Boston Red Sox: History of Fenway Park through the years

BOSTON, MA - JULY 29: General aerial views of Fenway Park during a game between the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox in Boston, Massachusetts on July 29, 2015. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 29: General aerial views of Fenway Park during a game between the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox in Boston, Massachusetts on July 29, 2015. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

With Fenway Park’s 108th birthday occurring this past week, let’s take a look at many of the facts and quirks that makes the Red Sox home field so unique.

With this past week marking the 108th “birthday” of Fenway Park and there still being no end in sight to the suspension of the 2020 season, it seemed like the perfect time to write a potted history of the iconic home ballpark of the Boston Red Sox.

While fans will know most or all of these facts, I thought it would still be fun to round up many of the quirks which make the ballpark beloved by Red Sox fans and an almost holy shrine for baseball fans of every team.

The old ballpark has seen a lot of history in its century-plus lifetime. Ground was broken for Fenway Park on September 25, 1911 as Red Sox owner John Taylor was looking for a new home for his team. The Red Sox had to that point played at the Huntington Avenue Grounds from 1901 to 1911 but wanted a new ballpark in the then-popular steel and concrete variety. Fenway Park opened and hosted its first game on April 20, 1912.

Built in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood of Boston on reclaimed marshland that was filled in (hence the word “Fen” in the name), the ballpark was like many others of its generation in that it had to be fit into an existing city block. It is one of two ballparks left of what was called the “jewel box” style (Wrigley Field in Chicago being the other).

Because of this, like other classic ballparks of that era, Fenway has asymmetric dimensions and numerous quirky features that weren’t put in as gimmicks, but out of necessity. It has some of the narrowest foul territory in the entire league and the seats are so close to the field that it creates an atmosphere like no other park these days apart from Wrigley Field.

The park’s asymmetry is most apparent in the outfield dimensions, which range from very short down the foul lines (302 feet to right field and 310 feet to left field) to very deep in center field (420 to deep center field in “the Triangle”). The short right field line in particular is a source of curiosity for opposing players and fans. Some of the shortest home runs in the league can be hit down the line either hitting or curling around the Pesky Pole (named after shortstop Johnny Pesky).

However, beyond the pole, right field shoots down deeply and forms a wide arc toward center field to make one of the deepest right fields in the league. Believe it or not, right field at Fenway Park used to be even deeper. Prior to 1940, the bullpens were not beyond the right field fence and there was an even larger expanse as these photographs from 1912 and the 1930s show.

Before 1940, the right field power alley was 400 feet deep, but in an effort to help left-handed slugger Ted Williams hit more home runs at home, the Red Sox brought the fences in about 20 feet and built the bullpens (which had previously been in foul territory) in right field. Dubbed “Williamsburg,” the modified dimensions didn’t immediately pay dividends as Williams hit 8 fewer home runs in 1940 than he did in 1939.

However, starting in 1941, Ted and other left-handed hitters started to benefit. One of Fenway’s most legendary quirks is the results of this, the Lone Red Seat in the right field bleachers. Located a distance of 502 feet from home plate, the seat is where Williams’ home run, the longest ever recorded at Fenway Park, supposedly hit a fan and landed in their straw hat.

As for left field, the uniqueness of this area of the ballpark is what makes Fenway Park the most famous in the entire league. Everybody knows about the Green Monster, the 37-foot high wall that turns line drives that would be home runs at other parks into “wall ball doubles” in Boston. The wall was originally made of wood and then covered with tin and concrete. It was also plastered in billboards and advertisements before it was cleaned up and painted the iconic Fenway green color in 1947.

The Monster is home to the oldest hand-operated scoreboard in the league, installed in 1934 and still manned by someone during every game who updates not only the Red Sox game inning-by-inning, but also all of the out-of-town games in both leagues as well as the league standings. Ads have taken over the wall again since 2000 but not quite to the extent that they had prior to 1947.

What many Red Sox fans may not know is that the Green Monster wasn’t always 37 feet tall. From 1912 to 1933, it was actually 10-12 feet shorter due to what became known as Duffy’s Cliff. In order to stabilize the high wall, a 10-foot high sloping incline which stretched from the left field foul line to center field ran along the edge of the outfield. Red Sox left fielder Duffy Lewis became adept at running up and down this to field balls, hence its name.

For most of its existence (including the whole of my childhood), the Green Monster was topped with a sloping net that caught most of the home run balls hit up there. In 2003, the wall was renovated to include new tiered seating on top. Those seats offer some of the best views (at the highest prices) in the entire ballpark.

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Beyond the wall in nearby Kenmore Square sits the iconic Citgo sign. It was installed in 1940, renovated to its current state in 1965, and has been visible on Sox games on TV for years. When I was a kid, I always thought it was right behind the Monster so I was shocked when I first went to the park as a teenager to see that it was in fact a couple of blocks away.  It’s becoming such a part of the scenery of Fenway Park (as it were) that it was granted historical landmark status in 2016.

Lastly, some thumbnail stats on Fenway Park. Its current capacity is 37, 305 for day games (when the batter’s eye in centerfield is formed by putting a black tarp over the seats above the Triangle) and 37,755 for night games (when the tarp is removed). That’s not much different from its inception when the park held 35,000.

The Red Sox have one of the smallest ballparks in terms of both size and capacity in the entire league even after numerous new seating areas and renovations have occurred over the last century. The team was the third-to-last team in the then-sixteen team major leagues to add lights and play night games, not installing the light towers until 1947.

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Fenway Park has hosted eleven World Series and three All-Star games. It also used to be the home of the NFL’s Boston Redskins (now the Washington Redskins) and Boston Patriots (who renamed themselves the New England Patriots after moving to Foxborough in 1971). While it’s also hosted numerous other sporting events, concerts, and political and religious rallies, it’s Red Sox baseball games that have helped it capture the hearts of fans worldwide.