Fenway Memory

In Fenway blackout, a calming presence

In what could have been a scary power outage in 1991, the genial and entertaining Sherm Feller kept the peace.

Fenway park went dark on May 13, 1991, during a blackout.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Fenway Park went dark on May 13, 1991, during a blackout.

When you think of great Fenway Park memories, you always think of a particular game, or play, or moment — such as Carlton Fisk waving his home run fair in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series or Roger Clemens’s 20-strikeout game vs. Seattle or Rico Petrocelli catching the final out of the final regular-season game of 1967.

All of those are great events that tie into Fenway.

But one other occurred for me on May 13, 1991.


The Red Sox, who won only 84 games that season, were 18-11 at the time and in a first-place tie with Toronto. It was early in the season, and the Sox were coming off a disappointing exit from the playoffs against the Oakland A’s in 1990.

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It was just one of those nice mid-May nights at Fenway, a balmy 78 degrees at game time. The Red Sox were playing the White Sox. Good pitching matchup between Clemens and Jack McDowell. The White Sox had some big names like Fisk, Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Tim Raines, and Ozzie Guillen. Jeff Torborg managed the White Sox, Joe Morgan the Red Sox. Larry Young was the umpire behind the plate.

Ellis Burks was up in the third inning, working on a 2-and-2 count against McDowell. As the righthander threw the next pitch, the entire ballpark went black. The lights went out at 8:45 p.m. It was rock-concert dark. Cameras flashed from left field to right, from first base to third, as if the main act was about to take stage.

And in these moments, so rare, there is someone or something that makes them memorable.

In this case, it was longtime public address announcer Sherm Feller, who turned a potentially panicky situation into a very calming hour.


“It was one of the weirdest things I ever experienced,’’ recalled Burks, ‘‘but the reason why people didn’t panic or get upset was Sherm Feller just keeping everybody calm and relaxing them with sing-alongs and stuff like that. It was pretty funny. I wondered whether people even wanted the lights to go back on or whether they wanted to hear ‘The Sherm Feller Show.’ ’’

There was emergency lighting along the aisles. But Feller, using a battery-operated bullhorn attached to a loudspeaker, urged the 31,023 on hand to stay put and not leave their seats. And, really, you didn’t want to.

This was the first serious power outage at the ballpark in 10 years; the one in 1981 occurred during a day game.

As it turned out, the problem was caused by a manhole explosion on Commonwealth Avenue, but Feller cracked, ‘‘Boston Edison is working on it right now. If they send us the bill, we’ll pay it.’’

He led the crowd in ‘‘Take Me Out To the Ballgame’’ and managed to sprinkle in a little humor while trying to make sure there was no panic in the facility. He ‘‘performed’’ for 59 minutes.


The game itself turned out to be exciting, but the Red Sox lost, 4-3, in the 10th inning when Ron Karkovice knocked in the winning run against Sox reliever Jeff Gray.

Feller had his heyday in the 1950s as a songwriter. His songs were performed by the Boston Pops, and names like Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tony Bennett were on his ‘‘friends’’ list. He worked in Boston radio for years.

Feller could entertain anyone at anytime.

One of his favorite things to do after games was to head to Chinatown, where restaurants stayed open late and he would pontificate and tell stories until the wee hours of the morning. He invited me to join him a few times, and the experience was unforgettable.

‘‘Sherm was one of those guys that . . . I wouldn’t say you took him for granted, but as a player, he was the one who introduced you when you came up to the plate, and I guess you grew accustomed to his voice,’’ Burks said.

‘‘People really associated him with the ballpark, just like they did John Kiley when he played the organ. I don’t know how to explain it except to say there was a comfort level to hear that voice every day, and when that happened that night, I think people felt so relaxed, like they were sitting at a show.’’

That night, you could hear people laughing at Feller’s jokes. You witnessed a togetherness — in a pretty unusual setting — that Feller created with his warmth.

Covering the game that night for the Globe, I sat there in the front row of the press box and listened and watched, and I remember thinking, ‘‘I’ll never see anything like this again.’’

Sherm died on Jan. 27, 1994, at the age of 75, having been the Fenway PA announcer for 26 years.

But three years earlier, he gave me my unforgettable Fenway moment.