If you’re in the vicinity of Fenway Park Tuesday afternoon, crane your neck to get a view of the new electronic scoreboard atop the center field bleachers.
You’ll be getting a sneak preview of the April 12 performing debut of the Marvelous Message Board, the biggest and most controversial innovation at Fenway in the Tom Yawkey era.
“We’ll have a dry run during the televised game with Atlanta from Florida that day,” explains Jim Healey of Jamaica Plain who’ll be making his debut, too, as the board manager at the Red Sox home opener a a week from tomorrow.
“And thank goodness,” says this 22-year-old BC graduate, “we’ll also have the three televised games from Baltimore next weekend to work the bugs out of our act before the actual opener.”
Healey knows that he and his $1.2 million message-and-scoreboard face a critical audience this season. Traditional Bostonians, who still boo those artificial pep songs by John Kiley at Bruins games, resist the intrusion of this message-shrieking gadget at serene Fenway.
“There won’t be any of those rah-rah cheers like ‘Charge!’ on our board. There won’t be any cartoons of opposing pitchers going to the showers,” promises Healey.
Here is what will be shown on the 40-by-24-foot message panel:
- Closeup views of on-field pregame ceremonies to enhance the visibility of the fan in the last row of the rightfield grandstand;
- Introductions of the players and umpires on a diagram-display of the diamond before the game;
- Photos and up-to-the-moment batting statistics of each hitter as he steps to the plate;
- News items from other games in progress around the majors or from important sports events such as the Summer Olympics in Montreal;
- Pre-game features of filmed highlights from the previous day’s game;
- Rain-delay features showing World Series or Red Sox action of the past;
- Replays of spectacular hitting, fielding and base-running events.
These replays, however, will be subject to the censorship of assistant publicist Dick Bresciani. He’ll be in the message booth with Healey and he has responsibility for weeding out controversial plays which could be embarrassing to the umpires or players.
Another hard-and-fast rule of the Sox management: there will be no changes on the message board except for the ball-and-strike count while the hitter is at the plate. Healey: “Although the board is well above the batter’s line of vision, we don’t want to do anything to distract his attention from the next pitch.”
There will be commercial messages on the board between innings. The Sox contend that all advertising will be in good taste and that it is necessary in these days of rising prices. “The board is one way to bring in revenue,” says Sox general manager Dick O’Connell, “and we hope it will help us to hold the line on ticket prices in the future.”
Designed by the Stewart-Warner Co., the board is the most advanced in any major league baseball park in the country. “The new Yankee Stadium has video capability also,” says Healey, “but our picture clarity is better.”
Observation last week confirmed that the Fenway message board indeed has excellent clarity. Even in bright sunlight the matrix consisting of 8,640 bulbs of 40 watts each projects a clear picture. Healey can lower the brilliance for cloudy days or at night time conditions.
And the message board which is focused slightly to the first base side of home plate will be visible to 97 percent of fans in the park.
Traditionalists will be happy to know that the old Fenway Park scoreboard is still in the left field wall. It will continue to carry the ball and strike count, the score by innings of the Red Sox game and the scores of other American League games. However, lineups and National League scores, along with all the above information, will be carried on the new Marvelous Message Board in center field.