Ballpark Estimate: $650,000 (1912 dollars); $15,000,000 (2008 dollars)
It was a balmy Saturday afternoon in Boston on April 20, 1912, the perfect kind of day to spend at the ballpark. And that’s just what 27,000 baseball fans did as they eagerly crowded into a brand new ballpark to watch the home team defeat the New York Highlanders. The new field was called Fenway Park, named by the owner because it was in “The Fens” section of Boston. Following two rain cancellations, this was the first professional game in their new home and to the delight of the Boston fans the Red Sox won by a score of 7 to 6 after outfielder Tris Speaker knocked in the winning run in the bottom of the eleventh inning. The new steel and concrete ballpark took one year to build and is today not only the oldest major league ballpark still in use but also a Boston icon and landmark.
Red Sox Debut
The Red Sox made their American League debut in 1901. Although there is much controversy over the previous names of the team, it seems most agree it was the Boston Americans. At that time the team played at the so-called Huntington Avenue Grounds, a wooden structure that could accommodate 11,500 fans and was the ballpark where Cy Young pitched the first modern perfect game in May of 1904. The site is now part of the campus at Northeastern University. Three years later, Charles H. Taylor, the owner of the Boston Globe, bought the team and in 1907, changed the name to the Red Sox which has remained ever since. Supposedly, Taylor got the idea for the Red Sox name by shortening a nickname of a National League team called the Red Stockings.
Taylor, however, wasn’t satisfied with the decrepit condition of the Huntington Avenue ballpark and decided to build a new one on land that he owned. Designed by the architectural firm of Osborn Engineering, construction of the one-level ballpark began in September of 1911 by the James McLaughlan Construction Company. Probably the oddest feature of the ballpark was the lay out of the left field area. Fenway Park was originally designed with a 10-foot high inclined embankment in front of a 25-foot wall. As a result, when pitches were hit deep towards the left field wall the outfielder had to chase down these fly balls by agilely maneuvering up and down the grassy incline. Construction costs for Fenway Park in 1912 were $650,000.
Yawkey Buys the Red Sox and Fenway Park
In February of 1933, millionaire Thomas A. Yawkey bought both the team and Fenway Park for $1.5 million and spent another $1.5 million for a ballpark makeover, especially to left field. The embankment was removed and the wall was replaced with another that was 37-feet high and 240-feet long that included a scoreboard. Originally covered in advertisements, the now-legendary “Green Monster” was painted green in 1947 and was topped with a 23-foot tall net. Besides being the tallest wall in the Major Leagues, the “Green Monster” is unique because of the reputation it has gained over the years. Batted balls that would ordinarily be home runs in other ballparks were held to doubles at Fenway. And as the Red Sox fielders became more proficient in playing the caroms, the opposing hitters were either held to singles or even thrown for an out at second base. In 1975, the old manually-operated home-game section of the scoreboard was replaced with a $1.3 million electronic video/scoreboard although other American and National League game scores are still shown manually.
Renovations Through the Years
Over the years other renovations to Fenway Park included building the bullpen in right-field in 1940 so that long-ball hitters like Ted Williams could hit more home runs since it was now 23-feet closer than the bleacher wall, and in 1947 the arc lights were in place for night games. Also, since 1965 seating capacity has increased at Feway from about 33,500 to some 39,900 in 2008. Such additions include the upper deck, luxury boxes, “600 Club” seats, standing room only accommodations, various pavilion seats, right-field roof seats, and two new rows of seating behind home plate and along the first and third baselines. In 2003, the netting was removed and three rows of seats were installed on top of the Green Monster – seats that have become wildly popular with the fans.
Like all ballparks, Fenway Park has its share of trivia as well. For instance, a home run has never been hit over the right-field roof and Fenway Park is the only Major League ballpark with a ground-rule triple. This ruling takes effect when a baseball hits the ladder that is still fixed to the Green Monster – a ladder once used by a groundskeeper to climb the wall to retrieve balls from the netting. Also, the initials of Tom and Jean Yawkey are inscribed in the dot and dash format of Morse code on two of the vertical spaces of the Green Monster, and Fenway was the first ballpark to use a net behind home plate to protect the fans from foul balls.