In Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, A Championship Season, and Fenway's Remarkable First Year, Stout also reports on the behind-the-scenes political machinations and land acquisition, as well as the park's rapid, six-month construction during the winter of 1911-12. [I received a free review copy of the book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.]
Led by veteran centerfielder Tris Speaker, manager and first baseman Jake Stahl, and pitcher Joe Wood (no relation, sadly), a young Red Sox team moved from the Huntington Avenue Grounds to the new park. Stout shows that the odd configurations of the park were not because of the existing city streets or the shape of the plot of existing land; if the team had wanted to make the park symmetrical, it could have. In the Deadball Era, hitting a worn-out baseball 300 feet was a moon shot. One writer, referring to the distance to the fence at Cincinnati's Redland Field - 360 feet - "it is doubtful a ball will ever be hit over the fence".
Naturally, then, a Red Sox batter cleared the Wall almost immediately. On April 26, the fifth home game of the season, Hugh Bradley (a "free hitter" who swung from his heels) crushed a hanging curveball from Philadelphia A's pitcher Lefty Russell over the wall and (probably) onto the roof of a building on the other side of Lansdowne Street. Bradley hit a relatively new ball and may have had some help from the wind, but it was still a rare feat.
The crowd, which had risen to its feet when Bradley first struck the ball, was stunned. A moment of silence was followed by whoops and yells and screams and hoots of delight. ... Bradley, meanwhile, raced around the bases, the notion of a "home run trot" completely foreign to him. ... The hit took the air out of the A's, for, as Wallace Goldsmith later noted, the blast did not "seem human." The A's bench jockeying stopped and [Hugh] Bedient didn't give up another hit as the Red Sox won, 7-6.Stout writes that while Fenway "is a place that many feel they know intimately, it is also a place that few people truly know very well in its original state". He offers extensive details on the construction of the park, like how the workers caught a huge break by finishing the major concrete work just before the winter's first blizzard. Stout also does an excellent job of describing the look of the park from the outside and the sensory and emotional act of entering this new space, walking down to the field, which was below street level, and the relation of the field to the various levels of the grandstand and the office windows in another section of the building.
Stout tracks the origin of the term "Green Monster", finding sporadic references to the nickname in the early and mid-1960s, but determining that it came into widespread use only in the late 1980s. Before then, it was simply "the Wall". Stout also notes that it was built to prevent fans from watching games from the buildings across the street.
Boston began the 1912 season 8-3 and 21-10, but dropped to 27-18, two games out of first place. At that point, they won 20 of their next 23 games, systematically mowing down the opposition for the rest of the year. In June, July, and August, they went a combined 62-24, a .721 winning percentage (a 117-win pace for a modern 162-game schedule).
Pitching ace Joe Wood, 22, finally fulfilled his promise after two seasons plagued with injuries. Stout notes the young Wood was quick to blame his teammates when he lost close games and was considered "soft" for staying out too long with his injuries.
Wood pitched in the Sox's biggest game of the season, a September 6 duel with Washington's Walter Johnson. Both pitchers had won 29 games to that point and the game was hyped nearly beyond measure. To say that Fenway officials oversold tickets to the game would be a gross understatement. The park held roughly 24,500 and attendance was estimated between 35,000 and 40,000. Thousands of patrons without seats stood deep in the outfield and in foul territory on each side of the infield.
[T]he Red Sox kept selling tickets until it became patently obvious that if they sold any more there would be no room on the field to play the game. ... [A]s game time approached and [the players] tried to take the field they found the dugouts packed with fans, some squeezed on the benches and others sitting on the railings and hanging off the roof. The players stood on the infield, surrounded by fans as though they were in a boxing ring, trying to play catch but most of them just gazing in wonder. None of them had ever seen anything like it before. No one had. ...
Wood finally decided to warm up [in front of the dugout]. Hick Cady paced out sixty feet in foul ground between the diamond and the dugout and, with fans barely an arm's length away, Wood slowly began warming up. Walter Johnson did the same on the opposite side of the field.
It was like trying to play catch on the subway platform at Park Station during rush hour. The crowd cleared a narrow corridor between the pitchers and their catchers, and the batteries started throwing the ball gingerly back and forth, Wood and Johnson taking care not to smack anyone in the jaw as they reached into their wind-up or throw the ball wild and knock someone unconscious. As they did the crowd peppered each man with questions and comments that each did his best to ignore, and heads turned back and forth en masse as the mob followed each toss and marveled at the speed of each pitch seen up close.
Wood finished the season with a 34-5 record and a 1.91 ERA. (Johnson, 33-12, led the AL with a 1.39 ERA.) Those numbers sound sick today, but it was the Deadball Era and runs were scarce. Wood's ERA+ for 1912 was 179, in the same ballpark as the last two AL Cy Young-award winning seasons: Felix Hernandez (174) and Justin Verlander (170).
World Series for the Red Sox (105-47, still the greatest season in franchise history), who rallied to win an epic battle against John McGraw's New York Giants (103-48).
In the end, Fred Snodgrass's dropped fly ball in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 8 led to the Giants' defeat and the error followed Snodgrass to his grave.
The 1912 Red Sox season had no shortage of terrific story lines, and Stout makes every one of them sing with crisp, vibrant writing. Stout packs his sentences and paragraphs with a lot of information, both essential and the quirky, but he keeps the narrative flowing almost conversationally. Fenway 1912 is an absolutely fantastic book.
Note #1: Stout makes a point of saying that he did not rely on another book about the 1912 World Series, published in 2009. In the endnotes for Chapter 11, Stout states that he ignored New York Post sportswriter Mike Vaccaro's "fanciful" account (The First Fall Classic: The Red Sox, the Giants and the Cast of Players, Pugs and Politicos Who Re-Invented the World Series in 1912 (Random House, 2009)). Before you think this may be a case of one writer slighting another for publishing a somewhat similar book first, Stout cites Keith Olbermann's blog post, which said Vaccaro's book is "riddled with [dozens of] historical mistakes, most of them seemingly trivial, some of them hilarious". Olberman listed many of the errors and, amazingly, was accused by a Baseball Prospectus writer of "killing" Vaccaro's book. [Funny, I never thought of historical accuracy as subjective. If a writer, in 2054, writes about the exploits of Kevin Foulke for the 2004 Red Sox, I expect that writer to be criticized.]
Note #2: In the Afterword, Stout recounts the many changes Fenway Park has undergone and concludes:
Perhaps the most jarring and unsightly feature of the park today is the proliferation of signs and advertising, which make it nearly impossible to find a place to rest the eye without being visually bombarded by corporate messages. That in combination with a relentless barrage of music and audio messages, has utterly changed the emotional experience of attending a game at Fenway Park. The end result is, rather ironically, that today's Fenway Park shares more in common with the retro parks designed to mimic it than with itself.That type of change and conformity is inevitable, I suppose, but it would be wonderful if the Red Sox decided, in this upcoming anniversary season, to scale back the noise for all home games to, if not 1912 levels, then perhaps back to 1982. It is the game - and the park - that we go to experience, after all.