It survived two fires. It witnessed the departure of the legendary Babe Ruth, and then suffered the “Curse of the Bambino,” and an 86-year gap between World Series wins. It was nearly demolished in the 1960s and the late 1990s when the idea for a new stadium on the South Boston waterfront was tossed about. It has been reviled for its cramped, uncomfortable seating and revered as baseball’s ultimate “Cathedral,” even by arch rival New York Yankees fans.
Fenway Park has endured, and it is its endurance that we celebrate in 2012 as the home of the Boston Red Sox turns 100 and joins the ranks of buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
A Storied History
The oldest major league ballpark in use today, Fenway Park was built in 1912 at a cost of $650,000. Owner John I. Taylor named the stadium after the surrounding neighborhood, the Fenway section of Boston.
Following a pair of rainouts, the Sox’s first official game in their new home was April 20, 1912, when they beat the New York Highlanders (who later became the Yankees) 7-6 in 11 innings. In 1918, the Red Sox clinched the World Series with a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
The next decade, however, was not as kind to the Red Sox and their new stadium. In January 1920, Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees and incurred the wrath of Boston fans for generations to come. Then, in 1926, the wooden bleachers along the left field foul line burned down and were not rebuilt because of a lack of funds.
It appeared that better times were ahead for Fenway when Thomas A. Yawkey purchased the Red Sox in 1933. Under his guidance, renovations were begun as the wooden seats in right and center fields were replaced by concrete stands and the entire grandstand was enlarged. Bad luck struck again, however, and construction was halted in 1934 when a second fire raged for five hours, leaving few areas of the ballpark undamaged.
Yawkey set construction crews to work immediately and the ballpark was completed in time for the April 17, 1934 opener. In addition to the concrete bleachers, a striking feature of the newly remodeled park was the 37-foot high sheet metal wall in left field. In 1936, a 23-foot, 7-inch net was added on top of the wall to protect the windows of buildings adjoining Fenway. The metal wall was adorned with advertisements until 1946 when it was painted green and became the Park’s signature feature – the Green Monster.
Fun Fenway Facts
Fenway trivia has become a lasting part of baseball lore.
Here are just some of the fun facts that contribute to the lure of this Boston treasure:
Babe Ruth added insult to injury in 1934 when he became the first opposing player to homer over the new left field wall.
To help Ted Williams hit more home runs, the Red Sox added the right field bullpens, reducing the distance to the fence by 23 feet. The bullpens became known as “Williamsburg.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered the final speech of his political career at Fenway Park before more than 40,000 supporters. He was elected to an unprecedented fourth term three days later.
The initials of former owners, Thomas A. Yawkey and Jean R. Yawkey, are spelled out in Morse code in a series of broken lines on two vertical white stripes on the Green Monster.
The inside of the Green Monster is home to the signatures of hundreds of current and former baseball players. It is a long-standing tradition in Major League Baseball for opposing players to sign the wall the first time they play at Fenway.
The lone red seat in the right field bleachers marks the spot where the longest measurable home run ever hit inside Fenway landed. In 1946, Ted Williams hit a 502-foot home run against the Detroit Tigers. It supposedly hit the straw hat of a man sitting in Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21.
In 1974, a foul ball hit by Willie Horton struck and killed a pigeon in flight.
In 2011, 62 suitors had their marriage proposals posted on the Park’s electronic scoreboard and 25 weddings took place in the park.
The foul-ball safety screen behind home plate is the first ever in Major League history.
Neil Diamond’s hit song, “Sweet Caroline,” is played at the bottom of the 8th inning at all home games and fans enthusiastically sing along.
Movies with scenes shot at Fenway Park include “Field of Dreams,” “The Town,” “Fever Pitch” and “Moneyball.”
The ladder built onto the Green Monster is 13 feet about the field and was designed to allow groundskeepers to retrieve balls hit into the netting above the scoreboard. The netting is gone, recently replaced by seats, but the ladder remains, and if hit, is the only ground rule triple in Major League Baseball.
New Meets Old
Despite recent improvements by current owners, Fenway retains its link to baseball’s glorious past and the greats who played there. In a town where baseball is a religion, generations of Fenway faithful continue to throng the Park to watch their sacred game played on its hallowed grounds.
And if it is the vendors hawking their goods on Yawkey Way, the smell of Fenway franks on the grill, the rowdies in the bleachers and the exuberance of the Red Sox Nation doing the wave that continues to draw today’s fans to the park, it is its legendary past that makes it all magical.
Happy Birthday, Fenway — and many more.