Beginnings of Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park 100 Years Ago
All kinds of hype and hoopla and ballyhoo will take place this year n the Boston area. The 100th anniversary of the birth of Fenway Park is upon us, whether we are fans of the team or not.
So, let us now celebrate with a flashback to the beginnings at that little ballpark in Beantown.
It was damp and chilly throughout New England for most of the spring of 1912, and in Boston, it took a few attempts before baseball could be played in decent weather.
On April 9, the Red Sox and Harvard's baseball team met in an exhibition game in football weather “with a little snow on the side.” About 3,000 braved it. Boston won, 2-0. Both runs were driven in by their pitcher, Casey Hageman.
The scheduled official Opening Day match on April 12, however, was rained out. Finally on April 20, the weather improved; Fenway's first big league contest: the Sox versus the Yankees (then known as the Highlanders), was on tap on soggy, lumpy grounds and infield grass transplanted from the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds, the team’s former home.
Boston Mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald threw out the ceremonial first ball. The man, whose grandson would become the thirty-fifth president of the United States, was a devoted member of the "Royal Rooters"—a group of Red Sox fans who staged pre-game parades accompanied by the singing of "Tessie" and "Sweet Adeline."
Ordinarily the game would have been the stuff of front-page headlines in New England dailies. But this was no ordinary time. Six days earlier the sinking of the Titanic on its maiden voyage and the accompanying loss of 1,517 lives eclipsed all other stories.
Nevertheless, it was good news in Boston that the Red Sox finally had a modern ballpark in the Fenway section bordering Brookline Avenue, Jersey Street, Van Ness Street and Lansdowne Street. It would cost $650,000 (approximately $14 million today), and seat 35,000.
An attractive red brick façade, the first electric baseball scoreboard and 18 turnstiles, the most in the majors, were all features being bragged about. Concrete stands went from behind first base around to third; wooden bleachers occupied parts of the outfield. Seats lined the field allowing for excellent views of the game but limiting the size of foul territory. The park was 20 feet above sea level. Barriers and walls broke off at different angles. Center field was 488 feet from home plate; right field was 314 feet away. The 10-foot wooden fence in left field ran straight along Lansdowne Street and was but 320 ˝ feet down the line from home plate with a high wall behind it. There was a ten-foot embankment making viewing of games easier for overflow gatherings. A ten-foot high slope in left field posed challenges for outfielders forced to play the entire territory running uphill.
This was the Opening Day Lineup for the 1912 Boston Red Sox.
The Sox, with player-manager first baseman Jake Stahl calling the shots, nipped the Yankees, 7-6, in 11 innings. Tris Speaker—who would bat .383, steal 52 bases and stroke eight inside-the-park home runs at Fenway—drove in the winning run. Spitball pitcher Bucky O’Brien got the win in relief of Charles “Sea Lion” Hall. Umpire Tommy Connolly kept the ball used in that historic game, writing “Opening of Fenway Park” and brief details of the game on it.
Hugh Bradley hit the first home run in Red Sox
history over the wall on April 26 in the sixth game played at home. “Few of the
fans who have been out to Fenway Park believed it was possible,'' the Boston
Herald noted. It was not possible the rest of the season—that was Bradley’s only
dinger in 1912.
“Outfielders never played near the wall in those days,” Cashman noted. There was no one Tris Speaker’s equal going back for a ball. He was almost like a fifth outfielder. A base runner on second base would check out the shortstop and second baseman. Tris Speaker would sneak in from center field and pick him off.
S is for Speaker,
OGDEN NASH, SPORT MAGAZINE, JANUARY 1949
Hooper played in a tough right field, worst in the majors. Left fielder Duffy Lewis never bounced the ball to the infield. Lewis skillfully managed the incline named for him—"Duffy's Cliff."
Before an overflow crowd on May 17, 1912 Fenway Park was formally dedicated, but the home town fans had their day spoiled as the White Sox trimmed the Red Sox, 5-2.
Hall of Fame-hurler-to-be Walter Johnson, on a 16-game winning streak and en route to a 33-win season, was in Boston with his Washington teammates on Sept. 6, 1912. Clark Griffith, the Washington manager said that Red Sox ace “Smoky” Joe Wood would be a coward if he did not face Johnson. No coward was Wood—he was ready on short rest. A 22-year-old from the Kansas plains and the mining towns of Colorado, Wood—it was said—could throw a baseball through a two-by-four.
The Wood-Johnson match up was one of the most dramatic of all time by two top of the tier hurlers. Built up like a championship boxing match in the newspapers, hype and hullabaloo preceded it.
An estimated 30,000 showed for the battle of the
superstar pitchers. It was the first and only time fans were allowed to ring
Fenway’s infield walls.
Business in Boston virtually shut down on Sept.
23 as 100‚000 cheered the Red Sox returning from a western trip by train into
South Station. So popular and so successful were the Sox that on the Boston
Common, Mayor “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald gave the team the keys to the city.
The Boston Royal Rooters, Red Sox fanatics , traditionally paraded on the field before games in step with the rhythms of a big brass band. Now, on the eve of Game One of the World Series, having traveled down to New York City, hundreds of them accompanied by two brass bands and led by Mayor Fitzgerald and by “leading man” "Nuff Ced" McGreevey, they marched around Times Square in Manhattan, singing to the tune of Tammany:
The word in the street was that if John J. McGraw’s Giants could beat Joe Wood, they could win the series. Before the opening game, Wood received death threats in letters postmarked "New York." One, written in red ink and containing a drawing of a knife and gun, proclaimed: “You will never live to pitch a game against the Giants in the World Series. We are waiting to get you as soon as you arrive in town.”
But the 22-year-old right-hander who threw
“smoke” was not the type to be intimidated. Pitching and prevailing, 4-3, in
Game One at the Polo Grounds going the distance, striking out eleven Giants,
Wood stood up to all challenges. After the game, he said: "I threw so hard I
thought my arm would fly right off my body."
But on October 15th, as the Royal Rooters
prepared to take their seats at Fenway for the seventh game of the World Series,
they discovered their usual accommodations had been sold out from under them, a
consequence of some box office confusion. Ignoring pleas that they leave the
ballpark, their bands blaring “Tessie,” they remained in place until their
“stay-in” was resolved by ranks of mounted police who swept across the field,
nudging them out of the park. One Royal Rooter, as disoriented as he was
disenchanted, tumbled over the right-field fence on his way out and bellowed "To
hell with Queen Victoria!"
The Giants romped, 11-4, knotting the series at three games each, one tie. \Game Eight was for the world championship—October 16 at Fenway Park. The Red Sox won the coin flip and were awarded the home field advantage. The riveting finale of the 1912 World Series would be played before a half-capacity crowd as a result of it being scheduled at the last minute as a makeup due to the Game Two tie, as well as the game-fixing rumors that swirled about and the Royal Rooters' rhubarb.
Ace Christy Mathewson of the Giants, winless in this Series, after going the distance in the tie game and dropping Game Five, matched up against Boston’s 22-year-old Hughie Bedient. The game was 1-1- after nine tense innings. Wood took over in the eighth for Bedient.
In the top of the tenth New York scored a run.
Boston pinch-hitter Clyde Engle started the 10th inning off hitting a routine
fly ball to center field.
Engle reached second base. Harry Hooper was robbed of a hit when Snodgrass made a neat grab of his long drive. Engle moved to third base. Yerkes walked. Speaker singled. Engle scored. The game was tied. Duffy Lewis was walked intentionally, loading the bases. A long poke by Larry Gardner to Josh Devore in right field. Yerkes tagged up and scored.
And the Red Sox had their second world
championship. Fred Snodgrass' error would go down in history as "the $30,000