Thursday, October 6, 2011

On FENWAY 1912: A Conversation

How does your book differ from all the other Fenway books coming out to celebrate the ballparks’ anniversary?

Fenway 1912 breaks so much new ground it makes every other account of the building and construction of Fenway Park obsolete. In the context of the times I tell you precisely why Fenway looks the way it does, what architectural styles and influences played a part in its design, exactly how it was built, how it evolved during its first season and how Fenway Park contributed to the Red Sox 1912 world championship. Virtually none of this has appeared in any other book before. Unlike most others books about Fenway Park, which essentially tell a thumbnail history of the franchise through pictures of the ballpark, I tell the story of Fenway Park as an actual story, a drama that over the course of a little more than a year changed the history of the Red Sox and the City of Boston forever. Fenway Park is the main character, but there are many others – architect James E. McLaughlin, contractor Charles Logue, groundskeeper Jerome Kelley, and players like Tris Speaker, Smoky Joe Wood, Duffy Lewis, Royal Rooters like Nuf Ced McGreevey, team owner James McAleer and others. I think I’ve created a living history of Fenway Park.

Is your book illustrated?

Absolutely, there are plenty of photographs and illustrations in my book, most dating to its first season. All were carefully selected for their ability to reveal something new about Fenway Park. I am particularly excited about several period architectural drawings that I uncovered that will be a revelation to Red Sox fans. To the best of my knowledge, these have never been reprinted or even examined by anyone since 1912. I don’t think I am overstating things when I say that after reading Fenway 1912, fans will never be able to look at Fenway Park the same way again. I know I don’t – and I have attended hundreds of game at Fenway and have been writing about the history of this team for twenty-five years. And throughout the narrative I relate aspects of Fenway Park in 1912 to Fenway Park today, so fans can envision Fenway Park in 1912 within what exists today. Personally, I was stunned to discover in the course of my research that there was so much new information I was still able to uncover about a place that everyone thinks they already know everything about. It will be the one gift Sox fans will want this holiday season.

How were you able to discover so much new material?

Twenty-five years ago, on Fenway’s 75th anniversary, I wrote the official history of the park for the Red Sox yearbook. But when I began working on this book over three years ago I started from scratch, researching in period documents, newspaper accounts and other sources. I just don’t accept that something is true because it appeared in some book written decades later. And to do that takes time – literally years of research, months and months of searching through microfilm, old newspapers and magazines, census records, city directories, maps, and old books before I wrote a word. Let me put it to you this way – I think I did more research for Fenway 1912, telling the story of the creation and building of Fenway Park and the 1912 season, than I did for Red Sox Century, a book in which I told the entire history of the franchise.

So the entire book is about 1912, right? There’s nothing about Fenway Park since then?

Oh, not at all. When certain aspects of Fenway Park need further explanation – and when I uncovered exciting new information – I don’t hesitate to tell those stories. For example, when I discuss the left field wall, I track it through history. I uncover the day that the first fans sat where the “Green Monster” seats are today – it was in 1912! And I trace the history and first use of the phrase “Green Monster,” more precisely than anyone else ever has. That’s a great story, because the phrase was first used far earlier than most people realize, yet didn’t come into popular usage until, relatively speaking, quite recently. And here’s something else few people realize – Fenway Park wasn’t the first baseball field in Boston to be called “Fenway Park.” On occasion the Huntington Avenue Grounds, where the Red Sox played before Fenway Park was built, was itself called “the Fenway Park” due to its proximity to the Fens.

How do you manage to tell Fenway’s story while you also tell the story of the 1912 season and the 1912 World Series?

In a sense, that was the easy part of the book, because as I began to research the events of the 1912 season, I quickly realized that the personality of the ballpark was being revealed game by game, from things like the first home run hit over the left field wall (which most fans know was hit by Boston’s Hugh Bradley) to the first home run hit into the stands that was wrapped around the precursor to the “Pesky pole” in right field. Fenway Park had a dramatic impact on the fortunes of the Red Sox in 1912, and was a huge reason why a team that finished in fourth place in 1911 was able to run away with the pennant in 1912 – Tris Speaker emerged as a superstar and had an MVP season, Smoky Joe Wood, helped by some subtle changes no one else has ever recognized, went 34-5, a couple of rookie pitchers had the season of their lives. I point out precisely how Fenway Park provided the Red Sox with a huge advantage. Sort of by accident, they were perfect for the ballpark. Then, just before the World Series, while the Sox were on a road trip, Fenway Park underwent what I would still consider the most dramatic transformation in its history, as over a period of only a few weeks more than 10,000 seats were added, for the first time creating the familiar “footprint” that still remains, more or less, today. Then, during the 1912 World Series, a whole series of new quirks in Fenway’s personality were revealed.

Wait a minute, Fenway Park was changed during the 1912 season?

Absolutely. And before those changes were made it would have been almost unrecognizable to a contemporary fan. In a sense, the 1912 World Series both christened Fenway and capped things off. The Sox played the New York Giants of John McGraw and Christy Mathewson, and the fortunes of both teams swung back and forth wildly, often during the course of a single game. Series lasted eight games – one was tie – and the Series was marked by fights, arguments, threats of a player strike, charges of gambling, and an on-field riot by the fans. The full story of what took place during those eight games has never been told before because previous accounts failed to recognize the key role Fenway Park played in the Series. That element allowed me to being the Series to life, to put the reader in the stands and on the street, in the dugout and in the clubhouse.

What does Fenway Park mean to you?

It’s hard to put it in words, but in the foreword to the book I try. It’s very personal to me, and I think this is the best book I have ever written. When I was a kid I used to draw pictures of Fenway Park. I moved to Boston after college precisely because of Fenway Park and lived within walking distance of the park for all but the first few months I was in town. If it wasn’t for Fenway Park I may well have never become a working writer. Fenway Park is a place that can change your life – I know it changed mine. By writing Fenway 1912 I hope that in some small way I have repaid the debt I owe to the ballpark. Without Fenway Park, I am a different person, and I don’t think I’m the only one who can say that.

Glenn will be appearing at the Boston Book Festival at the Back Bay Events Center and signing books on October 15 @ 1:00 pm. See for more appearances.

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