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At Age 75, Fenway Park Has Lost None of Its Charm

May 03, 1987|Associated Press

BOSTON — The year was 1912. The Titanic supposedly was unsinkable. The Philadelphia Athletics were considered unbeatable. So were the New York Giants.

And a new era in Boston sports was beginning as the Red Sox moved into a new home--Fenway Park.

On April 14, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic. The tragedy took 1,500 lives.

Six days later, after a week of heavy rain, the Red Sox formally opened Fenway Park before a packed crowd of 27,000 fans.

Boston beat the New York Highlanders, who became the Yankees one year later, 7-6, in 11 innings.

That triggered a fantastic baseball season for the Red Sox. With a 105-47 record, still the best in the club's history, they ran away from the Athletics and won the American League pennant.

Then, in the World Series, they proved the Giants were not invincible, beating New York in a series that went eight games because of a tie.

Today, with modern architecture resulting in virtual clones of new sports stadiums, Fenway Park is unique.

It's a museum of baseball history. It's a landmark. It's a monument. It's a place to visit throughout the year, even with two feet of snow on the ground.

And, as 300-game winner Tom Seaver said on his first visit in 1984, "It is the best place to watch or play a baseball game."

On April 20, a crowd of about 34,000 observed the 75th birthday of the smallest park in the major leagues.

Fenway Park can be difficult. Because of the configuration of surrounding streets, it was constructed with odd angles. It still has 17 different facets of walls and barriers.

Except in the stadium's bowels, under the stands where paint can't camouflage the years, Friendly Fenway doesn't look her age. Constant work on the park has maintained the charm.

"The Green Monster" or "the wall" is a major attraction. Painted green, the wall extending 240 feet from the left-field corner to the flagpole in center is 37 feet tall. Then there's a screen 23 feet above that to save windows of buildings and passing cars on Lansdowne Street.

The brightly painted seats also stand out. The box seats are a fire engine red, the grandstand and bleachers seats a pleasant dark blue.

A more observant fan may spot other little things. There's two numbers, 9 and 4, marked on the edge of the roof in right field, the only numbers ever retired by the Red Sox. No. 9, of course, was worn by Ted Williams and No. 4 by the late Joe Cronin, both Hall of Famers.

The wall beyond the bleachers is about 540 feet from home plate. And, until fans fill up the park, a red seat in a sea of blue ones stands out about three-quarters of the way up the bleachers. That marks a spot where Williams hit one of his 521 homers in a career from 1939 through 1960, with two interruptions for military service.

And, a former Boy Scout or Girl Scout might pick out initials in Morse Code on the scoreboard below the left-field wall. The initials are "TAY" and "JRY," for the late Tom Yawkey, who owned the Red Sox for 43 years until his death in 1976, and his wife, Jean, now a co-owner and president of the club.

As a charter member of the American League, the Red Sox played home games at the old Huntington Avenue Grounds, now the site of Northeastern University.

That park was a health hazard even then. The wooden seats were rickety. Soot from trains in the neighboring railroad yard blanketed the area. And a saloon next door to the park reportedly lured more than one player who got bored and slipped away through the crowd.

John I. Taylor, son of the publisher of the Boston Globe, decided to build a new park and his realty company owned some land. In 1911, construction of Fenway Park began.

Taylor sold the Red Sox and the park in early 1912, before his new stadium was dedicated. That didn't bother the Red Sox, though.

After a fifth place finish in their last year at the Huntington Avenue Grounds, they won the pennant as Smokey Joe Wood had a 34-5 record and Tris Speaker hit .383 and tied the league lead with 10 homers.

Duffy Lewis, part of the famed outfield with Speaker and Harry Hooper, made a 10-foot embankment in left-field for the way he played "Duffy's Cliff."

Other players didn't share Lewis' enjoyment in playing the slope. Fatty Fothergill fell and rolled down it. And Smead Jolley had the same ground ball roll through his legs in both directions.

The Red Sox slipped to fourth in 1913, then were second in 1914. However, they won the pennant and the World Series in 1915 and '16.

A young left-hander, Babe Ruth won 23 games in 1916, and 24 more as Boston finished second in 1917. The next year he won the first of his home run championships, hitting 11 before Boston won its last World Series. He won again with 29 in 1919, then was sold to the Yankees.

Hard times hit the Red Sox on and off the field and wooden bleachers in left field couldn't be replaced after a fire in 1926. Then, Yawkey, a new millionaire through inheritance, purchased the club in 1933 with the country gripped in the Great Depression.

Another fire in Yawkey's first year forced him to build "The Wall" in left. He also put up concrete stands in center and right.

There followed a galaxy of stars in Boston uniforms: Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Cronin, Lefty Grove, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, Jackie Jensen, Carl Yastrzemski, Luis Tiant, Jim Rice and now Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, there have been only four pennants since 1918--in 1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986. And no World Series championships.

But Fenway Park goes on and on. Of course, the box seat that cost $1.65 in 1934 now goes for $14. But some of that helps the Grand Old Dame of major league baseball retain her distinctive personality.

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