Though generations have come and gone, Fenway Park remains, much like it did the day it opened on April 20, 1912.
The home of the Boston Red Sox resounds with the echoes of great baseball players: Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Jimmy Collins, Duffy Lewis, Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper, Joe Cronin, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski, to name just a few.
Fenway Park is actually the second home for the Sox. In 1901, the Boston Pilgrims became one of the charter members of the fledgling American League. The Pilgrims played ball at the Huntington Avenue Grounds, now a part of Northeastern University’s campus.
Boston Globe owner General Charles Henry Taylor, a Civil War veteran, bought the team for his son John I. Taylor in 1904. In 1907, owner Taylor changed the club’s name from the Pilgrims to the Red Sox. In 1910, tired of the leasing arrangement for the Huntington Avenue Grounds, Taylor made a big announcement: he would build a new ballpark for his Red Sox. Taylor dubbed the new ballpark Fenway Park because of its location in the Fenway section of Boston.
The First Game
After two rain delays, Fenway Park finally hosted its first professional baseball game on April 20, 1912. (The first official game played in Fenway actually occurred on April 9 when the Sox beat Harvard University, 2-0.) The Red Sox defeated the New York Highlanders — later known as the Yankees — before 27,000 fans,7-6 in 11 innings. The event would have made front page news hadit not been for the sinking of the Titanic only a few days before.
Even after the Sox made Fenway their home, they didn’t always play their games there. Occasionally, the Red Sox scheduled their "big games" at Braves Field to accommodate larger crowds — like those that were over 42,000 strong for Games Three and Four of the 1915 World Series. Boston won that year too, beating the Philadelphia Phillies.
Fenway Park’s peculiar dimensions were not intended to provide a tempting target for home run hitters, but to keep non-paying customers out of the park.
In left field, there was a steep 10-foot embankment that ran in front of the wall where fans were allowed to sit. The Sox’ Duffy Lewis was so skilled at playing balls hit to the ledge that it became known as Duffy’s Cliff.
Fires at Fenway
Fenway Park remained unchanged until a May 8, 1926 fire destroyed bleachers along the left field line. John Quinn, the owner at the time, simply carted the charred remains out of the park; because of a lack of funds, he didn’t bother to rebuild the bleachers. Left fielders didn’t complain — they were able catch foul balls for outs behind the stands.
Tom Yawkey, who bought the financially strapped club in 1933, began a major overhaul of the park. The revitalization project, however, came to a screeching halt on January 5, 1934 when a second fire ravaged the building for five hours. Few areas of the ballpark were left undamaged.
Construction crews worked diligently to reconstruct the ballpark in time for the season opener on April 17, 1934. And when Fenway Park did open that day, it had a new look.
Concrete bleachers replaced the wood bleachers in centerfield. Duffy’s Cliff was leveled off — though not completely. And the 37-foot wooden left field wall was replaced by a more durable, 37-foot sheet metal structure. In 1936, a 23-1/2-foot tall screen was added on top of the wall to better protect the windows of buildings on adjoining Lansdowne Street. When the wall’s advertisements were covered by green paint in 1947, Fenway Park’s signature feature — the Green Monster — was born.
Three years later, sweet-swinging Ted Williams, a dead-pull left-handed hitter, came to Boston. The following year, 1940, bullpens were constructed in right field to bring the fence 23 feet closer to home plate for Williams. The new bullpens appropriately became known as Williamsburg.
The ballclub installed skyview seats at Fenway Park in 1946. Lights followed in 1947, and Fenway’s first message board in was added over the centerfield bleachers in 1976. In 1988-89, stadium club seats were constructed above grandstand behind home plate — where the former press box was located. Before the 2003 season, a seating section was constructed on top of the Green Monster.
Other than those additions, Fenway Park for the most part is unchanged. With its manually operated scoreboard, its geometrically peculiar shape (including the only ladder in play in the majors) and the stories of the legends that have played there for more than eight decades, Fenway remains a link to the legends of baseball’s past.
On any given night at Fenway Park, there’s no telling what you might see: a living legend may homer in his last at bat, a pitcher named "Smokey" live up to his name, or a catcher from New Hampshire hit a ball just fair past the left field foul pole into the cool October night.