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100 Things Red Sox Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Nick Cafardo
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2014 Nick Cafardo
All rights reserved.
The unique qualities of Fenway Park have been written of often and eloquently. Many writers have lovingly described the Wall, the Triangle, the scoreboard, Pesky's Pole, etc. For me, it's the smell. I have no idea what the smell is — it's impossible to explain or describe. It could be almost 100 years of built-up crud for all I know, but next time you step into Fenway, take a whiff. You won't smell that anyplace else in America. It's not a bad smell or a good smell. It just smells like Fenway, like a slice of Americana. It smells like history and a lifetime of experiences. It smells like Boston baseball.
The players come and go, and even the memories fade, but the one enduring constant about the Red Sox is the ballpark. Fenway was built in 1912 in the "Fens" area of Boston, hence the name given to it by the original owner of the team, General Charles Taylor, who also owned The Boston Globe newspaper.
Generations of baseball fans have created lifelong memories there. Just as baby boomers remember the day John F. Kennedy was shot, New Englanders remember their first game at Fenway. Taking in your first Red Sox game is a rite of passage passed down from fathers to sons and now from fathers to daughters. It's guaranteed that neither the child nor the parent will ever forget.
The ballpark has undergone numerous changes inside and out over the years, but somehow the core of the edifice never seems to change. It's funny how people react to seeing it for the first time. In 1984, when 21-year-old Roger Clemens was driven to Fenway for his first taste of the major leagues by farm director Ed Kenney Jr., Clemens turned to Kenney and said, "This isn't Fenway. This is a warehouse!" Kenney had to convince the young flamethrower that this was indeed his new home — and it would continue to be his home for the next 13 seasons, until he departed for Toronto as a free agent following the 1996 season. Clemens certainly grew to love the ballpark: the setting, the environment, and the challenge of pitching there.
It's easy to see why tours of Fenway are becoming very popular. They're available year-round, and you can smell ... er ... see for yourself all of the unique nooks and crannies around the ballpark that often make fans wonder, "How did they do that?" But even those little unseen places — such as the inside of the scoreboard in left field — are rapidly changing and being updated.
The biggest changes to the park, other than the modern improvements made by the John Henry/Tom Werner/Larry Lucchino ownership group, came when Thomas A. Yawkey owned the team. He bought the franchise in 1933 and rebuilt parts of the ballpark that had been damaged by a fire. The left-field seats were part of the fire; the old owners hadn't bothered to fix them because they ran out of money. Yawkey leveled off an even stranger phenomenon in left field: Duffy's Cliff, so named because left fielder Duffy Lewis did a great job playing the ball despite the 10-foot incline in left that had been designed to keep nonpaying fans from sneaking into the ballpark.
One of the things you'll learn on the tour is that the first game ever played at Fenway took place on April 9, 1912, when the Red Sox played Harvard in an exhibition game as part of an open house the team held to allow fans to see the new facility. There were snow flurries that day, and only about 3,000 fans were present to witness the Red Sox beat the Crimson 2–0. The first major league game played at Fenway — an 11-inning, 7–6 win over the New York Highlanders (yes, the team that would eventually become the Yankees) — took place on April 20 before 24,000 spectators. A number of fans actually stood in the field area to watch the game because some of the seating was not yet in place. Tris Speaker drove in Steve Yerkes for the winning run.
The ballpark originally had a capacity of 27,000, but after Yawkey poured some $1.5 million in improvements into it, the basic bowl of the park looked much as it does now, with a seating capacity in the mid-30,000s.
Yawkey was the one who rebuilt the 37'2" tall left-field wall with tin, replacing the original wooden structure. He also added the netting over the Green Monster to prevent balls from damaging buildings across the street. That 231/2-foot netting was replaced by the Monster Seats in 2005. On April 26, 1912, Hugh Bradley, a reserve first baseman, became the first player to hit one over the Green Monster. It was one of only two homers hit by Bradley during his career.
Yawkey added skybox seats in 1946. By 1947 Fenway had lights. The many ads that adorned the wall around the ballpark — a staple of all the parks in those days — came down. Some 30 years later the Yawkeys added an electronic message board in center field.
One very dramatic change occurred in 1988, when construction began on a high-end club that came to be known as the "600 Club" (and is now the EMC Club) at the location of the old press box. The press box was kicked upstairs. This construction changed the wind currents at Fenway forever. What had been a home-run-friendly ballpark, with the wind often blowing out to left, now became a tough place to hit homers — a phenomenon first discovered by Sox Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs, a career .369 hitter at Fenway, who had a penchant for hitting the left-center wall. During the 1989 season, after the new structure was built, he realized that it was suddenly harder to do that.
Fenway was like a modern palace early in its existence compared to the humble digs of Huntington Avenue Grounds, where the Boston Americans had played their games. Currently the site of Northeastern University, the stadium held only 11,500 fans.
Fenway played host to the World Series in 1912, 1914, 1918, 1946, 1967, 1975, 1986, 2004, 2007, and 2013. It has also seen many famous debuts, including that of Alex Rodriguez, who played his first major league game there on July 8, 1994, at the age of 19. Babe Ruth also played his first game there, on July 11, 1914. It was also the site of emotional events such as Ted Williams's final at-bat in 1960 — a home run — as well as the 1961 All-Star Game and the Carl Yastrzemski farewell on October 2, 1983.
With so many notable features — including the new Monster Seats, the Tony C. seats in right field, and the red Ted Williams seat, which was installed to commemorate the longest home run ever hit at Fenway (502 feet on June 6, 1946) — Fenway remains the most unique ballpark in baseball. No other ballpark can offer the Green Monster, the Triangle in right-center, Pesky's Pole in right field, the Fisk Pole in left field, the old-fashioned scoreboard, and the ladder in left-center.
And, of course, the smell.CHAPTER 2
The greatest Red Sox player ever was Ted Williams. There has yet to be a player who can unseat him from that throne.
It isn't that there have been no contenders. All that prevents Manny Ramirez from being a Hall of Famer is testing positive for performance enhancing drugs prior to the 2009 season which resulted in a 50-game suspension under the penalties of Major League Baseball's new steroid policy. David Ortiz is considered one of the greatest clutch hitters in Sox history and along with Edgar Martinez perhaps the greatest DH. Another Hall of Famer, Carl Yastrzemski, had a long career and the greatest single season ever in 1967, when he won the Triple Crown. Wade Boggs is a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest pure hitters in baseball. Jimmie Foxx and Jim Rice were feared sluggers. Rice entered the Hall of Fame in 2009 in his 15 and final try. Williams was an event in and of himself, playing during an era (1939–1960) that — with the exception of the 1946 World Series, which the Red Sox lost in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals, and the 1948 and 1949 teams, which both fell a little short — was fairly uneventful from a team point of view. He played in some potent lineups that were exciting to watch, but they never won the big one.
Williams, ever so gracious after his playing career, was by his own admission surly to the fans and the media during his playing days. There was the infamous spitting-at-the-fans incident that he never lived down; nor did he ever tip his cap in thanks for the ovations he received after home runs. He never came out for curtain calls. He eventually mellowed, but only well after he had left the field for the last time. In a one-on-one conversation with this reporter in the mid-1980s, Williams said of his relationship with the fans, "They were great fans and great to me considering that I didn't pay as much attention to them as I should have. I just wanted to play and not have to deal with any of it. I got along fine with a few of the media people, but not all of them. I didn't understand the constant need to write about everything I did or thought. I probably didn't handle it so good."
Asked about all he had accomplished throughout his career, he responded, "I just wish I could have enjoyed it more. I wish we had won a championship, because the fans deserved that, and the fellas I played with deserved it. Doerr, DiMaggio, Pesky, these guys played their hearts out. To get that far some of those years with nothing, I think that just left us with such an empty feeling." Williams has always said that his one regret was that he didn't get to stroke the winning home run at any point in the 1946 World Series.
Williams had so many incredible moments, but the most memorable one in my opinion is his All-Star Game heroics in 1941. Nowadays nothing that happens in the All-Star Game means much because the game has been so devalued despite Bud Selig's best attempts. But back then the All-Star Game was a source of pride to both leagues as well as to the players involved. It was truly an honor to play in the game, and all the players wanted to do something dramatic.
Williams was only 22 years old. At the All-Star break he was hitting .405, so his presence in that potent American League lineup at Tiger Stadium was electric. Don't forget, the game also came during Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak; much of the attention was on DiMaggio, but Williams was hitting over .400. Can you imagine having two ballplayers going after such amazing feats in one season and having them both playing in the All-Star Game for the same team? It was DiMaggio beating out a double-play grounder that future Red Sox manager Billy Herman couldn't handle and that allowed Williams to come up to the plate with two out and two on against Chicago Cubs righty Claude Passeau. Williams was thrown a 2–1 slider that he said came up to him "as big as a balloon." He deposited it in the upper deck, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Those who were there would never forget the sight of the young, tall, skinny Williams hopping around the bases like a little boy, so excited about what he'd done. Even in our conversations later in his life, Williams never forgot the feeling of that moment.
Yet the rest of the '41 season was also something to behold. Williams went up and down but stayed pretty close to that .400 mark. He came to the last day of the season basically hitting .400, but rounded off it wound up at .3995. Williams was under such scrutiny from the Boston media that there was no way he could just sit out and preserve his .400. So he played both ends of a doubleheader at Philadelphia's Shibe Park and went 6-for-8, 4-for-5 in the first game and 2-for-3 in the second game.
Some 19 years later, at the age of 42, "the Splendid Splinter" treated his last at-bat like any other, despite being slightly thicker in the middle. He had received a two-minute standing ovation before he stepped up. In his final at-bat, in the eighth inning on September 28, 1960, against 21-year-old right-hander Jack Fisher of the Baltimore Orioles, Williams stroked home run number 521. He rounded the bases as the 10,454 fans on hand that day at Fenway roared.
So many Red Sox fans missed that moment. Can you imagine if that few people came to witness David Ortiz's last at-bat? Nevertheless, it was an emotional moment. The guy on deck, catcher Jim Pagliaroni, was so touched by the moment that he started to cry. Many years later Pagliaroni said, "You knew you'd just watched the greatest hitter ever go out like he was meant to go out." Williams ran hard around the bases and never looked up at the crowd yelling "We want Ted!" He just ran right into the dugout. In the ninth inning manager Pinky Higgins made Williams go out to take his position, but he soon sent Carroll Hardy out to replace him. One last time, Williams ran in from the outfield to the dugout. And there went the greatest hitter who ever lived.CHAPTER 3
Many Red Sox fans came to believe in the "Curse of the Bambino," a term aptly coined by my colleague and friend Dan Shaughnessy. Chants of "1918!" were heard everywhere — especially at Yankee Stadium, where Yankees fans constantly rubbed it in, reminding Boston of the date of its last World Series win. In 2004, what had really changed?
The Sox won the wild-card spot in the American League, took care of the Angels in the American League Division Series, and then faced the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. They were down 3–0 in the best-of-seven series and had just been absolutely throttled by the Yankees, 19–8, in Game 3. How demoralizing. Remember the Boston Massacre in 1978? This was heading down that path. So Game 4 was just a formality, wasn't it? Get your butt kicked by the Yankees, hear more about 1978 and Bucky Dent, 1918 and Babe Ruth, and Grady Little's decision to keep Pedro Martinez in during Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS — and then go home with your tail between your legs and wait for the next kick in the teeth. Right?
But then came this incredible turn of events — this fortuitous, if not downright gutsy, play by a guy who had joined the Red Sox on July 31 in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
To provide a little background, every day Dave Roberts has spent in a baseball uniform has been enjoyable for him. Although distracted by Giants teammate Barry Bonds' pursuit of the home-run record in the summer of 2007, he was willing to reminisce with this reporter about what might be the key moment in Red Sox history: that fateful October night when Roberts stole the show.
"It was just that moment I think that every player wishes for and hopes for and prays for. It was a moment that was just meant for me. The reason the Red Sox had acquired me from the Dodgers was for precisely that moment. I think you feel that. You kind of sense that. I knew I needed to do something dramatic, but I also knew I couldn't fail. If I was going to attempt it, I had to make it. So everything hinged on that play. You don't get to experience that very often in the course of your baseball career," Roberts said.
It was the bottom of the ninth, and the Sox were down 4–3 on the brink of elimination. It was actually even worse than that. The Sox were on the brink of being swept by the Yankees. Kevin Millar worked a walk against the greatest closer ever, Mariano Rivera. Out of the dugout came Roberts to pinch run for the slow-footed Millar. Bill Mueller, who had won the batting title the previous season, was at the plate focusing on Rivera.
Roberts carefully took his lead — a large one. He had been studying Rivera's move to first base on video almost every day of the series, knowing he might find himself in a situation of this magnitude. Roberts took off on Rivera's first pitch to Mueller. Yankees catcher Jorge Posada made a good, strong throw to Derek Jeter, who was covering second base. But it was too late. Roberts had done it. Mueller then drove in Roberts to tie the game. The Sox went on to win the game and then went on to win the next seven after that to take the pennant and the World Series against St. Louis.
Excerpted from 100 Things Red Sox Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Nick Cafardo. Copyright © 2014 Nick Cafardo. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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