Six Fenway Park Books Worth Reading
Seeing the Red Sox fail in such miserable fashion on Opening Day yesterday made me turn off the TV in disgust and do something else, like, read. Later in the day, I was watching the Red Sox highlights last night on NECN (and by that, I mean lowlights). Just after they showed newly minted closer Alfredo Aceves give up the winning the run to the Tigers, anchor Latoyia Edwards said that it’s still “too early to panic.” Too early? Ridiculous! Sox fans are back to their old, neurotic ways of saying the season’s over just as it’s beginning, and yet…what with the recent spate of bad news and reports of bad blood in the clubhouse, it does seem as if the team is already starting on the wrong two left feet. Fortunately, whenever you are like me and have to turn off the game, there are a spate of books out about the Olde Towne Team to keep you occupied.
What’s a better way to ignore the team’s ignoble present than to read about its ballpark’s storied past? Over the past year, we’ve been getting book after book about the 100th anniversary of Fenway:
The best is Field of Our Fathers: An Illustrated History of Fenway Park 1912–2012 (Triumph Books), by Richard A. Johnson, who wrote “Fenway 100” in this month’s issue and is the curator of the Sports Museum in Boston and co-author of that seminal volume every Sox fan should own, Red Sox Century. It serves as both a reference and handsome coffee table book with tons of information and archival images from Johnson’s day job. Neatest of all are the “keepsakes,” facsimiles of actual World Series game tickets and posters scattered throughout the book. It must not have been cheap to produce, so at $35 it’s a steal.
Glenn Stout was the other author on Red Sox Century, and he too has written my other favorite volume on the stadium, called Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway’s Remarkable First Year (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26). In this case, Stout doesn’t try to tell the whole centennial story, but rather gives Friendly Fenway the David McCullough treatment by focusing on this one year. He paints the historical context around the park vividly, and then when the season hurtles towards the climactic World Series victory of the New York Giants, you’ll forget that he’s writing about events 100 years ago.
To hear the players themselves speak, check out Remembering Fenway Park: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Sox (Stewart Tabori & Chang, $45), by Harvey Frommer. While not as definitive as the Johnson book, this big tome still has plenty of great photos and benefits from the compiled voices of important Sox players such as Butch Hobson, Bruce Hurst, Jimmy Piersall, Pumpsie Green, Mike Lowell, and Bill “Spaceman” Lee. Members of the press like Dan Shaughnessy, Leigh Montville, Jerry Trupiano, and Tom Caron also offer their marginally more objective perspective. The forward by Johnny Pesky is woefully short but contains this heartwarming sentiment that could only come from Mr. Red Sox: “It’s been a wonderful ride for the kid out of Portland, Oregon, who signed for a $500 bonus.”
For a multimedia experience, there’s Fenway Park: The Centennial (St. Martin’s Press, $30), by Saul Wisnia. As a book, it’s merely okay, with an easy-to-navigate decade-by-decade approach and a smaller size than other monsters. The main draw here is the DVD documentary that’s included in the book. Called The Golden Age, it covers Sox and Fenway history from 1912 to the Impossible Dream team of 1967, and none other than Pudge, aka Carlton Fisk, is the show host.
If all this history gets a little dry for the kids, and the current team is getting them down, then you might want to sit them in front of Fenway Fever (Philomel, $17), by John H. Ritter. It’s about a 12-year-old boy named Alfredo Carl “Stats” Pagano, who lives and breaths the Sox. (He’s kinda like a Bill James in training.) Not only does Stats require a heart operation at Children’s Hospital, but his heart is breaking for his beloved team that is royally sucking so hard this season that he’s convinced the Curse of the Bambino is back. Needless to say, he comes up with a plan to help the team and win the fans back. While definitely geared towards young readers, I can seriously some desperate grown-ups with bitter tears on their scorecards picking this up to feel better.
Lastly, the weirdest book I received the whole off-season was Extra Innings (Bear Hill Media, $17), by Bruce E. Spitzer. In this debut novel, it’s 90 years after Ted Williams’s death, and the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived has been brought back to life from his cryonic state. In his new life, Teddy Ballgame is disgusted by how the game has devolved and he learns to be a better family man the second time around. There is a definite car-crash appeal to this book that I couldn’t deny — though I’m not sure everyone else will enjoy the bleary worminess I felt in my stomach. At times the sheer ballsiness of this concept sort of thrilled me, and probably would have earned some genuine respect from me if it were written by a Yankee fan looking to prank all of Red Sox Nation. Judge for yourself.
Of course, all of this reading could be unnecessary. The Sox could end up killing it on the field, even marching to another Series title to bookend Fenway Park’s first century. I actually remain an optimist, but just in case we end up waiting until next year (or even the next and the next), at least you now know how to bide your time.