If you are sitting in Fenway Park for Northeastern’s 2021 Commencement —or visiting virtually— you are experiencing the oldest active stadium in Major League Baseball and home to the Boston Red Sox. The park holds a special place in the hearts of generations of Bostonians, as families have seen the Red Sox struggle and triumph in the shadow of the Green Monster, the iconic 37-foot left field wall. Let’s take a look at some of the history and lore of the park that the author John Updike famously dubbed a “lyric little bandbox.”
Northeastern has a direct connection to the Red Sox and Fenway Park. Huntington Grounds, located in the area between the present-day Cabot Center and the William E. Carter playground, was one of two large ballparks in baseball-crazed, turn-of-the century Boston. It was the home of the American League Boston team from its inception in 1901 until Fenway Park was built in 1912. The first World Series was played on Huntington Grounds in 1903, and the legendary Cy Young pitched the first perfect game there in 1904 (a statue commemorating Young stands on the south side of Cabot, where the pitcher’s mound used to be).
Red Sox owner John I. Taylor built Fenway Park just north of Huntington Grounds in an urban marsh area of Boston known as the Fens. To fit in Boston’s compact streetscape, the park had to be constructed on an asymmetrical city block, and as a result sported several unique quirks and features, some of which remain to this day. Perhaps the most iconic feature is the legendary “Green Monster” wall in left field. While part of the original 1912 construction, the wall has been altered significantly during its lifetime. Originally, the wall was covered with advertisements and billboards. A small embankment in front of the wall was known as “Duffy’s Cliff” (named for an outfielder who was particularly skillful at playing the area) was sometimes used for overflow seating during important games.
After a fire in 1933, the wall was rebuilt, Duffy’s Cliff was removed, and a hand operated scoreboard was added, which is still in use today. During renovations in 1947 (which also included an upper deck and lights for night games), the wall was painted green but it was only in the 1960s and ‘70s that fans started referring to it as the “Green Monster.” The exterior of the wall has been covered in various materials over the years, including wood and metal, and is currently clad in a green plastic compound. The inside of the wall is covered in signatures and graffiti from players past and present.
The proportions of Fenway made it an ideal choice for football, and the Boston Redskins of the National Football League team played there from 1933 to 1936 until they moved to Washington D.C. The Boston Patriots football team played at Fenway In the 1960s until the league was reorganized and the team moved to Foxboro, Massachusetts to become the New England Patriots.
By the 1990s, serious discussions about replacing Fenway Park with something more modern were underway. A grassroots “Save Fenway Park” movement began, allowing time for a new ownership group led by John Henry to take over and make the decision to renovate and extend the life of Fenway Park rather than replace it. New seating and luxury amenities were added, original infrastructure was upgraded, and premium seating was added to the top of the Green Monster.
In an effort to make the old park more profitable, the ownership has hosted sports such as soccer, lacrosse, Irish hurling, and concerts by artists such as The Who, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Dave Matthews. Fenway has also recently seen winter service as an outdoor venue for college and NHL Winter Classic hockey games. When COVID-19 vaccines became available earlier this year, the Massachusetts government used Fenway Park as one of several mass vaccination sites.
Click on the baseballs to learn about some unique features of Fenway Park:
The Fisk Foul Pole
Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk made the pole a part of baseball lore when he famously “waved the ball fair” during his 12th inning at bat against the Cincinnati Reds in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. The ball bounced fair high off the pole for the home run that gave the Red Sox a victory and sent the series to a Game 7.
The Green Monster
The Green Monster is 37.167 feet tall and is located from 310 to 315 feet from home plate, a distance that generally benefits right-handed hitters. The wall is hollow and mostly made of wood but has a concrete foundation that extends 22 feet underground. Originally clad in tin, in 1976 the wall was resurfaced in Formica to improve bounce and reduce noise. In 2003, terrace-style seating was added to the top of the wall. For most of its existence it was simply called “the wall”; the “Green Monster” nickname became popular in the 1960s and 70s.
The Lone Red Seat
In 1946, Ted Williams hit a 502-foot blast into the right field bleachers, hitting a 56-year-old construction engineer in the head (he was saved from injury by his straw hat). The seat, Seat 21, Row 37 of Section 42, was painted red to commemorate the home run, the longest hit that didn’t leave the park (no one can say whether any home run that went over the Green Monster was hit farther).
The right field foul pole at Fenway is the shortest in Major League Baseball, at 302 feet. Despite the short distance, home runs are difficult to hit in this spot as the fence curves away from the foul pole sharply. The pole was named in honor of Hall-of-Fame shortstop Johnny Pesky, who was beloved as a Red Sox player, manager, and coach.