Joe Mooney, who rose from a clubhouse boy in Scranton, Pa., to the Red Sox Hall of Fame after more than three decades keeping Fenway Park’s green pristine as its head groundskeeper and superintendent, has died. He was 90.
Mr. Mooney, who was living in Wakefield, died Nov. 29. Dave Mellor, who took over the director of grounds job from Mr. Mooney in 2001, eulogized his “dear friend and mentor” Saturday on social media.
“Words can’t describe how much I value and appreciate our friendship. I will always remember his generous heart and the many laughs we shared,” Mellor wrote.
Mr. Mooney, born in the Scranton suburb of Dunmore, Pa., in 1930, began his baseball career in 1947, making 70 cents an hour to work the field in Scranton, where the Red Sox had a Double A affiliate at the time. He became the full-time groundskeeper there in 1951, moving on to other Boston affiliates in Louisville in 1955, San Francisco in 1958, and Minneapolis a year later.
Rather than take an assignment in Seattle in 1961, Mr. Mooney left the Red Sox and became the head groundskeeper at D.C. Stadium — now known as RFK Stadium — where both the Senators and NFL’s Washington Redskins played. The Red Sox hired him away after the 1970 season, reportedly on the recommendation of then-Senators manager Ted Williams.
Mr. Mooney immediately went about making improvements: Digging out and rebuilding the maligned Fenway infield, installing permanent foul lines by burying 2x4s inserted into sections of fire hose painted white, putting a workout area beneath the center-field bleachers, complete with turfed area for games of pepper.
So began a more than three-decade obsession with the condition of Fenway, primarily its turf. (He once told the Boston Herald American about walking the field after a long homestand and lamenting “the bruises in the grass.”) His skill and dedication immediately earned him raves from players, but got much wider attention after three straight rain delays preceded Games 6 and 7 of the 1975 World Series against Cincinnati.
“Fenway is the best there is,” Carl Yastrzemski, who first crossed paths with Mr. Mooney in Minneapolis, once said, “at least since Joe Mooney started working on it.”
Told of the quote by a Globe reporter in 1986, Mr. Mooney quipped that Yastrzemski — one of the few players he communicated with — probably just wanted him to tend his lawn.
“I don’t want nobody to know me,” he told the Globe’s Ray Fitzgerald in the midst of the Series. “You want to talk about somebody, talk about the best ground crew in baseball. They been out here, some of them, 14-15 hours a day.”
His workday wasn’t much shorter, if at all, and his irascibility about the conditions at Fenway became legend. All sorts around the team have stories of Mr. Mooney yelling at them to keep off his grass. After Rick Dempsey danced on the Fenway tarp during a rain delay in 1980, Mr. Mooney declared he’d be sending him a bill for splitting a number of its seams. The Red Sox were latecomers to kids running the bases after games, not introducing it as a promotion until 2002 at least in part because Mr. Mooney hated the idea.
Stories of his loyalty and kindness behind the salty language are equally abundant. And he did not fret about the long hours.
“It’s a lot of work,” he told the Globe in 1993, “but work never hurt anyone.”
Mr. Mooney was made director of grounds, emeritus, after Mellor took over, and remained working with the Red Sox in a lesser capacity until 2010-11. He was enshrined in both the Red Sox Hall of Fame (2012) and the MLB Groundskeepers Hall of Fame (2015).
According to a death notice in the Globe, Mr. Mooney leaves his wife, Donna G. Bering; a daughter, JoAnn Mooney-Bak; and a granddaughter. Services will be private.