This article is excerpted from “Fenway Park: A Salute to the Coolest, Cruelest, Longest-Running Major League Baseball Stadium in America,” produced by The Boston Globe and published by Running Press.
The storied home of the Red Sox for a century, “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark’’ also is the oldest in the major leagues, and the most famous. From the classic brick entrance on Yawkey Way to the unique left-field wall with its manual scoreboard to Pesky’s Pole in right field, its timeless features are recognized from the Bronx to the Dominican Republic to Japan.
John Updike’s “lyric little bandbox,’’ which he likened to “an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg,’’ is so linked with Boston and baseball history that it is a destination in itself, equal to the Freedom Trail and the swan boats, with visitors taking guided ballpark tours even during winter. In “Cheers,’’ the long-running situation comedy based in a Back Bay tavern, bartender Sam “Mayday’’ Malone was a former Sox relief pitcher. The fan film “Fever Pitch’’ is based around Fenway, where Kevin Costner also took James Earl Jones for an inspirational outing in “Field of Dreams.’’
Fenway’s field is like no other. Because the park was jammed into a city lot bounded by narrow streets, its dimensions are a crazy confluence of oblique angles, like the three-sided oddity in centerfield that can turn the game into Pachinko, with the ball bouncing and rattling about. There is so little playable foul territory that dozens of balls end up in the stands, which are so close to the diamond that fans can hear the players’ chatter.
Fenway is a charmingly auditory experience, from the scalpers on Brookline Avenue (“Who needs tickets?’’) to the fans singing “Sweet Caroline’’ during the eighth inning to the playing of “Dirty Water’’ over the public address system after victories.
Fenway’s endearing quirkiness is much of its allure. Except for some increased seating and creature comforts, the park has remained largely unchanged since it opened in 1912 in the same week that the Titanic sank.
“When I brought my kids to Fenway, they never complained about the inconveniences of the ancient ballpark,’’ wrote Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, who confessed that he still took “some weird comfort in the knowledge that the poles that occasionally obscured our vision of the pitcher are the same green beams that blocked the vision of my dad and his dad when they would take the trolley from Cambridge to watch the Red Sox in the 1920s.’’
Babe Ruth threw his first pitch and Ted Williams hit his last home run at Fenway. From Christy Mathewson, to Ty Cobb, to Satchel Paige, to Joe DiMaggio, to Hank Aaron, most of baseball’s greatest names have appeared on Fenway’s stage, which also has accommodated an extraordinary variety of athletes, politicians, and entertainers.
Three of Boston’s professional football teams - the Redskins, the Yanks, and the Patriots - performed at Fenway. The Bruins and Flyers, two of hockey’s fiercest rivals, played in the Winter Classic there on New Year’s Day. Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his final campaign address at Fenway. The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and Bruce Springsteen all sang there.
Every significant moment from every year is here, and then some. The dramatic World Series victory over the Giants in 1912. The 1934 fire that scorched Tom Yawkey’s renovated park. Ted Williams’s “Great Expectoration’’ of 1956. Jim Lonborg’s “hero’s ride’’ after putting the Sox in position to secure the Impossible Dream pennant in 1967. Carlton Fisk’s dramatic “is-it-fair?’’ homer in the 12th inning of Game 6 of the 1975 World Series against the Reds. Bucky “Bleeping’’ Dent’s heartbreaking screen shot in the 1978 divisional playoff game with New York. Roger Clemens’s record 20 strikeouts against the Mariners in 1986. Dave Roberts’s stolen base against the Yankees in 2004 that was the beginning of the end of 86 years of October frustration.
Fenway is all about lore. The Royal Rooters torturing visiting ballplayers with incessant renditions of “Tessie.’’ Williams’s monster bleacher shot knocking a hole in a fan’s straw hat. Manny Ramirez’s mystery disappearance inside the belly of the Monster. Jimmy Piersall oinking like a pig on the basepaths. Luis Tiant’s rhumba windup that the New Yorker’s Roger Angell dubbed “Call the Osteopath.’’ Pedro Martinez playing matador to former skipper Don Zimmer’s enraged bull during a brawl with the Yankees. A midget coming out of the stands to cover third when the Indians used the “Williams Shift.’’
This is the story of 100 years of Fenway Park.