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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fenway 1912: Glenn Stout's Fascinating History of Fenway Park and the 1912 Red Sox

Fenway Park is one of the most historic and well known landmarks in all of baseball and Boston. Despite its modern notoriety, the home of the Red Sox is the oldest major league stadium still in play, and is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary later this spring. Professional sport venues typically have lives that are measured in decades, but with Fenway’s birthday coming up, they will move into the territory of centuries, with no sign that their doors will close any time soon.

Best known for its iconic “Green Monster” left field wall, Fenway is much more than it’s most identifiable feature. Not surprisingly, there is a fascinating history of the park and its surrounding area that until recently remained largely uncovered.

Author and historian, Glenn Stout has remedied the lack of detail about the history of Fenway with his most recent book, Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway’s Remarkable First Year. He traces the construction of the park and first year of existence (which resulted in a Red Sox World Series victory) in painstaking detail. From the tense relationships between Catholic and Protestant players on the 1912 Red Sox, to overflow crowds watching games on the field, literally feet from the foul lines, Stout has made a great story out of history.

Fenway 1912 is a must-read for any baseball fan because of the new ways it allows the reader to view one of baseball’s most beloved ballparks. You can find out more about this book at or by going to most mainstream bookstores.

I recently had a chance to ask Stout some questions about how he came to write Fenway 1912 and what he was able to take away personally from the experience. His answers are a great lead-in to the book, so make sure to check out both because you won’t be disappointed.

How did you decide to write about the history of Fenway Park and the 1912 Red Sox season?: Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always had a thing for ballparks – I used to draw diagrams of them all the time. I moved to Boston in 1981 after college because I wanted to be in a city with an old ballpark.  When I began free-lancing in the mid-1980s, I was soon lucky enough to get an assignment to write the official 75th anniversary history of Fenway for the yearbook. I did a decent job – better than anyone else has ever done with the history of the park, but even then I realized that there were still basic questions without answers – what architectural style was used, how the park was built, who built it, why was it built the way it was built – almost everything. Most previous Fenway histories had just told a thumbnail history of the team, not really a history of the park.

I sort of thought someone would eventually answer those questions – I answered a few in a bit more depth in Red Sox Century – but no one else ever took it farther. So with the anniversary approaching, it was a natural. I wanted to answer those basic questions and see how Fenway Park revealed itself over the course of its first season, to see if the essential character of the park was present from the beginning.

With all the intricate detail in this book, the scope of research must have been enormous. How do you go about tackling such a huge project?: I basically approached it like I knew nothing about the park. I tried not to accept any preconceived notions. My experience in researching baseball history is that very often people accept as common knowledge things that simply are not true. I don’t, and that’s how I exposed all the fallacies surrounding the spurious “Curse of the Bambino,” for instance. Common knowledge usually contains a great deal of errors and half truths

I try to start from scratch. I use previously published work only as a basic road map, at best, and try to use more primary resources. In this case, that’s primarily newspapers – not just the Globe, but the half dozen or so papers published in Boston at the time, plus those from other cities, and magazines like Sporting Life, The Sporting News, Baseball Magazine, engineering magazines, city directories, census records, etc. Over time, you begin to build a body of knowledge, and learn to balance various accounts of the same events. But even that is often not enough. Here’s one example: I had read elsewhere – and then written myself -that the architectural style of Fenway park was known as “Tapestry.” Well, I did some architectural research and upon examination, there is no such style. I found out that “Tapestry” was simply the brand name of the kind of brick used in the park. By researching that style of brick, I discovered it was often used in Arts and Crafts buildings, which was a relatively new style of architecture at the time. I then consulted with some architectural historians, explained what I found and shared some research. They told me that while it would be incorrect to say that Fenway is an “Arts and Crafts” building per se, it does exhibit Arts and Crafts influences.  

What was the most surprising thing you personally learned while you were working on this project?: I hardly know where to start – the book utterly re-writes the early history of the park. But I think more people will really be surprised to learn that the park that opened in April of 1912 had already been drastically changed by October, for the World’s Series. Over 11,000 additional seats were built in September while the Red Sox were on a road trip. Those additional seats enclosed the park with seats for the first time gave the field its now familiar footprint. Fenway is not the shape it is because it was “squeezed” in between streets. It was like Kansas around the park when it was built and the plot of land was more than sufficient for the way the game was played in the Dead Ball Era. Over time, however, the game got bigger, and the park grew inward, from the borders of the property. That basic footprint stems from the rushed construction of those stands that September. Subsequent construction simply preserved that pattern. Had anyone wished for Fenway to have been more symmetrical and less quirky, it could have easily been built that way. And here’s an interesting tidbit – those new seats built for the World Series included seats on “Duffy’s Cliff” in left field, which decreased the distance to the temporary short fence that was built in front of the cliff. So during the World Series there was a ground rule that turned any ball hit into the stands on the cliff – or off the wall – into a double. That also meant that any ball hit over the left field wall would also have been a double. It didn’t happen, but could have.

Which impacts the other's identity more; the Red Sox or Fenway Park?: It’s awfully hard to separate the two. But my experience in writing this book, and now that it has been published, in going around New England and speaking with literally thousands of people about Fenway, has underscored something I already sensed; there are a great many Red Sox fans, but there are even more fans of Fenway Park. That’s why people don’t say ‘We’re going to see the Red Sox. They say “We’re going to Fenway.’ 


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