Fenway Park is the oldest Major League Baseball stadium currently in use. The ballpark has hosted World Series games in eleven different seasons, with the Boston Red Sox winning six of those Series, and the Boston Braves winning one.
Construction on Fenway Park began in September 1911 in Boston, Massachusetts near Kenmore Square. The ballpark opened on April 20, 1912, having cost $650,000 to build. It had a capacity of 27,000 and featured a steel and concrete grandstand extending from behind home plate down the baselines, with wooden bleachers placed in the outfield. The Red Sox played their first Fenway ballgame on that date against the New York Highlanders (Yankees), winning 7-6 in eleven innings. The opening of the new ballpark found itself overshadowed in the news, however, by the sinking of the Titanic just the week before.
In 1914, the Boston Braves played their home games during the World Series at Fenway Park, due to the construction on their own new stadium, Braves Field, still being in progress. The Braves would get the opportunity to return the favor before too long. As any baseball fan will know, Babe Ruth played with the Red Sox prior to his time with the New York Yankees. During his stint in Boston, Ruth helped the Red Sox to World Series titles in 1915, 1916, and 1918. The 1915 and 1916 Series, however, were not played at Fenway Park, but rather at Braves Field, in order to accommodate a larger crowd.
Throughout the late-1910s and into the 1920s, the Boston team struggled financially, a situation that resulted in the sale of Babe Ruth to New York and led to the disrepair of various features of Fenway Park. In 1926, a great fire engulfed the wooden bleachers in left field of the ballpark. However, these bleachers hadn’t seen much use leading up to the incident anyway, due to their dilapidated state. Finally, in 1933, the Red Sox were sold to millionaire Tom Yawkey. Yawkey invested in renovations to Fenway, including the blue, wooden grandstand seats that remain in the stadium to this day.
The Green Monster in left field actually began as a mere ten-foot fence. When he came into ownership of the team, Yawkey opted not to replace the fire-destroyed wooden bleachers in that part of the stadium. Instead, during the 1933-1934 off season, Yawkey rebuilt much of Fenway, including the erection of a 37-foot left field wall, initially covered in advertisements. A scoreboard was also added to Fenway Park in 1934, at the base of the great wall. At the time, the new board was considered a type of advanced technology, and the scoreboard remains at Fenway to this day, with scores continuing to get updated by hand. The wall would actually become the “Green Monster” in 1947 when advertisements were removed from the wall and it received a dark green paint job.
The “Williamsburg” area of the ballpark in right field was named for the legendary hitter, Ted Williams. It is said that the right field bullpen area, constructed in 1940, was built specifically to accommodate Williams’s left-handed swing, pulling the right field wall in closer to home plate. Also found in the right field stands sits a lone red seat. This seat is a nod to the 502-foot home run Williams hit in 1946 — the longest homer in Fenway history.
Light towers were then added to Fenway, and the Red Sox would host their first night game on June 13, 1947 against the Chicago White Sox. It wouldn’t be until 1976 when Fenway saw its next big change, when a $1.5 million electronic scoreboard was added above the stands in center field. Also in 1976, the Green Monster was refurbished, tearing down the old, tin wall and replacing it with a steel reinforced wall of hard plastic.
Private luxury suites were added to the ballpark’s upper deck from 1982 to 1983. Bleacher seats were also replaced with individual seats in order to allow season tickets to be sold to fans for those parts of the stadium. In 1987-1988, a color video board was erected above the center field seats, replacing the old scoreboard, and in 1989, the media level was added. Also in 1989, the 600 Club was constructed, featuring luxurious seats, climate control, and a great view of the field. The 600 Club would be renamed the .406 Club after the passing of Ted Williams in 2002, in honor of his historic batting average from the 1941 season. It would get renamed yet again in 2006 to the EMC Club.
The dugouts in Fenway are the only ones remaining in baseball with support poles in front of the players’ benches. Throughout the stadium, support beams can also be found, even though other clubs around the league have made a point to no longer have these kinds of support beams in their own stadiums. The beams at Fenway result in obstructed views for some fans, yes, however, the vertical poles have remained as a way to maintain Fenway’s old-time aura.
Just prior to the 2003 season, the Green Monster had bar-style seating added to the top of it, which became a major fan draw. That year, box seats were also added right behind home plate. In 2004, another two hundred seats were added to the roof high over right field, featuring tables at which fans get to sit during the game. During the early-2010s, the blue, wooden seats that fill the ballpark were systematically repaired and waterproofed.
From May 15, 2003 until April 10, 2013, the Red Sox sold out 820 consecutive home games at Fenway, which makes it the longest home sellout streak in Major League Baseball history. Fenway has also played host to many other sporting and cultural events, including: professional football games for the Boston Redskins, the Boston Yanks, and the Boston Patriots; music concerts; soccer and hockey games (including the 2010 NHL Winter Classic); and political and religious campaigns.
On March 7, 2012, just ahead of the stadium’s centennial, Fenway Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Joseph Michael Medwick was born on November 24, 1911 in Cateret, New Jersey. His parents, John and Elizabeth Medwick, were Hungarian immigrants, having immigrated to the United States in 1893.
He attended Cateret High School, where he was a star athlete in track, baseball, basketball, and football. In fact, Medwick was offered scholarships to play football at the college level. He turned down the scholarships, however, in favor of pursuing a career in baseball, signing with the St. Louis Cardinals.
After spending a few seasons in the minor leagues, Medwick made his Major League debut on September 2, 1932 at the age of twenty. He had an unusual waddle, earning himself the nickname “Ducky” or “Ducky Wucky,” though Medwick (understandably) preferred his other nickname, “Muscles.” With the Cardinals, he earned a reputation as a hard-nosed and mean-spirited player. Fortunately for Medwick, he also proved to be an excellent hitter, producing a batting average of .300 or better for most of the seasons he played as a major leaguer, finishing with a lifetime average of .324.
During the early 1930s, the St. Louis Cardinals became known as the “Gas House Gang,” a nickname that reflected not only their enjoyment in playing baseball, but also the aggressive style with which they played. Their uniforms, always dirty, came to resemble the grease-stained clothing worn by car mechanics — hence the nickname. Besides Joe Medwick, prominent members of the Gas House Gang included Frankie Frisch, Ripper Collins, Leo Durocher, Pepper Martin, and brothers Dizzy Dean and Paul Dean.
Joe Medwick was perhaps the most aggressive of the aggressive Gas House Gang members, not hesitating to brawl even with his own teammates. He was known to punch his own teammates for infractions such as scolding him for a lack of hustle (Ed Heusser) or walking in front of him too many times while being photographed (Tex Carlton). Pitcher Dizzy Dean once commented, “Dawgonnit. That Medwick don’t fight fair at all. You argue with him for a bit and then he beats you before you’ve even had a chance to speak your piece.”
The most infamous display of Medwick’s demeanor came during the 1934 World Series between the Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers — a Series that went into Game Seven. In the sixth inning of that deciding game, Medwick hit a triple into centerfield, sliding into third base with his spikes high. Medwick then proceeded to start kicking at Tiger third baseman Marv Owen, resulting in punches being thrown. Umpire Bill Klem broke up the scuffle, though neither player was ejected. However, when Medwick jogged out to left field in the bottom of the inning, Detroit fans made their feelings known by throwing fruit and pop bottles in Medwick’s direction. From his box at the ballpark, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis called a meeting with the umpires, the two managers, and Medwick. When it became evident that Medwick felt no remorse for his actions, Landis decided to remove Medwick from the game. The Cardinals went on to win the game, and the Series, 11-0, but the incident did nothing good for Medwick’s reputation.
In June 1940, Medwick was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers in a multiplayer deal, as the Cardinals were no longer willing to tolerate Medwick’s temper. Just days after the trade, the Dodgers and the Cardinals faced off against one another, and St. Louis pitcher Bob Bowman beaned Medwick in the temple. Brooklyn players rushed the field, believing the beaning to be intentional, as Bowman and Medwick had exchanged words in the hotel elevator just that morning. Bowman ended up being escorted from the game by policemen. Medwick, meanwhile, was carried away on a stretcher.
Medwick was found to have a concussion as a result of the beaning, though he stubbornly made his way back into the Dodger lineup just four days later. The beaning, however, would reignite interest throughout the league in the use of batting helmets, and Spalding Sporting Goods took advantage of the incident to start advertising a batting helmet with ear flaps.
For the rest of the career following the beaning, Medwick displayed a noticeable drop in power at the plate, though he did continue to rack up multiple seasons with a .300 or better batting average. He bounced around between teams, including the Dodgers, the New York Giants, and the Boston Braves, before finishing his major league career where he started, with the St. Louis Cardinals. Medwick played his final Major League game on July 25, 1948, though he continued to play minor league baseball until 1951.
Over the course of his career, Medwick was named to the National League All-Star team ten times. In 1936, he set a National League record with 64 doubles. In 1937, won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award, as well as the Triple Crown.
At Forbes Field on August 26, 1912, Owen “Chief” Wilson hit three triples in a doubleheader against the Braves. The Pirates outfielder’s third triple of the twin bill established a new major league record for triples in a season with 32, breaking the mark he shared with Dave Orr (1886 Metropolitans/AA) and Heinie Reitz (1894 Orioles/NL). Wilson finished the season with 36 three-baggers, a record that stands to this day.
Considered the first great pitcher of the modern era, Christopher “Christy” Mathewson was born in Factoryville, Pennsylvania on August 12, 1880, the oldest of six children of Minerva (née Capwell) and Gilbert Mathewson. He attended high school at Keystone Academy, and then college at Bucknell University. At Bucknell, Mathewson served as class president, played on the school’s football and baseball teams, and he was also a member of the fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta.
In 1895, when Mathewson was fourteen years old, the manager of the Factoryville ball club asked him to pitch in a game against a rival team in Mill City, Pennsylvania. Mathewson helped the Factoryville team to a 19-17 victory. He continued to play with semipro teams until he left for Bucknell.
At Bucknell, though Mathewson pitched for the baseball team, he was better known for his accomplishments as a football player, where he spent three years as the varsity team’s first-string fullback, punter, and drop kicker. It was also at Bucknell that Mathewson met his future wife, Jane Stoughton. After playing ball throughout his time at Bucknell, Mathewson signed his first professional baseball contract in 1899 with Taunton of the New England League. In 1900, he went on to play with Norfolk of the Virginia-North Carolina League, finishing the season with a 20-2 record.
In July of 1900, the New York Giants purchased Mathewson’s contract from Norfolk for $1,500. He appeared in six games for the Giants, compiling an 0-3 record before the Giants sent him back to Norfolk, demanding their money back in frustration. In September of that year, the Cincinnati Reds obtained Mathewson off the Norfolk roster, then traded him back to the Giants that December.
Christy Mathewson won 20 games in his first full major league season in 1901. He then posted at least 30 wins a season from 1903-05 and led the National League in strikeouts five times between 1903 and 1908. In 1908, he set a modern era record for single-season wins by an NL pitcher with 37. From 1903 to 1914, Mathewson won at least 22 games each season and led the NL in ERA five times.
In postseason play, during the 1905 World Series, Mathewson pitched three complete-game shutouts in three starts against the Athletics, giving up only 14 hits total in those three games. In 1911, the Giants won their first pennant since 1905, however they ultimately lost the 1911 World Series to the Philadelphia Athletics. Mathewson and Rube Marquard allowed two game-winning home runs to Hall of Famer Frank Baker en route to the Series loss.
The Giants captured the pennant again in 1912, facing the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Though Mathewson threw three complete games in the Series and maintained an ERA below 1.00, the Giants as a team committed a number of errors, including the infamous lazy popup dropped by Fred Snodgrass in game 7, costing them the championship. Though the Giants would win 101 games in 1913, they lost the World Series that year four games to one, again to the Athletics.
Mathewson played with the Giants for seventeen years. After the 1913 season, however, both Mathewson and the Giants as a team began to decline. In 1916, Mathewson was traded back to the Reds and was named player-manager. He appeared in only one game as a pitcher for the Reds, on September 4, 1916 against the Cubs. Mathewson and the Reds won that contest, 10-8.
In his career, Mathewson posted a 373-188 record (.665 winning percentage). His career ERA was 2.13 (8th all time) and he posted 79 shutouts (3rd all time) over the course of said career. Mathewson also recorded 2,507 career strikeouts against only 848 walks.
Nicknamed the “Christian Gentleman,” Mathewson was held in high regard in his time. Mathewson was handsome, college-educated, and temperate, making him an anomaly in the rowdy world of baseball during this time period. It made him, easily, one of the most popular ballplayers of the age. “He gripped the imagination of a country that held a hundred million people and held this grip with a firmer hold than any man of his day or time,” wrote sportswriter Grantland Rice.
Late in the 1918 season, Mathewson enlisted in the United States Army for World War I. He served as a captain in the newly formed Chemical Service along with Ty Cobb. While he was in France, he was accidentally exposed to mustard gas during a chemical training exercise and subsequently developed tuberculosis. Mathewson served with the American Expeditionary Force until February 1919 and was discharged later that month. He returned to serve as an assistant coach for the Giants until 1921, but continued to battle tuberculosis the entire time.
After some time away, Mathewson attempted to return to professional baseball in 1923 when he and Giants attorney Emil Fuchs put together a syndicate that bought the Boston Braves. Initially, Mathewson was to be principal owner and team president, but his health had deteriorated so much that he turned over the presidency to Fuchs after the season. Christy Mathewson died in Saranac Lake, New York of tuberculosis on October 7, 1925. He is buried at Lewisburg Cemetery in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, near Bucknell University.
In 1936, Mathewson became one of the first five players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Babe Ruth made his National League debut on April 16, 1935 at Braves Field in Boston. A band played “Jingle Bells” (I wonder whose idea that was?) as snow fell with near-freezing temperatures enveloping the field. Ruth hit a homer and a single off Giants’ legend Carl Hubbell as the Braves beat New York, 4-2.
On December 19, 1936, the Boston Braves purchased second baseman Eddie Mayo from the Giants. Mayo, however, would not see a lot of playing time with the Braves, hitting only .216 in the time he did get to play. After leaving Boston in 1938, Mayo would not appear in a major league game for five years, playing instead for the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League. When World War II broke out, however, and the league was depleted of players, Mayo became a productive player for the Tigers, being named the Most Valuable Player by The Sporting News in 1945.
Continuing on with the journey through Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns brings us to the decade of the 1930s. The United States, indeed, the world, was facing off against the Great Depression during the 1930s. As a result of high unemployment rates and widespread poverty, few could afford the price of tickets to attend professional baseball games, and as a result, attendance fell drastically. Baseball did what it could to try to draw fans back in, from the first All-Star game to the creation of the Baseball Hall of Fame. However, the financial difficulties that faced the nation at this time were too great.
Even as the Depression was getting underway, the Yankees signed Babe Ruth to the biggest contract in baseball history in the early 1930s. It was a move that seems only too-appropriate, given Ruth’s ostentatious lifestyle. Meanwhile, Lou Gehrig continues to stay merely in the shadows of the spotlight, in spite of his consecutive game streak and consistent high level of play.
Subtitled “Shadow Ball,” the Fifth Inning of this series by Ken Burns focuses on black baseball. (The subtitle, by the way, is not a reference to race, but rather to the illusion that these games weren’t being played with a ball at all, because it could barely be seen.) While white baseball suffered during the Depression, black baseball flourished. Many black teams came under control of racketeers, as they were among the few who could afford to fund baseball during this time, but interestingly, this seemed to be to the advantage of the Negro Leagues. And the crowds flocked to watch the black teams play. Listening to the nostalgia in the voices of former negro leagues players, you can tell there was a true love for the game, even in spite of inequality, the hard road trips, and the racism they faced.
We learn about Satchel Paige, considered by some to be the greatest pitcher in all of baseball. He had such an arsenal of pitches that few could hit off Paige. Some saw him as black baseball’s equivalent of a Babe Ruth, in that he drew large crowds to ball games. He even seemed to hold true to this comparison in his off-field personality. He hated to drive slow and cultivated a persona for those around him. Buck O’Neil, however, indicates there was much more to Paige than often met the eye.
Babe Ruth himself became the center of attention yet again during the 1932 World Series in Chicago when, in Game 3, he appeared to call his shot. No one will ever know for certain whether he really did, or if Ruth was merely engaging in a different gesture altogether, but it was a moment that, as we all know, has remained a part of the baseball psyche for decades. As the decade went on, however, Ruth’s level of play would decline, as it always does as a ballplayer gets older. When the Yankees made it clear they would not offer him a manager position, he did a brief stint with the Boston Braves, then retired from baseball. Meanwhile, new stars stepped into the spotlight. Not just Lou Gehrig, but also figures like Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, Dizzy Dean, and Bob Feller.
As for home run hitters in the Negro Leagues, catcher Josh Gibson was well-known for this ability. While many called him a black Babe Ruth, Burns notes, there were some who thought they had the comparison backwards, and that Babe Ruth was actually a white Josh Gibson. Indeed, the list of accomplishments for Gibson certainly seems to pass those of Ruth, including a season with seventy home runs, some of which exceeded 575 feet in distance. The Negro Leagues’ version of the Yankees were the Kansas City Monarchs, led by first baseman Buck O’Neil. In his commentary, O’Neil speaks about the camaraderie between the players and the fans.
We learn about the 1930s Brooklyn Dodgers, “dem bums,” and we learn about the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals, the “Gashouse Gang.” In 1936, Joe DiMaggio made his first appearances as a rookie with the New York Yankees. DiMaggio would help lead the Yankees to four World Series. Also in the thirties, we see the first night game in Major League Baseball (though night games had been played in the Negro Leagues for some time) and the increasing popularity of radio broadcasts, especially those by Red Barber, created new fans, as more and more people came to understand the game.
During the off season, many black players traveled south to Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean. In doing so, they were able to play baseball year round. They also discovered that the racial attitudes south of the United States were very different. They were paid more and welcomed more warmly by the locals than they were back home.
Discrimination didn’t stop with just the black population. Hank Greenburg came into prominence as first baseman for the Detroit Tigers. He wasn’t the first Jewish player in the game, but he was probably the first to really make a name for himself. Greenburg faced a considerable backlash of anti-Semitism, but his stellar play eventually helped to win fans and players over. Greenburg felt his role was of particular importance in light of the actions of one Adolf Hitler in Europe.
In 1939 came Lou Gehrig’s ALS diagnosis, and thus the end of his streak and his baseball career. On July 4th of that year, Gehrig gave his “Luckiest Man” speech at Yankee Stadium. Two years later, he passed away from the disease, which now bears his name.
1939 also saw the opening of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the induction of the first Hall of Fame class. It was the 100-year anniversary of the myth of Abner Doubleday‘s founding of baseball in 1839. The disc then ends with Buck O’Neil describing the long-awaited matchup between Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson — Negro League Baseball’s best pitcher versus it’s best hitter. O’Neil’s account left me with a smile.