By Dr. Harvey Frommer
The Roaring Twenties would prove to be a dismal decade at Fenway Park. Wooden bleachers along the left field foul line would burn down and not be rebuilt. There would be seven last place finishes, and attendance would be at or near the bottom of the league. Talented men would take turns managing the flawed franchise: Ed Barrow, Lee Fohl, Frank Chance, Bill Carrigan, Hugh Duffy. All would feel the sting of failure. And Babe Ruth was gone.
But it was not only the Babe who was sold to the Yankees. Owner Harry Frazee sent a steady stream of talent their way: catcher Wally Schang, premier pitcher Waite Hoyt, shortstop Everett Scott, pitchers "Bullet" Joe Bush and "Sad Sam" Jones, third baseman Joe Dugan, pitchers Herb Pennock and George Pipgras and more.
"All Frazee wanted was the money," Harry Hooper said. "He was short on cash and he sold the whole team down the river to keep his dirty nose above water. What a way to end a wonderful ball club. I got sick to my stomach of the whole business. After the 1920 season I held out for $15,000. And Frazee did me a favor by selling me to the Chicago White Sox. I was glad to get away from that graveyard."
On Patriots Day, 1920, George Herman Ruth was back in town. "In all the years the writer has witnessed baseball in Boston," The Globe's Melville E. Webb Jr. wrote, "he never has seen a former home team player so 'ridden' by the normally friendly fans."
But it was not the Babe who was booed. It was his Yankee teammate, right-hander Carl Mays. Both players had led the Red Sox to victory in the 1918 World Series. Both Ruth and Mays became disenchanted with playing for the Sox. Both wound up as employees of Yankee owner Jake Ruppert.
Babe Ruth's first Fenway at bat as a Yankee was just a bit after 10:00 A.M before what The New York Times called: "a crowd of 6,000 early risers." There was a competing draw - - the Boston Marathon. Native Greek Peter Trivoulidas supposedly had trained on the course that had given the Marathon its name, and was the victor in what the Globe called "the greatest Marathon run ever staged in any land."
The Bambino got two hits in four at bats in a losing cause as the Red Sox won 6-0 the first game that day.
Mays was the Yankee starter in the post-Marathon game. "With a real holiday setting," Webb observed, Ruth and Mays drew a crowd that rivaled a World Series turnout.
Relentlessly chided and booed, Mays according to Webb, responded by "working every nerve and sinew ... to rub it into the fans who were so keenly showing their disapproval."
The Red Sox led 4-2 in the seventh. Mays heard loud catcalls as he left the field.
"Carl, standing the gaff, stopped near the Red Sox dugout and tipped his cap," Webb reported.
A four run eighth inning locked the game up for Boston. Ruth's single in the ninth led to a meaningless Yankee run. "The crowd was strong for Babe ... but they had the satisfaction of seeing the big fellow win no hero stripes on the occasion of his home coming," wrote Webb
Another who would go down as a baseball immortal showed up July 1 at Fenway. Surprisingly, only 3,000 fans, were in the stands despite Walter Johnson's being on the mound for the Washington Nationals. Those who were there were treated to a masterpiece – Johnson spun the only no-hitter of his 21-year career. After his 1-0 victory over the Sox some teammates in the soggy clubhouse slapped the broad back of Johnson and others yelled: "Speech!"
"Goodness gracious sakes alive, wasn't I lucky?" was Johnson''s reply.
New York versus first place Boston, four-game series. Game one was May 27th. Yankee Bob Shawkey walked in a run in the 4th inning and became so irritated that he began yelling at home plate umpire George Hildebrand. The agitated Shawkey then took 5 minutes to tie his shoe on the mound. He resumed pitching and was credited with a called 3rd strike on Harry Hooper. That prompted him to sarcastically tip his cap and bow low to Hildebrand who ejected him from the game. Shawkey's parting shot was a swing at the ump who banged him with his mask. The crowd loved it. Shawkey did not. A one week suspension and a $200 fine was the price the Yankee hurler paid for his temper tantrum.
In the sixth inning of that game, Babe Ruth smacked his first Fenway homer as a Yankee – a mighty blast to right-center. Then he launched another making it four homers in three days. The Sultan of Swat was the first 20th century player to accomplish that feat. A Yankee series sweep dropped the Sox out of first place, sending them into a downward spiral.
The bitter rivals met again in a September 4, 1920 twin bill. A record 33,027 fans crammed into Fenway. Another 10,000 were turned away.
"That was a once-in-a-lifetime day," former Fenway vendor Tom Foley recalled. "Two weeks before at the Polo Grounds he (Carl Mays) threw a ball at Ray Chapman's head and killed him. It was unintentional but people were riled. This was his first appearance back in Boston and everybody went to heckle him. I made $16 that day, all nickels and dimes."
Under Ed Barrow and then Hugh Duffy, the Red Sox finished in fifth place during the 1920 and 1921 seasons. Games at Fenway were not hot tickets. In 1920, the team had the sixth worst attendance in the American League. In 1921, they would draw 279,273 – lowest in the league.
Arthur Giddon, who lived in Brookline, was a batboy in 1922 and 1923 for the Boston Braves. He also kept on eye on the Red Sox.
ARTHUR GIDDON: I went to Fenway from time to time. Living right in Brookline, I'd take the subway and was down at Kenmore Square in ten minutes. You didn't need to buy tickets in advance; you could get all the tickets you wanted.
Tickets were easy. Long pokes for home runs were harder to come by at Fenway in 1922. Center field was 488 feet and the deepest corner, just right of center was 550 feet.