It is the backdrop of Boston baseball, ever green, ever looming, a certain sign that the game you are watching is being played at Fenway Park.
It is our Leaning Tower of Pisa, our Big Ben, our Eiffel Tower. It is manmade and magnificent, even with its dents and flaws. And it has come to be synonymous with our town as much as the Golden Dome atop the State House, the Bunker Hill Monument, and the Paul Revere House in the North End.
It is the left-field wall at Fenway Park, perhaps the most famous facade in North America.
It was not always the Green Monster. No. That nickname took hold sometime around the late 1960s or perhaps into the early 1970s. In the 1950s and early 1960s, when the Red Sox drew just over 8,000 for their home openers, the Wall was just the Wall, as Red Auerbach’s cigar was just a cigar.
There was no signage, no Monster Seats, no Wally the Green Monster glad-handing kids. The only Red Sox ‘‘Monster’’ was Dick Radatz, a massive sidearming relief pitcher who could strike out Mickey Mantle just about every time he faced the Yankee thumper.
Visual gateway to the equally iconic Citgo sign, Fenway Park’s Wall belongs in the Wall Hall of Fame, alongside the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the Western Wall, Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, and Pink Floyd’s ‘‘The Wall.’’
Fenway’s cozy dimensions and the left-field wall were a matter of practicality when the park was built. Framed by five city streets, the ballpark’s footprint was limited. Home plate was set in the southwest corner of the diamond, which meant that Lansdowne Street would be only a little more than 300 feet from the batter’s box. This did not present much of a problem during the game’s dead-ball era, but the presence of a city street, which ran adjacent to the Boston & Albany railroad line, meant that there would be no northern expansion and no left-field grandstand for Fenway Park. The original left-field line at Fenway ran 320 feet.
Fenway Park’s first left-field wall was a 25-foot wooden structure, built at the top of a 10-foot embankment that came to be known as Duffy’s Cliff. On crowd overflow days, the Sox roped off the area behind popular left fielder Duffy Lewis, and fans were allowed to sit on the cliff. There were not many home runs hit over the heads of the fans, but it made for some interesting ground rules.
The Wall you see today was constructed when the ballpark was rebuilt by new Sox owner Tom Yawkey in 1934. The 37-foot-high, 240-foot-long Wall was constructed from 30,000 pounds of Toncan iron and reinforced steel. Its concrete foundation sank 22 feet below the warning track. A 23-foot screen was installed atop the Wall in 1936.
From April 17, 1934: Renovation changes Fenway Park
From July 4, 1936: Nets posted above Fenway Park’s left field wall
In its early years, the Wall was home to signage selling whiskey, cigars, razor blades, shoes . . . even an ad that claimed that the Red Sox players used Lifebuoy soap. A popular joke around those tough times was that ‘‘the Red Sox use Lifebuoy soap, but they still stink.’’
Yawkey changed the course of hardball history in 1947 when he stripped the advertisements and painted the Wall Dartmouth green.
Tin panels were replaced by a Formica-type covering when the Wall was rebuilt in 1976. That’s when ‘‘clangs’’ became ‘‘thuds.’’
From Nov 4, 1975: Red Sox begin replacement of left field wall
‘‘When I first got to Boston, the Wall was cement, and then tin,’’ said Carl Yastrzemski, who was introduced to the Wall in 1961 when he replaced Ted Williams in left field. ‘‘It made it interesting playing there. I loved having that thing behind me.’’
Yaz was the maestro of Wall play. He mastered all the caroms, except for the occasional ball that bounced off the ladder.
In the days before the Monster Seats, the ladder (it starts 13 feet up from the warning track) was bolted to the tall fence so that Sox employees could climb to the top and retrieve home run balls that were sitting in the net.
When rival sluggers like Harmon Killebrew and Frank Howard came to town, Yaz played shallow left field/deep shortstop, hoping to catch line drives off the Wall and hold the loping sluggers to singles. When one of the behemoths would hit a shot that was obviously bound for Lansdowne Street, Yaz would sometimes stand like a statue, hands on hips, not dignifying the homer with a useless chase toward the Wall. Yaz said it was part of his decoy strategy, but Sox pitchers hated the stunt.
The Wall’s cheesiest moment came on Opening Day 1997 when the Sox unveiled a 25-foot Coke bottle design affixed to the light tower at the top of the Wall (it stayed through the 2007 season). Six years later, there was something altogether different when the Monster Seats were introduced.
From March 29, 1997: Shaughnessy blasts new Coke bottles
Roger Clemens spoke of putting seats on top of the Wall in the mid 1990s, but no one took him seriously. When John Henry bought the Red Sox in December of 2001, he walked around the ballpark with architect Janet Marie Smith (who, along with Larry Lucchino, was the genius behind Camden Yards), and asked her, ‘‘What about putting seats up there on top of the Wall?’’
Smith oversaw the project during the winter of 2002-03, and three rows of Monster Seats were the stars of Opening Day 2003. As with most of the changes the new owners made, the 274 new seats looked as if they were part of the original Fenway.
The Monster Seats made the Wall ladder totally unnecessary, but it’s still there. Very old-Boston-like.
The hand-operated scoreboard inside the Wall is one of Fenway’s more charming features, and fans today can tour the dark, cramped space where scoreboard operators alternately sweat or freeze (depending on the season) during your average nine-inning, three-hour game.
Graffiti, some dating to the 1950s, adorns the walls inside the Wall, and rare is the rookie big leaguer who can resist the urge to go behind the green door and make his mark inside Fenway’s darkest place. Manny Ramirez famously ducked inside the Wall during the middle of an inning, but there is, in fact, no bathroom inside the Wall.
Wall-dwellers can attest that the Wall is a conductor of heat. Whenever it snowed in April, former Sox groundskeeper Joe Mooney would plow snow up against the famous Fenway fence to expedite the melting process.
Aesthetics and fan practicalities aside, the Wall’s lasting mark has been its competitive value and/or liability. A giant wall 310 feet from home plate (the sign read ‘‘315’’ for decades before the Globe sneaked on the field and discovered it was closer to 309) helped create a culture of righthanded sluggers and big innings.
From April 25, 1995: Taking apart the Green Monster’s ‘315’ myth
The Sox have never been a ‘‘small ball’’ or speed team. They do not manufacture runs. The Wall is one of the elements that makes it difficult for the speedy, lefthanded Carl Crawford to maximize his skill set at Fenway. The Boston ballpark is more tailored to a guy like Dick Stuart — a lead-footed strikeout machine capable of swatting 40 homers from the right side.
The Wall has prevented generations of Sox southpaws from succeeding at Fenway. Most of them are afraid to pitch inside. The Wall has discouraged the bunt and the stolen base. Why give away an out or run yourself out of an inning when a three-run homer is waiting to happen?
The Red Sox have won two World Series in this century, but from 1918 until 2004, Fenway and the Wall worked against the Red Sox more than they helped the home team. The Sox annually were strong at home but horrible on the road. In 1949, the Sox were 61-16 at home, 35-42 on the road, and lost the pennant to the Yankees by one game.
The Wall’s most famous moment came at the expense of the Red Sox. On Oct. 2, 1978, fly-swatter Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent lofted a soft pop fly toward left field that somehow drifted and landed in the screen above the Wall for a three-run homer. Dent’s blast erased a 2-0 Sox lead and powered the Yankees to a 5-4 victory in the one-game playoff for the American League East title. It was Dent’s fifth home run of the season.
From Oct. 3, 1978: Yankees have final say again, beat Red Sox
‘‘That was the one moment when I hated the place,’’ said Yaz. ‘‘It was the one moment when the Wall got back at us. I still can’t believe it went in the net.’’
Ted Williams, the greatest Red Sox player of all time, played in front of the Wall for parts of four decades.
‘‘I’ve seen a lot of wonderfully pitched ballgames there get screwed up because some little pop fly hits up against that fence,’’ Williams said in 1998. ‘‘Sometimes the configuration of the ballpark just made it unfair.’’
In the dramatic closing scene of ‘‘A Few Good Men,’’ Jack Nicholson tells Tom Cruise, ‘‘Son, we live in a world that has walls . . .’’
Indeed. And the Green Monster is the Wall that will keep us coming back to Fenway for the next 100 years.