Bob Ryan

For longtime foes, nothing rivals in comparison

Outside Fenway Park on its first Opening Day in 1912.
National Baseball Hall of Fame photo
Outside Fenway Park on its first Opening Day in 1912.

April 20, 1912: Boston 7, New York 6 (11 innings).

April 20, 2012: New York 6, Boston 2.

Revenge is theirs.


“Change it up; change it up a touch,’’ said Nick Swisher, who can now go to his grave safe in the knowledge that he hit the first home run in Fenway Park’s second century of existence.

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Joe Girardi said, no, he did not have a séance with 1912 counterpart Harry Wolverton before sending his team onto the field to play Bobby Valentine’s Red Sox. But he might have had one with Joe McCarthy, who was often ridiculed as being a push-button manager in the ’30s and ’40s.

McCarthy could have related quite well to a skipper who was able to sit back and watch his men swat five homers off Clay Buchholz. And the man who had one of the first great relief pitchers in Johnny Murphy certainly would have enjoyed handing the ball to Mariano Rivera and watching him set down the Red Sox in the ninth inning with two strikeouts and a ground ball.

Five homers and a quality closer would be a nice winning formula in any era.

The game itself was just another game, albeit one in baseball’s best ongoing rivalry. But this was not just another day at the yard. It was a special event that touched the hearts of participants on both sides. A hundred years ago, the team from New York was known as the Highlanders, but in due time they would become the Yankees. There’s been no funky movement. It’s the same franchise.


“A hundred years to the minute,’’ marveled Swisher. “I’m so happy to be here. I’m a rivalry guy, and I’ve been part of two of the best: Ohio State and Michigan and now the Yankees and the Red Sox.’’

Swisher said there was no way he was missing the pregame ceremony in which the Red Sox paraded out a whole lot of alums, starting with the Hall-of-Fame quintet of Carl Yastrzemski, Bobby Doerr, Carlton Fisk, Dennis Eckersley, and Jim Rice; and continuing with a lengthy roll call of A-listers, ranging from Pedro Martinez to Luis Tiant to Dwight Evans to Jim Lonborg to Frank Malzone to Rico Petrocelli to Mo Vaughn to Bill Monbouquette to Mike Lowell to Bill Lee to Reggie Smith to Bruce Hurst to Keith Foulke to new retirees Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek, and, of course, Johnny Pesky.

(I’m leaving some out, but, you know, space is space.)

But what made this assembly so special was the fact that it was all inclusive, and some of these gentlemen, while neither Hall of Famers nor All-Stars, had their moments or, perhaps, moment, and it was vital that they share in the festivities.

Hence, we had a chance to salute Kevin Millar, Mr. Cowboy Up himself; Denny Doyle, the missing lineup link in 1975; Carroll Hardy, the man who pinch hit for Ted Williams and who was sent to replace him in left field after The Thumper hit that homer in his final at-bat; Gene Stephens, the first man to have three hits in an inning; Dave Morehead, who threw a no-hitter that had to share headlines with the firing of general manager Pinky Higgins; Billy Rohr, who lost that no-hitter on Elston Howard’s two-out hit early in 1967; Gary Waslewski, who started Game 6 of the 1967 World Series; and Bob Zupcic, who made one of the great catches in Fenway history when he hoisted himself over the far edge of the Sox bullpen with his right hand as he snatched a ball that was headed for the bullpen with his left.


There will be a debate about this, but here’s my rating of the ovations:

1. Pedro

2. Terry Francona (complete with the “Ti-To! Ti-To!’’ chant)

3. Nomah

Pedro’s personal nominee?

“Lou Merloni.’’

It was a tough call, but you knew it was going to be tilted toward the more recent players, with the exception of the 92-year-old Pesky, who has truly become Mr. Red Sox. But there were very hearty cheers for the likes of Yaz, Mo, Lowell, Jerry Remy, and — this should no longer be a surprise — Bill Buckner.

“I thought the whole thing was great,’’ said Girardi. “It was really nice to see all those players walk out there that have meant so much to the Red Sox organization and the fans. But the one I probably felt the best for was Terry Francona. Terry did so much for the area and the team.’’

The teams wore throwback numberless uniforms, of course (numerals were almost two decades in the future), and that, too, met with the Yankee skipper’s approval. “I thought they were great,’’ he said. “Very comfortable. I’d wear them tomorrow if we could.’’

We have to be honest. Things were very different in 1912. The overflow from the crowd of 24,000-plus was allowed to sit on the outfield grass, which was very much the custom of the day. This, of course, meant ground-rule doubles.

“This ruling was a big disadvantage to the home team,’’ wrote the Globe’s venerable baseball scribe, Tim Murnane, “for the Highlander laddies never hit for more than a single, while three of Boston’s hits went into the crowd, when with a clean field they would have gone for three-base drives and possible home runs, and would have landed the home team a winner before the ninth inning.’’

Girardi’s Yankee laddies circumvented the need for ground-rule judgments by driving Buchholz offerings as far as downtown Medford.

Ah, but that first game, which pitted a Boston team headed for the world’s championship against a New York team en route to last place, contained the kind of high energy and emotion that characterize the rivalry to this day.

Wrote Murnane, “The game was full of interest, the crowd holding its seats to the end, figuring that the Red Sox would eventually nose out the Broadway swells.’’

Which they did, manufacturing the winning run in the 11th with two away and no one on via a two-base throwing error by Highlander third baseman Cozy Dolan, a passed ball, and a Tris Speaker single that brought home Steve Yerkes with the winning run.

But everyone went home knowing that a new star had been born on the corner of Brookline Avenue and Jersey Street.

“The park was crowded with veteran ballplayers and fans, and everyone praised the new ball park, which is a model in every way,’’ wrote Murnane.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.