Wednesday, March 30, 2011

First Match Up At Fenway: April 20, 1912 (From the Vault)

It will soon be Yankees Vs. Red Sox at Fenway Park to open the 2011 season there. The historic rivals are at it again and the "Great Rivalry" -- and it is a great rivalry despite some commentary from an NPR sage -- is at fever pitch. Former Baseball Commissioner

- A. Bartlett Giammati made the statement: "When I was seven years old, my father took me to Fenway Park for the first time, and as I grew up I knew that as a building it was on the level of Mount Olympus, the Pyramid at Giza, the nation's Capitol, the Czar's Winter Palace, and the Louvre - except, of course, that it was better than all those inconsequential places." Contrary to some rumors probably spread by Yankee fans, the scholarly Giammati was not around for the start of play at Fenway which was a very long time ago. Prior to 1912, the Red Sox played at Huntington Avenue Grounds, now part of Northeastern University. Fittingly, the first American League team to visit Fenway Park was New York -- at that time known as the Highlanders, soon to become the Yankees. It was a damp and chilly New England spring that year.

The Red Sox actually played their first game at Fenway 11 days before, defeating Harvard University in an exhibition game played in a snowstorm. Then the Red Sox and Highlanders had to sit out two rainouts before facing off on Saturday April 20, just a few days after the sinking of the Titanic.

The future grandfather of President John F. Kennedy, Boston Mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald was one of the 27,000 in attendance. He threw out the first ball in the park that was built at a cost of $350,000 that would come to be known as "Boston's Sistine Chapel." They played on into extra innings. Boston prevailed finally winning,7-6, on a Tris Speaker RBI in the bottom of the 11th inning. Red Sox spitballer Bucky O'Brien and Sea Lion Hall defeated New York's Jumbo Jim Vaughn. Opening day turned out to be a good predictor of the season's fortunes for both Boston and New York.

The Red Sox took the American League pennant in 1912 with a 105-47 record, good for a winning percentage of .691, and went on to beat the New York Giants in the World Series. The Highlanders, suffering their 6th straight loss, went 50-102 (.329), finishing in last place, a whopping 55 games behind the Red Sox. Even after the BoSox had Fenway as a home park, they didn't always play all their games there. From time to time, they scheduled "big games" at Braves Field to accommodate larger crowds than their little park could accommodate. But that worry is way in the past - - now a seat at Fenway is one of the toughest tickets in all of baseball.

About 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 available direct from the author or at on line sites or at bookstores. He is available for speaking engagements. FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time. FOLLOW Harvey on Twitter: Web:  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


IKE DELOCK: He didn’t like the press and there a lot were a lot them – he wanted to ban them from the clubhouse. The players said, “You can’t do that.” So he eased up. But whatever he wanted he damn well got.

At the urging of Williams, Red Sox players agreed to a one hour interview lag after games before reporters could enter the locker room. The Sox icon would stand outside the door wearing just a towel, counting off the seconds. “Okay,” he'd snap. “Now all you bastards can come in. “

MEL PARNELL: Ted was called out on strikes and came back to the dugout and complained that home plate was out of line. General manager Joe Cronin argued about it but agreed to have home plate checked. At nine the next morning the ground crew was out there. They checked. It was out of line. Ted had the greatest eyes. He was a man with strong opinions about everything, and his own way of doing things.

The “Splendid Splinter” ordered postal scales for the Boston clubhouse to accurately measure the weight of his bats. He trusted no one. While in the on-deck circle, he would massage his bat handle with olive oil and resin. The noise, a kind of squeal, did not endear him to disconcerted pitchers.
The eighth day of June, 1950 was a perfect day at Fenway for those who loved offense, hot weather and the home team. Scoring 29 runs in 90 degree heat before just 5,105 fans, the BoSox romped.
Bobby Doerr smashed three homers while collecting 8 RBIs. Walt Dropo homered twice, driving in 7 runs. Ted Williams launched two homers and had 5 RBIs. A half dozen Major League offensive records were set that day by the slugging BoSox.

On the first day of July, Whitey Ford made his major league debut at Fenway.
WHITEY FORD: I was 21 years old. I wasn’t what I would be. I lasted 4 2/3 innings giving up seven hits, six walks, and five earned runs.

Another rookie, Boston’s Walt Dropo, had a better day than the Yankee southpaw. He slugged a grand slam home run. Boston won, 13-4.

On August 17th Fenway Park became the site of the American League’s first Ladies Night Game. More than 7‚000 women saw the home team down the A's‚ 10-6. It was the 19th straight loss for Philadelphia at the Fens dating back to September 12‚ 1948.

JIMMY PIERSALL: My first day in the big leagues was September 7, 1950. I was 20 years old. And we were playing Washington and I was sitting on the bench. We’re down by four runs and Steve O’Neil who had replaced Joe McCarthy as manager said it’s time for me to pinch-hit. He called me “pierseraroll”— he didn’t know what the hell my name was.

JOHNNY PESKY: A big left handed pitcher was going against us. Piersall was going up for his first at bat. “Goddamn this guy’s awful wild, God damn it, I’m afraid,” Jimmy said.
“If you’re afraid,” I told him, “you better get a lunch pail and go home.”

JIMMY PIERSALL: I walked up. My hands were sweating. I swung at the first pitch and the bat lands beyond the third base dugout. And I’m standing there without a bat. The on deck circle guy gives me another bat. The count goes to 3-2, and I hit a ball between second and third for a hit.

With Pesky, with Williams, with DiMaggio, with Parnell and now with Piersall, the 1950 Red Sox were a formidable foe at home where they posted a won and lost record of 55-22; on the road they barely played .500 ball.

On April 15, 1951, exactly four years to the day that Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line, almost exactly six years to the day that he and Marvin Williams and Sam Jethroe were passed over by the Red Sox in the “tryout” at Fenway in 1945, “the Jet Jethroe” returned as a member of the Boston Braves in the pre-season City Series game – Boston Braves versus Boston Red Sox. The speedy Jethroe showed the Sox what they had missed in not signing him. Going 4 for 5, homering, driving in two runs, Jethroe dominated. But the Braves lost the game 6-3.

A month later the Red Sox celebrated the 50th anniversary of their first game in Boston. On hand were 29 old-timers who had played‚ managed‚ or umpired in the American League in that first season including Connie MackDummy Hoyt‚ Cy YoungHugh Duffy and Clark Griffith. In the game that followed Ted Williams slammed his 300th career homer.

On July 8th, Red Sox fans rejoiced as a Yankee pitcher failed to complete a game for the 20th straight time at Fenway Park. Five days later Sox fans rejoiced even more when Mickey Mantle struck out four times in a doubleheader.

Just before the 1952 baseball season got going, the last City Series game between the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Braves was played at Fenway Park on April 13th before a tiny and chilled crowd of 3,813 who braved 40-degree weather. Pitcher Gene Conley, a Celtic and future member of the Sox, started for the Braves. Faye Throneberry (the brother of “Marvelous Marv”) homered with two outs in the seventh. The Sox won the game, 2-1. The Braves moved to Milwaukee the following season and that ended the City Series with the Boston Braves.

GENE CONLEY: That April 13th was the first time I saw Fenway Park. “My goodness, what a small ballpark,” I thought. Some of the minor league parks I had played in were bigger.

"A handsome coffee table book that marks the centenary of the grand old park." -Sports Illustrated

"For Red Sox fans, this gem of a book about a jewel of a ballpark is
enough--well, almost enough- to banish from all thoughts of Bucky Dent and other disappointments. --George F. Will

"For a baseball fan, hours of pure enjoyment. Great book, beautiful, fantastic."--New Hampshire Public Radio, Morning Edition

"Harvey Frommer has produced a book worthy of its sacred subject. Remembering Fenway Park is unforgettable." -Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe

"A tribute to a ball park, a celebration of a game, and a love song to the players, coaches, and fans who've turned a tract of grass and dirt into sacred ground." - -James S. Hirsch, Author of "Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend"

Wednesday, March 09, 2011


(Excerpt from Remembering Fenway Park available in stores, on-line and autographed direct from the author)

DOM DIMAGGIO: The first time I walked into Fenway Park was a day in April 1940. It was before the season; there was ice on the field. Coming from California, it was a bit of a shock to me. I was wondering how we were going to start on time.

At the start of the new decade, Fenway Park featured new bullpens in place in right field in front of the bleachers. The distance to the right-center wall was cut from 405 feet to just over 380 feet. Bullpens had been moved from the foul lines to the front of the stands in center, creating the center-field triangle.
BOBBY DOERR: Ted Williams was one of the first hitters to go to light bats. In 1941, he had a batch of 32-ouncers brought to Fenway.
Some told him “Ted, you can’t get good wood with 32 ounce bats.”

Ted’s comeback was, “What good is wood if you can’t handle it?”
He wanted control of the bat to where he could hit the ball on the fat part. With a heavier bat he felt he couldn’t even though he was as quick and strong as anybody. But he still went from a 34 or 35 ounce bat to a 32 once bat.

We became close friends. We were around the same age; we both liked to go to movies and fish and talk fishing.. But the thing Ted especially liked was to talk baseball.

SAM MELE: I was going to New York University. My coach Bill McCarthy used to drive me up to Fenway Park to work out for the Red Sox scout Mahoney. One day, I get in the batting cage. Pitching to me was Herb Pennock who had been one of the great pitchers in history.
After a few warm-up pitches, he says "Are you ready now?"
I say, "Yeah." Now he throws a screwball, a change up and boy I had a tough time.
They tell me to take five swings. I took four and I did not swing at the fifth pitch.
"Why did you take that pitch?" a voice behind the cage says.
"Well, it was kind of low," I said.
"It was, but it was over the plate," the voice says.

The voice belonged to Ted Williams. He called me over and started talking to me about hitting. "You move your feet too far away from the plate,” he said. “You got to be able to cover the whole plate when you're batting." I never forgot that.

Throughout that 1941 season, the talk all over Boston was about Ted Williams who would be the last batter to hit .400.

"Number 9 did that"
"That's where Number 9 hit one"
“He got another hit today, Number 9.”

MONSIGNOR THOMAS J. DALY: In 1941, I was age 14 and started as Stile boy. I got paid $1.50 a day. About the second inning or third, inning you were free for the rest of the time and you could watch the ballgame. And if there was a doubleheader then you had a good day for yourself. Not too many people tried to sneak through into Fenway. There was, however, a note on the bulletin board that I still remember. “Sir, last week I sneaked into the ballgame and I’m sending money to pay for the ticket that I didn’t buy.” The writer was anonymous, of course.

There was no local TV, and radio was WAAB with Jim Britt and Tom Hussey. All games were in the daylight and lots of children were on hand. Prices of admission for the grandstands were $1.10, bleachers 55 cents, a reserved seat in the grandstand $1.40 and tickets for the box seats were $3.60. It was a pretty quiet environment. The only music was at the beginning of the ballgame when everybody stood for the national anthem. There was just the manual scoreboard.

BOO FERRIS: After my sophomore year at Mississippi State University, the Red Sox got me placed in the Northern League in Vermont. That was in ’41. My manager there was Bill Barrett, a former major-leaguer and a Red Sox scout. We had an open day. He took me and two players from the University of Oklahoma to our first big league ballgame.

Bill Barrett says, ”They’re playing the Cleveland Indians. I’ll take you in and you can meet the great Red Sox players.”

We drove down in Mr. Barrett’s car. When we first saw Fenway Park, we were all pretty bug-eyed, I’ll tell you that. We were just on cloud nine you might say—three southern boys. Bill Barrett told us that Lefty Grove was going for his 300th career win that day, July the 25th.

We walked in the clubhouse and Johnny Orlando the clubhouse guy told us to be quiet. We learned that Lefty Grove who was on the downside of his great career was in the trainer’s room. He always took a little nap before the ballgame.

And Orlando said, “He better not be disturbed or he’ll tear up the clubhouse.”
So we had to tiptoe by the training room and my gosh we got to meet Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Wagner and Joe Cronin, the manager of course.

We shook hands with Red Sox players. Bill Barrett, he knew them all. I didn’t think to ask for autographs. getting an autograph wasn’t a big thing back in those days. But I still have the program. It cost five cents.

I had a dream that maybe someday I might be back. We sat in box seats behind the dugout and had royal treatment. The ballpark was so compact with seats right down close to the field. The Wall was out there but it wasn’t painted green then. Some called it the Iron Monster.

Manager Joe Cronin had told Grove before the game: “Pop, this is a nine inning game. I’m not coming out to get you. Grove was behind 6-4 in the seventh inning, tied in the eighth at 6-6. Then Jimmie Foxx hit a three-run homer. Grove had given up 12 hits but he had his 300th and final win.

‘BOO’ FERRIS: He struggled but he made it. An unforgettable day, for sure, for three southern boys. That was my introduction to Fenway. We drove back home and the next day we were playing baseball.
DOM DIMAGGIO: The atmosphere heightened a great deal when the Red Sox and Yankees played. I felt that and enjoyed it.

In 1941, when my brother Joe had the hitting streak going, Ted would be talking to the guy in the scoreboard and the guy would keep him posted when Joe got a hit. You couldn’t do that at any other park.

There were times at Fenway when Joe would be coming in from centerfield and I would be coming out. I said very little to him on those occasions. What the hell was I going to do, stop in centerfield and have a conversation?

JOHNNY PESKY: Manager Joe Cronin let me play. That was how it all started in 1942. . We played the old Boston Braves, an exhibition City Series, one game at Fenway and one at Braves Field.
The first time I saw Fenway Park it was dark and dreary. I was mainly concerned about playing as well as I could and keeping warm. I made four errors in the exhibition game and felt just terrible about it. I thought Cronin was going to send me down to either Scranton or Louisville. But he didn't say anything to me.

Opening Day, Tuesday April 14th, at Fenway. I was 22 years old. I came up the runway, up the three steps and looked out from the dugout. It was an old park even then. But it was very well kept, clean and nice. And right in the middle of the city. I thought it was beautiful.

We lived on Bay State road just across from Kenmore Square and could walk across to the ballpark. I batted leadoff ahead of Dom and Ted.

(The Red Sox lineup that April 14, 1942 at Fenway)
6 Johnny Pesky SS
7 Dom DiMaggio CF
9 Ted Williams LF
3 Jimmie Foxx 1B
5 Jim Tabor 3B
12 Pete Fox RF
26 Skeeter Newsome 2B
11 Johnny Peacock C
28 Dick Newsome P

"For Red Sox fans, this gem of a book about a jewel of a ballpark is
enough--well, almost enough- to banish from all thoughts of Bucky Dent and other disappointments. --George F. Will
"Harvey Frommer has produced a book worthy of its sacred subject. Remembering Fenway Park is unforgettable." -Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe