a soccer match in July featuring Henry and Werner’s latest acquisition, Liverpool FC, and a possible blockbuster political event (think big — as in presidential).
So to celebrate this, the birthday of the only Major League Baseball stadium that’s reached its centennial, we look back on the 100 people, moments, and events (in no particular order) that have defined Fenway Park over the past century — the good, the bad, and the monumental.
1. The first “bus” to Fenway, in 1915, cost just 5 cents.
2. Thanks to blue laws and Fenway’s proximity to a church, the Sox were once banned from playing Sunday home games. The law was changed in 1932, three years after Revere officials tried to lure the team to their city with a 41,000-seat stadium.
3. In 1954, the Gaelic Athletic Association brought top-flight hurling to Fenway.
Richard Johnson is the curator of the Sports Museum and the author of 21 books, including Field of Our Fathers: An Illustrated History of Fenway Park. Additional reporting by Kimya Kavehkar. All photos courtesy of the Boston Public Library.
4. Fenway’s last regularly scheduled double-header was May 31, 1971. Since then, they’ve been held due only to rainouts.
5. The longest game at Fenway was played on September 3, 1981. It went 20 innings before being suspended.
6-10. Fenway at the movies
- Fear Strikes Out (1957)
- Field of Dreams (1989)
- Fever Pitch (2005)
- The Town (2010)
- Moneyball (2011)
11. It cost $339.01 to take a family of four to Fenway last year, making it the most expensive of all the MLB ballparks.
12. In the late ’40s, Sox owner Tom Yawkey would listen to his team’s road games via a large table radio placed on a chair near the batting cage. He also got his Sox gear dirty by chasing fly balls and grounders hit to him by his underlings.
13-19. The Longest Sox Home Runs Ever Hit at Fenway
- Ted Williams, September 28, 1960: 420 ft.
- David Ortiz, September 21, 2006: 425 ft.
- David Ortiz, September 21, 2006: 430 ft.
- Bernie Carbo, October 21, 1975: 430 ft.
- Manny Ramirez, June 23, 2001: 463 ft.
- Manny Ramirez, June 23, 2001: 501 ft.
- Ted Williams, June 9, 1946: 502 ft.
20-29. The Most Important Red Sox Games Played at Fenway
- Sox Upset Giants, October 16, 1912: Eight years after the New York Giants refuse to play the Olde Towne Team in the World Series (Giants manager John McGraw deemed the club, part of the upstart American League, unworthy of challenging his National League team), the Sox defeat the Giants — and their ace pitcher, Christy Mathewson — in the 1912 series.
- The Drought Begins, September 11, 1918: The Sox beat the Cubs in the sixth and deciding game of the World Series — and don’t win another championship for 86 years.
- Enter the Radio Era, April 13, 1926: WNAC’s Gus Rooney calls the team’s first-ever radio broadcast, a 12-11 Opening Day loss to the Yankees.
- A Modern Fenway, April 17, 1934: The park reopens after seven months of renovations, with the Sox suffering a 6-5 loss to the Washington Senators.
- Bid Babe Adieu, August 12, 1934: Babe Ruth makes his last appearance at Fenway as a Yankee. The Sox pack an estimated 47,000 fans into the park for the event, and turn away at least another 15,000.
- Color Barrier Finally Broken, August 4, 1959: Pumpsie Green makes the Sox the last team in the majors to integrate (and socks a triple in his first-ever Fenway Park at-bat).
- Impossible Dream, October 1, 1967: The Sox defy 100-to-1 preseason odds and clinch their first pennant in 21 years.
- Fisk goes Deep, October 21, 1975: Carlton Fisk’s game-winning midnight blast in the epic sixth game of the ’75 World Series becomes the most-replayed home run in major league history.
- The Steal, October 17, 2004: Dave Roberts’s legendary ninth-inning steal in Game 4 of the ALCS sets the stage for David Ortiz’s two-run walk-off dinger in the 12th. The victory allows the Sox to avert a sweep by the Yankees, and propels the team to the greatest comeback in postseason history.
- The Single, October 18, 2004: The next day, Ortiz’s 14th-inning hit wins Game 5, sending the Sox back to Yankee Stadium, where they go on to win the American League championship.
30. Following their 1915 World Series win, the Red Sox actually cut the price of box seats from $1.50 to $1, and the top grandstand from $1 to 75 cents.
31. Approximately 3.4 million people visit Fenway Park each year.
32. An old billboard behind the ballpark captures the baseball spirit, reading "Go Red Sox, John Donnelly & Sons".
33. A $50 donation to the Red Sox Foundation is all it takes to get your message on the scoreboard.
34-43. Big-League Concerts: Music legends who’ve turned Fenway Park into a concert hall.
- John Philip Sousa and the Navy Band (1920)
- Ray Charles (Boston Jazz Festival) (1959)
- Bruce Springsteen (2003)
- Jimmy Buffett (2004)
- The Rolling Stones (2005)
- Sheryl Crow (2006)
- Neil Diamond (2008)
- Phish (2009)
- Paul McCartney (2009)
- Aerosmith (2010)
44-48. Five Fenway Myths
- The Myth: There are no bad seats in the park. The Reality: Many of the right-field grandstands don’t face home plate; there are hundreds of obstructed-view seats behind the poles; and just try enjoying a game from the bleachers behind the bullpen.
- The Myth: The left-field wall favors right-handed hitters. The Reality: While the short distance to the wall does giveth to righties, the height of the wall taketh away by turning what would be home runs elsewhere into mere singles.
- The Myth: The Fenway diamond is oddly positioned because of the size of the lot and Boston’s street patterns. The Reality: Since games in 1912 started around 3 p.m., the field was laid out to shield the setting sun from batters’ eyes.
- The Myth: Sox fans have always flocked to Fenway. The Reality: Before 1967, the team often played before crowds of 10,000 or less, compared with 2011’s average turnout of nearly 38,000.
- The Myth: Swampy Back Bay soil prevented builders from creating an upper deck for the park. The Reality: The team simply ran out of time in 1912 to add one (though the footing remains).
49. On September 14, 2010, 5,189 new citizens were sworn in at a Fenway Park naturalization ceremony.
50-56. Fenway Makeovers: The minor upgrades and major facelifts that made the park what it is today.
- In preparation for the 1912 World Series, the team adds nearly 10,000 seats to the park.
- The landmark Duffy’s Cliff — a 10-foot-high dirt mound that served as a warning track at the base of the old left-field wall — is leveled during the 1933–1934 reconstruction, making way for the Green Monster.
- In 1940, the Sox reconfigure the park to play to the strengths of their newest star, Ted Williams. The “Williamsburg” project includes the construction of the center- and right-field bullpens, as well as new seats in the right-field corner.
- The park gets a large auxiliary press box before the 1946 All-Star Game, making Fenway the city’s first double-decker stadium since the South End Grounds burned down in 1894.
- Halfway through the 20th century, Fenway finally goes electric: Arc lights are installed for the 1947 season.
- In 1965, a drab “Cities Service” display is reincarnated as the Citgo sign.
- John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino take over in 2002, setting off a renovation frenzy that over the next 10 seasons will include new scoreboards, the State Street Pavilion, the EMC Club, and the coveted Monster seats atop the left-field wall.
57. In 1914, a Fenway mini circus complete with clowns, a brass band, and three elephants performed for local schoolchildren and their parents (the kids raised $6,700 to purchase the animals).
58. Cardinal Richard Cushing takes in a game at Fenway around 1950.
59-61. Park Secrets Fenway’s hidden past, from those who know it best.
- The Bar: Fenway’s old press-box dining room — Boston’s most exclusive watering hole — attracts such baseball royalty as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Ernie Harwell.
- The Call: When a bomb threat is called into the park’s switchboard one day in the late ’80s, legendary operator Helen Robinson informs the caller that she doesn’t have time for such things, and promptly hangs up on him.
- The Save: The bar located on the Budweiser deck above right field is made of parts salvaged from an old candlepin bowling alley once located in the Game On! Space.
62. Sox trainer Bits Bierhalter tends to the clubhouse stove in 1932.
63-72. Fenway’s Most Memorable Characters
Heroes, villians, frenzied fans … they’re all a part of this Sox fanatic’s hall of fame.
Michael “Nuf Ced” McGreevy, with Sox 1903–1918
The leader of the Royal Rooters, a Boston fan club from the early days, McGreevy was also the proprietor of America’s first sports bar, the Third Base Saloon (it was where you stopped before heading home).
Babe Ruth, with Sox 1914–1919
The Babe was known more for pitching during his time with the Sox…and drinking and all-hours carousing. Perhaps the greatest ballplayer — and playboy — to ever don a Boston uniform, he was, of course, sold to New York after the 1919 season. His specter hung over the Fens for 86 years.
Tom Yawkey, with Sox 1933–1976
Though long deified, Yawkey is often reviled today. He kept his-and-hers private boxes for home games so he could drink and swear with the boys while the ladies (including his wife, Jean) sat elsewhere. The Red Sox, meanwhile, were the last team in the league to integrate, which is why he is now commonly labeled a racist.
Ted Williams, with Sox 1939–1960
It may be hard to believe, but the Splendid Splinter’s final game at Fenway was sparsely attended — and when he bashed that home run in his last at-bat, he famously refused to tip his hat to the crowd. (“Gods do not answer letters,” John Updike explained.)
Elizabeth “Lib” Dooley, with Sox 1944–2000
“The greatest Red Sox fan there’ll ever be,” according to none other than Ted Williams. Dooley, who passed away in 2000, attended more than 4,000 consecutive Red Sox home games over a six-decade period, walking from her Kenmore Square apartment.
Sherm Feller, with Sox 1967–1993
How do you define memorable? How about this: “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to Fenway Park.” Feller became the voice that welcomed fans to the park in 1967, and even now, 18 years after his death, a recording of the PA announcer’s words greets fans at the beginning of every home game.
Bill “Spaceman” Lee, with Sox 1969–1978
Spaceman feuded with then–Sox manager Don Zimmer and voiced his opinions on everything from court-ordered busing to Maoist China. His pot use was legendary, but so was his pitching: He came up big in the ’75 World Series and had a 3.64 ERA during his time with the team.
Luis Tiant, with Sox 1971–1978
Before Pedro Martinez turned Fenway into an every-fifth-day fiesta, there was El Tiante. Remarkably, even as the busing crisis raged outside the ballpark, the most popular guy in town was a dark-skinned Cuban pitcher who liked to smoke victory cigars in the shower.
Pedro Martinez, with Sox 1998–2004
Electrifying crowds with his performance in the 1999 All-Star Game — not to mention countless other unforgettable moments (“Diez punchados por Pedro!”) — he may have been the most captivating showman the ballpark has ever seen.
Manny Ramirez, with Sox 2001–2008
For eight years, Manny being Manny was equally exhilarating and exasperating. He launched home runs…and demanded trades. He gave hugs (and allegedly urinated) in the outfield. But the 2004 and 2007 World Series championships simply wouldn’t have happened without him. — Jason Schwartz
Illustrations by Roy Knipe
73. The ratio of male to female visitors to the park is 60 to 40.
74. Mayor James Michael Curley throws out the first pitch on Opening Day in 1924.
75-77. Fenway Police Blotter
The Town has nothing on these real-life Fenway crime stories.
- Foiled Robbery, September 11, 1919: A plot to rob the box office and Sox payroll is thwarted when Captain John Goode of Station 16 receives a tip about the planned heist. Goode sends 100 officers and two companies of state guardsmen to line the route from Kenmore Station to the park. No arrests are made, but no money is lost.
- Illegal Gambling, April 26, 1936: Police Captain Francis Tiernan leads three squads of plainclothes officers to Fenway, where nine men are arrested for reportedly using finger signs as a silent system of registering bets.
- Possession of Stolen Property, May 12, 2011: Nahant resident Jamie Pritchard Holland is arrested for allegedly attempting to sell $25,000 worth of memorabilia that baseball officials say has been stolen from Fenway: a home plate from the bullpen, an outfield distance marker signed by Johnny Pesky, and a glove used by Kevin Youkilis. (The case is ongoing.)
79-81. The Park in Politics
Fenway has been the site of appearances by dignitaries of all stripes.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt: FDR delivers the final campaign speech of his career on November 4, 1944, putting a twist on his famous maxim by telling the nation that “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” The national broadcast is preceded by a program that includes Morton Downey Sr., Orson Welles, Kate Smith, and Frank Sinatra.
- John F. Kennedy: During a 1946 campaign stop at Fenway, JFK chats with Ted Williams and Eddie Pellagrini of the Red Sox, and Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers.
- Eamon de Valera: An overflow crowd of 60,000 jams Fenway on June 27, 1919, to hear the Irish leader call for American support in the country’s battle for independence from Great Britain.
- Barry Goldwater: On September 24, 1964, the former GOP presidential candidate speaks to a throng of supporters, who pay a dollar each to hear the Arizona senator. Outside, detractors surround the park to protest his stand on civil rights.
82. Fans stake out a spot in this 1955 Jersey Street ticket line.
83. Engineers say the existing ballpark structure has 40 to 50 more years of life.
84-86. Ballpark Figures a few of Fenway’s favorite snacks, by the numbers.
Fenway Franks: 1,100,000 est. sold per season
The cost in 1967: $0.35
The cost in 2011: $5.00
Burgers: 85,000 est. sold per season
The cost in 1967: $0.50
The cost in 2011: $7.00
Narragansett Beers: 22,828 est. sold per season
The cost in 1967: $0.50
The cost in 2011: $7.25
87. The paint color used for the Green Monster and the bleacher seats is, of course, Fenway Green.
88. A group of women shoot the breeze with Sox players. The first annual Ladies Day, which featured reduced ticket prices for women, was held in 1933. The team continued the tradition into the early ’70s.
89-92. The Greatest Non-Baseball Sporting Events
- Kid Chocolate vs. Steve Smith: Twenty-seven years before the Red Sox integrate their lineup, junior lightweight boxing world champion Kid Chocolate, a black boxer from Cuba, beats Smith, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, in a 10-round bout.
- Everett High vs. Oak Park: (Illinois) High: The local powerhouse crushes the visitors from Illinois 80-0 in the 1914 High School Football National Championship. Seventy years later, Sports Illustrated calls that Everett squad the greatest high school football team ever.
- Redskins vs. Giants: After falling on hard times, the Boston Braves leave Braves Field; change their name to the Redskins; and in 1933 beat the NY Giants in their first game at Fenway.
- Bruins vs. Flyers: Frozen Fenway is the venue for the third NHL Winter Classic on January 1, 2010. The Bruins beat the Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 2-1 in overtime.
93-97. Fenway’s Best Brawls
- Carlton Fisk vs. Thurman Munson: Munson, the Yankee catcher, adds fuel to the Boston/New York rivalry in 1973 when he punches Fisk on the field, leading to a dramatic bench-clearing dustup.
- Tom Yawkey vs. Fenway Park: On the cusp of realizing the Impossible Dream in 1967, Yawkey informs local media that the Red Sox will not be playing in Fenway Park in five years: “We’ve been losing money. You can’t go on forever. … This is not a threat. Merely a statement of fact.”
- Jimmy Piersall vs. Billy Martin: Center fielder Piersall battles the Yankee second baseman in a 1952 brawl that starts on the field and continues in the narrow corridor that connects both clubhouses.
- Edward “Buddy” LeRoux vs. Boston: On June 6, 1983, the day the Sox are honoring fallen hero Tony Conigliaro, part owner LeRoux mars the festivities with a press conference to announce that he’s taking over the team. LeRoux is later rebuffed in court, and eventually sells his interest in the club.
- Pedro Martinez vs. Don Zimmer: After Manny Ramirez takes exception to a Roger Clemens pitch during the 2003 ALCS, both benches empty. In the melee that follows, Yankee bench coach and former Sox manager Zimmer lunges at Martinez, who throws him to the ground.
98. Roughly 220,000 people took the Fenway tour last year.
99. Sox owner Tom Yawkey tried — unsuccessfully — to annex Lansdowne Street in 1958 so Fenway could be further expanded and renovated.
100. Firefighters battle flames at Fenway during a devastating 1934 fire.
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