May 25, 2011

Book Review: Harvey Frommer's "Remembering Fenway Park"

It's late-May, but it's not too early to start dropping hints to everyone you know that you'd sure like to receive a copy of this gorgeous book - Remembering Fenway Park: An Oral And Narrative History Of The Home Of The Boston Red Sox (Abrams) – perhaps for Mother's or Father's Day, or for your birthday, or that big holiday at the end of the year.
Harvey Frommer has been writing about baseball for nearly 40 years. A few of his more than three dozen books are: New York City Baseball: The Last Golden Age, 1947-1957, Five O'Clock Lightning: The 1927 Yankees, A Yankee Century, Remembering Yankee Stadium, Red Sox vs. Yankees: The Great Rivalry, and Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball.

As you might have guessed from that list, Frommer is a Yankee fan.

Or, rather, he was.

In recent interviews, Frommer insists, although people (including some friends) don't necessarily believe him, that working on this book converted him from a Yankees fan to a Red Sox fan! In fact, he mentions it in the book's acknowledgements, noting "the transformation of a lifelong New York Yankee rooter into a proud new member of Red Sox Nation!" There is likely no better blurb for this book than that!

Remembering Fenway combines Frommer's historical narrative with memories and observations from a cast of 134 players (both Red Sox and opponents), managers and coaches, members of the media, politicians, academics, vendors and ushers and office workers at the park, and regular fans -- from Bob Allgaier (a vendor during the late 40s who later worked for the CIA) to Don Zimmer (a gerbil-faced idiot).

[An Unexpected Disclaimer: Frommer used bits of my interview with Thomas Foley, who worked as a Fenway vendor in 1918 at the age of 14 (pages 37 and 45). I wrote about Foley for Baseball America in 1997 and included his memories in my book on the 1918 Red Sox.]

Frommer goes through the team's history of playing in what is the oldest existing site to have hosted a World Series game. One nice thing about this book is that the chapters, each focusing on a decade, are all roughly the same number of pages, though as you might expect, there are more quotes from the last few decades than, say, the 1920s.

The history and remembrances are great, but the stars of the book - and the reason why you'll keep pulling it off the shelf again and again - are the photos, which also include baseball cards, program covers, and ticket stubs from throughout the years, team pictures, and lots of shots of fans in the stands, including the Royal Rooters at the 1912 World Series.

One of my favourite pictures is a colour shot of Tex Hughson warming up in 1947, with the Wall looming behind him. There is no hint of the surrounding city and, with the near total absence of advertising, the field doesn't even look like a major league park. (I find it strange that when I now see video of Fenway from before 2003, when the Monster Seats were added, it looks strange and unfinished.)

There are also two full-page pictures of a sold-out game in which hundreds of fans were seated in the outfield, creating a human wall roughly 40-50 feet closer to the infield than the warning track. There is also a shot of the park's construction from 1911. You can tell it's taken from what will be the right field stands looking towards the left field wall, but it doesn't show much detail. I'd love to see more pictures from the building of the park, like the ones you can find of the original Yankee Stadium.

There are also great quotes from Erica Tarlin and Dan Wilson of "Save Fenway Park!", when in the late 90s, it appeared that Fenway's days were numbered. At that time Red Sox officials said (without evidence) it was absolutely impossible to renovate Fenway Park -- and nearly everyone believed them. Wilson singles out Bill Lee as one former player who stood on the side of preservation.

A few tidbits and some quotes:

Bill Lee used to get his mail delivered to the park and owner Tom Yawkey would usually steal his National Geographics. ... Boo Ferriss says some players referred to the Wall as the Iron Monster before it was painted green. ... There were buckshots dents and holes in the Wall because Ted Williams used to shoot pigeons in the park. ... When the Red Sox were on the road, Tom and Jean Yawkey would often bring a blanket out to center field and enjoying a picnic while listening to the games on the radio.

After a 1926 fire burned some of the wooden bleachers in left field, cash-poor management simply left it as a cinder-strewn lot for seven years (and left fielders were suddenly able to run behind the existing stands after foul balls). ... In the late 40s, beer was sold at the park, but you had to drink it either at the concession stand or at the back of the top row of grandstand seats.

Bill Monbuouquette:
The day I signed a Red Sox contract in 1955, I finished pitching batting practice and joined my mom and dad in the right-field grandstand to watch the game. Two drunks behind us spilled their booze on my mother. They were swearing. I turned. "I don't appreciate your language or spilling your beer on my mother. No more!" "What are you going to do about it?" I looked at my farther and he nodded and we sure did a job on them. We cleaned their clocks. The next thing was that my dad and I were cuffed behind the back and put in a holding cell. We had to call Johnny Murphy, the Red Sox farm director, to get us out.
Bob Sannicandro worked in the clubhouse and often autographed baseballs for players, i.e., he forged their signatures:
If [you've got] a Yaz ball, it might not be Yaz. ... [One player,] I'll leave him nameless, showed me how he signed his name. He told me to go home and practice. I went home and the next day he says, "Not bad, keep working at it."
Fred Lynn:
Being a center fielder, all the speakers were right behind me. I could hear [Sherm Feller] clicking the microphone on and off and sometimes he would forget and I'd hear him mumbling stuff. ... The players' parking lot was as big as a postage stamp. Fans had access to it. So it was very difficult to get your car out. Either they were beating on your car because you had a good game or they were beating on your car because you had a bad game. Either way your car got beat to crap.
Bill Lee:
During rain delays, I would sneak out with an usher named the "Whale". We would run out the back entrance down Ipswich Street, cut back through the back alleyway, and end up in the Eliot Lounge. They'd hear the clicking of my spikes and they'd have a beer pulled for me. I'd have two beers, watch them pull the tarp off the field, be back in time, and never miss a pitch.
Joe Castiglione:
I remember when we used to come back from a trip at three or four in the morning. The bus would leave us off at the stadium, and we'd have to wait around for the truck that carried our luggage. Sometimes we'd just sit in the stands and look out on the field ... The place was silent, with just a few lights and the clock on. Now I get picked up at the airport in a limo and go directly home. Of course it's more convenient. But there was something cool about the way we did it before.


FenFan said...

Great review, Allan! I will definitely pick up a copy (or maybe I can hint at one for Father's Day).

allan said...

Thanks. I posted the review right before Blogger's snafu a couple of weeks ago. Everything but this review was restored, so I figured re-posting it before we go away will give it some extra exposure.

FenFan said...

Must of missed it - thanks for reporting then!

laura k said...

I love that Frommer and I have something very important in common.