In the genre of science fiction, alternate histories have long been a staple and I have been hooked ever since I picked up my first copy of Astounding. What if Germany had won WWII? Or the American Revolution failed? What if Fenway Park was demolished? That last one came closer to reality on at least five occasions with several other proposals that were mostly smoke.
The Back Bay Fens gives its name to the Fenway Park and Kenmore Square area. The Fens is what is classified as urban wild and is located about one very well hit home run from Fenway Park. It could have been the home of the Red Sox.
In the late 1950s urban renewal (really urban destruction) was all the rage in Boston and a proposed third generation multi use stadium was getting its 15 minutes of fame. The idea was to build a new home for the Red Sox and lure an NFL team to town with a complex that became so common in the 1960s – think Riverfront, The Vet and all the rest of that now mostly departed ilk.
The game plan was to build it on the Fens and then level Fenway for parking. Simple as that. Tom Yawkey, team owner, considered the proposal but soon lost interest and the idea faded.
During the 1960s, a stream of proposals came forward and then governor John Volpe formed The Greater Boston Stadium Authority in response. New stadiums were springing up across the nation and poaching of teams was all the vogue so the idea was one of preventive maintenance. The Stadium Authority accomplished little except provide some patronage.
From my own recollection of this period, Massachusetts Turnpike Chairman, John Driscoll, proposed using unclaimed road revenues to finance a stadium. Former Red Sox star, Dom DiMaggio, proposed a domed stadium in the suburbs. Politicians, mayors, and investors all seemed to have a plan but unlike The A-Team, none came together as various proposals came forward and soon faded until the 1990s.
In the mid 1990s surfaced the Boston Sports Megaplex that was to be a replacement for both Fenway and that hole in the ground in Foxboro. Several Save Fenway groups surfaced, as did neighborhood opposition and the with pending sale of the Patriots their participation was in flux. Eventually Megaplex sank and Fenway had another life.
Fast forward to 1999 and John Harrington and the Yawkey Trust. Harrington proposed a
“New Fenway Park” across from the old. This would be a replica and would even have certain significant portions of the old park used – hello, Green Monster! It failed. Public outrage at the grassroots level and the fact that 135M of public funds would be used put the kibosh on it.
Frank McCourt had three things going for him. He was Boston born and raised, money and land on the South Boston Waterfront. McCourt was also willing to do most of the project on his own dime. A new waterfront park and goodbye Fenway.
John Henry had money, experience in baseball and connections. In a questionable decision Henry was the winner in the Red Sox sweepstakes and soon quietly approached the city on a new ballpark that would require a significant public expenditure. Boston may love the Red Sox but the political support was not there for that level of public investment and Fenway was saved again from the wrecking ball.
I’ll give Henry credit for there were no threats to move – say to Hartford? His group has invested a few hundred million to dress up the old gal. In the process they created a branding monster and have made a bundle in real estate in the Fenway area and have not been shy in spending on the team.
Fenway has managed to somehow survive thanks to indifference, public outrage, non political compliance and ownership willing to take a chance. And speaking of alternate histories just what would have happen if Frank McCourt got the Red Sox?