Oral History: The 1999 All-Star Game That Saved Fenway Park

Twenty-five years ago, the Red Sox planned a grand farewell for Fenway Park. Instead, thanks to Ted Williams, Pedro Martínez, and perhaps the greatest assembly of baseball talent ever, the 1999 MLB All-Star Game helped save the historic landmark.

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

In 1999, before the seemingly endless parade of championships in this town, Boston sports fans were longing for a win—any win. The Patriots were in decline after a Super Bowl shortcoming. The Celtics were realizing the false promise of the Rick Pitino era. And the Red Sox? After more than 80 years without a title, the faithful were so fatalistic that many fully believed in the Curse of the Bambino. The city desperately needed a triumph.

Then, in July 1999, the Red Sox hosted an All-Star week for the ages that didn’t just sow the seeds of future glory, but arguably saved the outdated park itself. Fenway was all but slated for demolition to make way for a larger, more modern and comfortable park, and team management wanted a sendoff like no other. First came FanFest at the Hynes Convention Center, which drew upward of 120,000 baseball lovers, followed by a Home Run Derby, during which the juiced-up sluggers of the day sent buckets of balls sailing over the Green Monster and onto Lansdowne Street. But the main event was the All-Star Game itself, the first to be held at Fenway Park in decades.

An aging Ted Williams, a.k.a. the greatest hitter who ever lived, enchanted a group of adoring players before throwing out the first pitch. Then he ceded the mound to Pedro Martínez, who’d joined the Sox the year before. Martínez went on to seal his reputation as one of the greatest pitchers of all time by laying waste to a steroid-laced lineup of future Hall of Famers and disgraced stars as if they were Little Leaguers. Together, the two baseball phenoms paid homage to Red Sox history while hinting at the bright new future Martínez would help usher in. They also turned what was supposed to be a tribute to the park’s historical significance into a demonstration of its enduring appeal. In other words, the stars hadn’t just aligned that day—they’d collided in a way no one could have scripted. And in doing so, they made baseball magic. Just ask those who watched and played a part in it; 25 years later, they’re still dreaming about that unforgettable day.


On May 15, 1999, the Red Sox unveiled a plan for a new $545 million, 44,000-seat Fenway Park, two months before the original was set to host its first MLB All-Star Game since 1961.

John Harrington, former Red Sox president and CEO: Back in the ’50s and ’60s, the Red Sox were talking about a new ballpark. They felt Fenway Park was obsolete then.

Erika Tarlin, former member of the now-defunct Save Fenway Park: A lot of people now are like, “Really, they wanted to knock the ballpark down?”

Harrington: We were always looking up at one other team, the Yankees, our closest competitor. We had to become just as strong as the New York Yankees in order to compete for free agents in the marketplace. With a very small ballpark, being one of the smallest ballparks in the game, that was an impediment. And it wasn’t just the smallness of the ballpark. It was the layout, where we had a lesser array of box seats and executive suites and everything else like that. Fenway Park is a treasure. Everybody acknowledges that. I grew up with Fenway Park, so I have a strong feeling for it. But it had become economically obsolete.

Tarlin: Basically, they were proposing a mega ballpark, as we called it, that was going to take land by eminent domain and have taxpayers pay for it. And the neighborhood clearly was opposed to that.

Harrington: We designed a new Fenway Park. It was a replica of Fenway Park, only on an expanded scale. We did polling, and it was 90 percent accepted. People liked the idea that we were keeping it in Fenway. We were keeping all the good parts of the old Fenway Park.

Gordon Edes, former baseball columnist for the Boston Globe: Man, I thought the new ballpark was a fait accompli. I thought the Save Fenway people were whistling in the dark.

Tarlin: Nobody wanted to go against the Red Sox. They had carte blanche to do whatever they wanted in the city, practically. The mayor was behind a new ballpark. The BRA, now the BPDA, was totally behind a new ballpark. A lot of business owners thought, yeah, definitely. Nobody really wanted to align with us publicly.

Richard Johnson, curator, the Sports Museum and author, Field of  Our Fathers: An Illustrated History of Fenway Park: I will cop to having written an opinion piece for the Boston Herald saying I sort of agreed with the idea of building a new park.

Harrington: Major League Baseball was working with us very closely and encouraging us to proceed. I was in constant communication with Commissioner Bud Selig. We were talking one day, and he was in the midst of deliberating on where the last All-Star Game of the 20th century was going to be played. I put the plug in to say, “Listen, we’re long overdue.” The next thing you know, he was calling me and saying, “Why don’t we plan to have it in Boston.” Selig’s daughter had gone to Tufts University, so he was in and out of Boston a lot. He liked the city in many ways, and he loved Fenway Park.

Tarlin: You had the Red Sox simultaneously promoting Fenway as the venue while they’re in the throes of campaigning to have it demolished. It was ridiculous.

Dan Duquette, former Red Sox general manager: Harrington wanted a proper farewell for the beloved ballpark.

Tarlin: It was seen as a lovely swan song, like this would be the last thing before we kill it.


The Red Sox worked with MLB officials to prepare for a five-day baseball extravaganza in July, with throngs attending FanFest at the Hynes Convention Center and a Home Run Derby in the lead-up to the All-Star Game.

Harrington: We had to tell them that some of the things that they would do in another ballpark couldn’t be done at Fenway.

Marla Miller, former MLB senior vice president of special events: The level of cooperation was dramatic in Boston. We had two very important city people who were tremendous Red Sox fans: Mayor Thomas Menino and future Red Sox director of security Charles Cellucci. We hosted a gala for 3,000 people, and we used the parking lot at a hospital off Lansdowne. We had temporary bridges creating the broadcast compound. We shut down Lansdowne. We brought in trailers of seats.

Harrington: I was just exhilarated, having been born and brought up in the city, to have that level of excitement and attention focused on our city.

Miller: We were all about capturing the historical significance of Fenway. We were not focused on the new build. But we actually had the model of what was being proposed in the lobby of the Hynes Convention Center during FanFest.

Harrington: FanFest was so well received. I just didn’t want to leave the Hynes.

Miller: What was great about Boston, in my mind, was it was one of the first times we realized how important it was to keep everything close together. The Hynes was within walking distance from Fenway. The hotels were all clustered together off Newbury Street. It made it feel like you were living inside of the 1999 All-Star week in Boston.


The night before the All-Star Game, American and National League sluggers competed in the Home Run Derby, hitting blasts that often soared over the Green Monster and into a mass of fans below on Lansdowne Street. Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, who’d captivated the country the previous summer during a record-breaking home-run chase later tainted by steroid use (though Sosa has denied using PEDs), were among those representing the NL; Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and Ken Griffey Jr., who won the contest, were among those competing from the AL.

Duquette: Players were hitting lasers into the night. I’ve never seen balls go that far. McGwire—are you kidding me? McGwire hit some balls into the atmosphere.

Stan Grossfeld, associate editor and Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer at the Boston Globe; photographer for Fenway: A Biography in Words and Pictures: It was like a street carnival on Lansdowne Street. It was a raucous crowd. Fans were certainly well lubricated. It felt like 10,000 people were in the street looking for McGwire and Sosa home-run balls. We didn’t know those guys were juicing.

David Littlefield, owner of the Sausage Guy: There were balls coming out constantly. McGwire was just crushing them. The first ball he hit out of the park ricocheted right into the gully where I had asked this young kid to grab me some bread. The ball just landed in his damn hands.

Grossfeld: The Red Sox wanted to build a new ballpark, and they knew that we were doing this book, which, in my view, was a Valentine to Fenway Park. So when I applied for a credential for the All-Star Game, they denied it. We were pissed. I was trying to figure out what to do. And then I saw Mayor Menino. I said, “Mayor, will you give us a permit to give us a cherry picker on Lansdowne Street?” And he said, “What for?” I said, “The Red Sox are messing with us.” And he says, “Done.” So the night of the Home Run Derby, we had a cherry picker. And Dan Shaughnessy went in there for a while, too. We went up over the wall, the Green Monster. In those days, they didn’t have the Monster seats. They just had netting. And we photographed it from there.

Littlefield: It was a bit of a bloodbath getting the balls. It was pretty intense. People had big fishing nets with poles. It was unreal. I had to stop serving anything because I was holding the cart up from getting tipped over.

Grossfeld: A lot of the balls landed in the net, and the fans were yelling at us to shake the net so the balls would go rolling out. People were running into each other. There were people up on the garage waiting for balls.

Johnson: I think at least one of the balls, on a bounce, made it onto the turnpike.


Before the All-Star Game, Hall of Famers emerged, Field of Dreams–style, from the outfield and Kevin Costner introduced them as members of the All-Century Team. After the national anthem and jet flyover, Ted Williams entered to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, but players encircled him around the mound before he could toss out the ball, delaying the start of the game.

Edes: Donna Summer, who’s from Dorchester, sang the anthem. And then the damndest thing is when the F14s flew overhead. I ducked.

Harrington: The flyover was delayed. We had four Navy jet planes flying over Lowell that were waiting for the signal to come in. Finally, they got the “go” sign, and it was like hey, you got 52 seconds to be over Fenway Park. They had to dive down to pick up speed and get in over Fenway at the completion of the anthem. One of the pilots said, “Well, we’re going to catch hell now because we’re going to break windows.” And they did break many a window as they flew over Fenway that night. We had to pay the bills over the next few days.

Johnson: The flyover was the lowest flyover that I can remember, and it was absolutely jarring. To be there in the bleachers, you know that something’s going to happen. And then all of a sudden, boom!

Duquette: Back in January, Bud Selig had called me and he told me, “Duke, if you do anything for this All-Star Game, I want you to get Ted Williams there.” So I called Ted, and he says, “Well, you know, I’m getting up there. I’m kind of old, it’s hard for me to get to Fenway Park.” And I said, “Yeah, I understand, Ted. Just tell me what it is that you want to come to the All-Star Game.” He said, “I’ll think about that.” I call him back, and he says, “Okay, hotshot. I’ll come to the All-Star Game, but I want a private plane.” I said, “I’m sure we can do that, Ted.”

Johnson: He was not able to walk onto the field. He was coming in on a bullpen cart, and was the last one to come in after the anthem. This was like your baseball-card collection had suddenly sprung to life.

Sean “The Mayor” Casey, former All-Star and Red Sox first baseman: Stan Musial and Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and Carl Yastrzemski, the names just went on and on.

Edes: Al Forester, the longtime Red Sox groundskeeper, drove Ted out in the golf cart. The ovation that Ted got as he was coming across the field from the garage behind the centerfield fence was just an amazing moment.

Casey: That place almost came down. Fenway Park was shaking.

Harrington: It was heart-choking to watch those All-Century Team guys go up and embrace Ted Williams in the golf cart there.

Johnson: It was almost as if he’d descended a staircase from the heavens.

Edes: Here you’ve got the team of the century being honored and then all the great players of the season, the contemporary All-Stars—I mean, has there ever been more great players on the field at the same time, as we had on that perfect midsummer night in the Fens? I don’t think so.

Harrington: Ted was having conversations with them all. I mean, he delayed the event timing by 15 or 20 minutes.

Grossfeld: They had to make an announcement trying to get the All-Stars to leave the field. Because everyone was just in awe of meeting Ted.

Johnson: They had to do that, like, three times.

Duquette: I got a call in my box, and they said, “Can you go down there and speed it up?” If they thought I was going to interrupt this moment, they got the wrong guy, man.

Miller: That was one of the first times we ever asked a network for extra time for a pregame. We had to ask the Fox executive producer for an extra six minutes, and he went ballistic.

Edes: All of that pageantry…how was the game going to compete?


After a dominant first half of the 1999 season, Martínez earned the start for the AL. With his usual bravado and stupefying array of pitches, he struck out the first three hitters—Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, and Sammy Sosa—as well as McGwire and Jeff Bagwell over two electrifying innings.

Duquette: I’ve been around the world looking for pitchers, and all the qualities that you look for—the great pitches, the stuff, the tenacity, the intelligence, the drive, and the panache—Pedro just had all these things. The only thing he didn’t have was height, if you look at the prototype pitcher. But to make up for his height, he had un corazón de león. He had the heart of a lion.

Edes: The thing that separated Pedro—besides the fact that he had a plus-plus fastball, plus-plus curveball, plus-plus changeup—is he was just otherworldly in terms of his competitiveness and his defiance. He took nothing from anybody.

Duquette: Pedro’s a diva. He was out to show the world who was the best pitcher on the planet.

Edes: He was at the top of his game. I tell people Pedro is the greatest pitcher I’ve ever seen and ever hope to see. And he came out that day, and it was clear that he was going to make that stage his stage.

Harrington: He just blew our minds away when striking out the side in the first inning.

Casey: I was thinking, Thank God I’m not starting.

Duquette: He absolutely dominated Sammy Sosa, like it was just a schoolyard game. It was said that Sosa had made some comment in the Dominican, either that offseason or the season before, that Pedro was dominant because he wasn’t in the National League anymore. Pedro took it personally.

Casey: He was mowing down McGwire and Bagwell and Larkin and Walker. He was making them look like Little Leaguers. I’ve never seen a more dominant pitching performance than what Pedro was putting together at that moment.

Johnson: He was like the David to the Goliath of the batters of that era, many of whom—not all, but many of whom—were juiced.

Edes: We witnessed one of the greatest moments in All-Star history, striking out five guys who, if it wasn’t for steroids, probably all five of those guys would be in the Hall of Fame. Larkin, Walker, and Bagwell are in the Hall, but Sosa and McGwire certainly would have been if it weren’t for the PED scandal.

Grossfeld: It was so electric. And then after that, nobody remembers anything else about the All-Star Game. It was over once Pedro left.


The AL won the game, 4–1. Afterward, Martínez received the Most Valuable Player award and spoke with Williams for the first time.

Harrington: Ted was in the box with us at the end of the game. He didn’t know Pedro. Ted worked with hitters. He didn’t associate with pitchers. And he said, “I’ve never really met Pedro. I’d love to meet this guy and congratulate him.”

Duquette: Pedro and I walk into the suite, and Ted starts on Pedro: “Ah, jeez, Pedro, you’re not a very big guy.” And then Ted starts needling him a little bit harder. Pedro goes, like, “Hey, did you see me? Did you see me throw tonight?” Ted made some comment like, “Well, yeah, Pedro, I saw you. I saw you got some pitches to get out the right-handed hitters, but do you really have a good pitch that can get out a good left-handed hitter like me?” And Pedro goes, “Come on, old man, let’s go down on the field right now; I’ll show you what I got.” But they had a mutual admiration and respect for each other.

Harrington: Pedro has his MVP trophy under his arm, and in his other hand, he’s got an All-Star program. And he says to Ted, “Would you autograph my program for me?” When Ted handed it back to Pedro, Pedro looked at it and said, “This is more valuable to me than this,” meaning the trophy.

Johnson: I sort of view it as the bookends of the Yawkey stewardship of the Red Sox. You have Ted Williams, who was a rookie in 1939, six years after Tom Yawkey bought and completely refurbished the park, and Pedro. They both were the stars that day.


In 2002, the Yawkey Trust sold the Red Sox. The new ownership group, led by John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and Tom Werner, opted to renovate rather than replace the historic ballpark.

Harrington: I might have sold it earlier if we hadn’t been awarded the All-Star Game. That probably delayed my thinking by two or three years as we tried to run a good All-Star Game. And we did.

Grossfeld: I think after that, the tide started turning toward keeping this great ballpark.

Tarlin: The national exposure was great. What might have seemed like a local skirmish suddenly became a very national, very public debate.

Johnson: It certainly solidified the equity value of the team. It was sold for the highest price a major league team had ever sold for.

Edes: There’s no question to me that had the team not been sold to that new ownership group, Fenway would be like Tiger Stadium: just a memory.

Harrington: My conversations with Mayor Menino were such that this ballpark project was going to go on for the rest of my life, probably, the way things were moving. I decided I better get out and leave it up to a new owner to decide what to do about the ballpark. When we were down to the last five or six bidders, I had meetings with them. And John Henry wasn’t in the picture at the time. This was Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner. Tom Werner went to Harvard, and he created a documentary about Fenway Park as an undergraduate. He was in love with Fenway Park, and his notion was it should be preserved forever.

Johnson: I’m guessing it’s the most visited tourist attraction in Boston now. It’s now a purposeful antique.

Casey: When I was at the All-Star Game, I realized that it was just a different vibe in Boston. It was incredible. And then when I played there, in 2008, that’s when I really got it: Wow, this is like a religion here, with the passion of the fans and the allure and the mystique of Fenway Park.

How did Fenway Park go from relic to icon? Partly thanks to the 1999 All-Star game.

Johnson: How did Fenway Park go from being sort of a relic to becoming an icon? The 1967 “Impossible Dream” season, the 1975 World Series, and the 1999 All-Star Game. Fenway Park went from silver to gold to platinum.

Edes: In 1999, I thought the All-Star Game was going to be a nice, long, wet-kiss goodbye to Fenway in a lot of respects. I didn’t expect that we’d be sitting here 25 years later, and Fenway is going as strong as ever.

Tarlin: It was the most memorable game. At some random stadium, it just wouldn’t have had the same resonance at all.

Miller: This exceeded expectations three times over. People still talk about it and talk to me about it.

Duquette: It was the greatest night in that ballpark ever.

First published in the print edition of the July 2024 issue with the headline, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”