The book: “Fenway: A Fascinating First Century”
The author: From the editors at Sports Illustrated, featured writing by Steve Rushin, Tom Verducci, Robert W. Creamer, Austin Murphy, Roy Blount Jr., Peter Gammons, Mark Mulvoy, Leigh Montville and Gerry Callahan.
The vital stats: Time Home Entertainment, 192 pages, $32.95
The pitch: A story last week by Henry D. Fetter for the Atlantic (linked here) points out that the unlikely event of Fenway Park celebrating its 100th birthday has occurred, as it turns out, in spite of Sports Illustrated.
Mark Mulvoy, years before he’d become the magazine’s managing editor and publisher, wrote the essay in 1967 (linked here) calling for a new stadium in the city by pointing out: “There is only one professional stadium in Boston — ancient, obsolete Fenway Park, with its 33,524 seats, its totally inadequate parking facilities and its Great Wall in left field.”
Esteemed journalist Frank Deford (linked here) wrote in 1970 for the magazine, embedded in a piece making the same stadium argument, that “for years people laughed at it and said it was the ruin of the Red Sox. Especially they laughed when all over the country taxpayers were approving what were called all-purpose stadiums. … All of a sudden, the best thing that ever happened to the Red Sox was to be stuck with queer old Fenway Park.”
Maybe it was just two guys from an office in New York with their peashooters taking aim at the Sox — especially the one in ’67, the year otherwise known as the “Impossible Dream” season for the AL champions (linked here).
What Fetter doesn’t really emphasize is that both criticisms were legitimate — the Boston/New England Patriots also played at Fenway, which was hardly suitable for an NFL, or AFL, or college team.
But for the Red Sox … or even an occasional outdoor hockey game …. for FDR … even Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones … for Duke Ellington or Killer Kowalski … for Pele or JFK. It worked just fine.
Thankfully, SI wasn’t able to lead any charges to have Fenway grinded into toothpicks — as the city folks in Detroit did with Tiger Stadium, which opened on the exact day as Fenway (April 20, 1912) but lasted just 87 years before it was replaced). We’ve been fortunate to have been able to visit the place. Just as our great grand fathers might have done, and our great grand kids may be able to do as well. Perhaps, with this book in their hands as something to remember us by.
Famed SI photographer Neil Leifer catches the action of a 1961 Red Sox-Tigers game.
More: SI.com has a multimedia photo collection of Fenway over the last 100 years on its website (linked here).
An excerpt: From Rushin’s lead piece entitled “The Ballpark that Wouldn’t Die,” on page 8:
“When the Great War could not kill Fenway, Mother Nature took a stab. Three separate fires in 1926 consumed the wooden bleachers that ran along Fenway’s leftfield line. The park would be rebuilt — and refurbished, and reconfigured, for the rest of the 20th century — but by the end of the millennium, when Tiger Stadium (also opened on April 20, 1912, the same day as Fenway) closed in 1999, Fenway Park was finally declared unfixable. ‘It would be easier to straighten the Leaning Tower of Pisa,’ Red Sox owner John Harrington said that season.”
How it goes down in the scorebook: Crank it up to 100.
The copy of the book we have actually creaks. Seriously. Hold it and bend it a little, and there’s a sound of what it’s like to settle into the small-bottomed wooden seats that are occasionally behind a post at Fenway. Surely, that’s a non-intentional result of the book being so large and limber, but it’s fitting.
Also strange to the touch is the surface of the non-glossy book jacket, and feels in some weird way as if you’re next to the Green Monster, putting your fingers over all its dents and flat, metallic paint.
Maybe we’re just imaging things. That happens with a book like this provides depth to all the senses. It makes sense, then, to have this nearby. If only there was a way to scratch-and-sniff a Fenway Frank somewhere inside.
From a writing perspective, the stories are top-notch SI. But the array of photos from start to finish are what work as the works of art in many ways — and nothing can be matched by the four-page foldout that appears between pages 16 and 23. One side is a black and white panoramic view of Fenway from the 1914 World Series (where the Boston Braves are playing the Philadelphia Athletics), a digital composite from the Boston Public Library. On ther other side, a shot from inside the home dugout onto the field in 2003, with foreground in the shade the rest in the sun. Try to find the differences in two pictures of the same place 89 years apart.
Most of the book is an exhaustive timeline is essential to reliving the history of the place through fires, snowstorms, Bucky Dent and, finally, a few major rock concerts. There’s also mention of Vin Scully’s CBS Radio debut an top of the roof in a rainstorm calling a Boston College-Maryland football on Nov. 12, 1949, just a couple of weeks before his 22nd birthday.
Photographically, the Monster is ready for its close up, and SI gives its the proper sitting, all the way to the final acknowledgement page where a shot of a white-and-red lined smudge is shown. Yes, it’s a ball that hit the Monster and left a mark. That doesn’t hurt.
In a couple of years, there’ll be the 100th anniversary book of Wrigley Field. We suggest thinking now about how to wrap it in real ivy.
Are there others?: Of course. Bigger and maybe better.
Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf has them shelved already on his blog (linked here), but since we haven’t been able to flip though some of these yet, we’ll also highlight a few here as well:
= “Fenway Park: A Salute to the Coolest, Cruelest, Longest-Running Major League Baseball Stadium in America,” by the Boston Globe’s John Powers and Ron Driscoll (linked here).
= “Fenway Park: The Centennial: 100 Years of Red Sox Baseball” by Saul Wisnia and comes with a DVD narrated by Carlton Fisk (linked here and out now), SI.com even put in an excerpt of it (linked here).
= “Fenway Park at 100: Baseball’s Hometown” by Bill Nowlin (linked here, coming out in June)
== “Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway’s Remarkable First Year” by Glenn Stout (released last December, linked here)
== We also want to make note a Fenway popup book we came across in 2011: (linked here)