Saul Wisnia was born just a few blocks away from Fenway Park, the historic home of the Boston Red Sox, which turns 100 years old next April. Having spent virtually all his life living within 10 miles of one of baseball’s most storied ballparks, it seems appropriate that this lifelong BoSox fan would write a book about Fenway and its century-old relationship with the city and fans that love it so.
Babe Ruth to the Yankees (not to finance a play), Boston’s losing ways began—though no one for several decades would refer to this as any sort of curse.
The Red Sox languished through most of the 1920s and ’30s, going from 1919 through 1934 without a winning season and watching other AL representatives—often Ruth’s Yankees—play in the Fall Classic. While the team returned to first-division status for most of the ’40s and ’50s, its sole World Series appearance ended in a heart-breaking seven-game loss to St. Louis in 1946.
Seven-game series losses occurred again in 1967, 1975 and 1986, each one piling on the pain for millions of loyal New Englanders. Further postseason futility in League Championship and Division Series over the next couple of decades added to the agony until, at last, 2004.
The end of the 86-year drought—which included Boston’s unprecedented comeback from down three-games-to-none against the Yankees in the ALCS—was nirvana for the team and its fans, and Wisnia does a nice job of capturing both the long years of heartache and the joy and relief of victory.
Natually, the star players of the past century are sufficiently highlighted throughout. Among the numerous stars to have worn the Red Sox uniform are Cy Young, Tris Speaker, Smoky Joe Wood, Ruth, Lefty Grove, Joe Cronin, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio, Tony Conigliaro, Carl Yastrzemski. Luis Tiant, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz.
However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the players featured in the book. Countless short-term team members, role players and unusual personalities pop up throughout, adding significant color to the franchise’s history, and Fenway Park recalls their contributions well.
Aside from the park and players, Wisnia spends considerable time on a couple of other themes. First and foremost is the question of racism, as the team was the last to integrate, more than a decade after Jackie Robinson debuted with the Dodgers.
Several times Wisnia cites examples of opportunities denied black players who certainly could have contributed mightily to Boston’s pursuit of a world title before 2004. Imagine Robinson or Willie Mays in a Boston uniform, creating havoc at the plate and on the basepaths. There had been potential for both players to be Red Sox, but each time those paths were closed by team management.
A more light-hearted subject is the focus on some of the extraordinary fans Boston has produced over the years. Stories of Mike “Nuf-Ced” McGreevy and the Royal Rooters, Megaphone Lolly and an 11-year-old die-hard fan with poison ivy on his feet add to the rich character of these New England fans. And then there’s John Dooley, a man who attended every Boston home opener for both the Red Sox and Braves from 1882 to 1971. Now that’s devotion.
Included with the book is a DVD hosted by Fisk entitled, Fenway Park: The Golden Age, that features the voices of Mel Allen, Curt Gowdy and Bob Wolff.
Fenway Park: The Centennial is a must-have book for any Red Sox fan. It is a thorough review of the ballpark and the team that will rekindle memories for long-time fans and serve as a great reference for those looking to recall particular events more clearly. And for those who aren’t strident Boston fans, it’s still a terrific look at one of baseball’s grandest cathedrals and one of its most famous teams.
References & Resources
Fenway Park: The Centennial: 100 Years of Red Sox Baseball by Saul Wisnia, published by St. Martin’s Press.