Momentous events for Fenway Park and the Red Sox were on the horizon as the new decade dawned: new ownership, a major fire, significant renovations and the arrival of the greatest star in the history of the franchise.
Under manager Heinie Wagner, the 1930 BoSox were one of the worst teams in franchise history finishing dead last in the American League standings with a record of 52 wins and 102 losses. Just 444,045 fans came to their home games, an average of 5,767 a contest.
The 1931 season saw the introduction of players' uniforms with numbers. “The easier to find them and boo them,” a sarcastic fan noted. But Babe Ruth didn’t need a number to be identified. His return to Fenway on April 22, in a Yankee uniform, elicited cheers as well as jeers. Attempting to score from third base on a sacrifice fly, the Babe collided with Boston catcher Charlie Berry, an ex-professional football player. Ruth got the worst of it. He was carried off the field and rushed to a hospital.
Then on September 28th, he returned, this time as pitcher, a role that had earned him much early fame and glory at Fenway. He walked away with a 9-3 complete game triumph over his former team. But Lou Gehrig, positioned in the Sultan of Swat’s normal position in left field, saw his streak of playing first base for 885 games straight end.
Earlier that 1931 season when the Short-wave and Television Corporation offered to televise games from Fenway Park, owner Bob Quinn complained: "It has rained every Sunday and our team is in last place. And you want me to let the fans see the games at home? How do you suppose we are going to pay for our players?"
The request was premature. It would take another seventeen years before baseball from Fenway would be on TV. But Sunday baseball did debut that year on July 3rd (the Yankees ripped Boston 13-2). Actually, the Sox had received approval for Sunday games three years earlier, but since a church was close by the ballpark, Sunday games were played at Braves Field until conditions were right.
No matter the day, game attendance languished in the doldrums for the 1932 season with only 182,150 passing through the Fenway turnstiles, an average of 2,366 per game, a home low for the decade. It was the worst season for the Red Sox in history; they finished in last place, 64 games behind the first place Yankees. With 43 wins and 111 losses, a .279 percentage; they were the only team to have a winning percentage under .300. It was worst won-and-lost record in franchise history. What else could one expect of a team that scored 518 runs while allowing 915.
From 1924 to 1932, the Quinn years, the Red Sox were the sorriest team in the American League. They finished last or next to last in all but one of those seasons. He had borrowed $400,000 from the American League just to keep the team afloat.
It was no wonder, therefore, that a depressed and desperate Red Sox owner John Quinn called a press conference on the 25th of February, 1933. His announcement was not unexpected but nevertheless a shocker.
“I haven't got the money to continue,” he said. Then he informed the press that he had sold the Red Sox and Fenway Park. It was for the same amount of money he had paid almost a decade before for the entire operation - - $1.2 million
It was not the sale as much as the buyer that got the attention of Boston's newspaper men, a 30-year-old with a fortune estimated to be more than $40-million. They thought him too young to have that kind of money. "He's just a kid," wrote one wizened scribe.
The “kid” who at first would be called “Tom” and later on in his ownership tenure always “Mr. Yawkey,” would remain on the scene for 44 years. Heir to an enormous timber and mining fortune, Yawkey would never own a home in Boston. His time would be spent at Fenway Park, in a suite between May and October at Boston’s Ritz-Carlton, in an apartment at New York’s Pierre, or on a 40,000-acre South Carolina game preserve where he enjoyed hunting and fishing and entertaining guests between October and April.
Most thought that Yawkey had been taken, paying more than a million dollars for one of the worst teams in baseball and a decaying Fenway Park. “It was bad,” Yawkey conceded years later. ”I had to pay off Harry M. Stevens, the concessionaire. The Red Sox owed $150,000 to the League.” And there was also the mortgage held on Fenway Park by the New York Yankees – part of the deal that sent Babe Ruth to New York.
But Tom Yawkey had the courage of youth, a sportsman’s zeal, and the money to spare. He figured he could handle it all. And he did.
(Excerpt from Remembering Fenway Park: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Sox/Abrams 2011 - -now available in stores and on-line and direct from the author)
2011 marks Harvey Frommer’s 36th consutive year of writing sports books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 40 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM, an oral/narrative history was published in 2008 as well as a reprint version of his classic "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball." Frommer's newest work REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION (Abrams) is set for March 2011. He is available for speaking engagements.
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