Fenway Turns 100 Years Old

Download Audio

"You come out of a tunnel, it opens up and your first thought is, 'My God, this is awesome, it’s so majestic.' And the second is, 'Wow, it’s tiny.' I think every time I’ve ever gone into the park those same two thoughts collide."

Janice Page edited Fenway Park: A Salute to the Coolest, Cruelest, Longest-Running Major League Baseball Stadium in America. It's one of at least a half dozen books about Fenway out this spring, but it's the only one co-written by the Boston Globe's John Powers.

Powers loves Fenway, but that doesn't mean he's blind to the building's faults like narrow seats in the grandstands and cramped quarters in the clubhouses. And then there's the smell.

"Mostly it is a stale smell," he said. "Stale beer. Any time I walk through the corridor, my feet stick because people have spilled coke on the ground."

Despite its faults, Powers isn't the least bit surprised that Boston decided to preserve its relic.

"Only in Boston do we do this. We are the only people who will renovate the old statehouse when we have a new statehouse, or renovate the old city hall when we have a new city hall. We just don’t like throwing buildings away."

Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino has a much simpler explanation for the quarter of a billion dollar expenditure.

"The Red Sox wouldn’t be the Red Sox without Fenway Park," he said.

Last Monday, Lucchino nearly took out a throng of reporters as he drove an injured Mayor Tom Menino around the ballpark for his annual tour. Back in 1999, when then Red Sox CEO Jim Harrington announced that Fenway couldn't be made profitable, the Mayor supported the idea of a new ballpark. But you won't catch him admitting that now.

"I had some questions early on when they were trying to tell us that the bowl of the park was broken, and they showed some evidence of that, but when the new owners took over they showed us those things could be corrected, and they did correct it," said Menino.

Not all of Fenway's quirks can be corrected. Despite a slew of improvements that happen every year between the months of November and April, the mayor met with reporters just across the concourse from a metal staircase, painted green, but showing more than a few signs of rust. Leslie Sterling served as the team's PA announcer from 1994 through 1996.

"I love that part of it, though," Sterling said."It's like when you're going on Antiques Roadshow and they say, 'Oh well, if you had cleaned this up it wouldn't be worth as much because it wouldn't have the patina and the signs of age.'"

"There’s a staircase that we use as front office employees and the steps are out of line, and someone said, 'Is this what we mean by charming?'" asked Dr. Charles Steinberg.

Steinberg came on board when John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino bought the team. Some say the new owners saved the park because it was a good PR move. Others say that after spending $700 million, more than twice the previous record sales price to buy the team, John Henry et. al. didn't have enough cash left to start over. But, Dr. Charles points out that Lucchino had been involved with building Camden Yards, at a cost of less than half the pricetag of Fenway's renovations.

"So you weren’t doing it to save any money," Steinberg said. "You’re doing it because Fenway was the inspiration for Camden Yards and the 20 or so ballparks that have followed and when you have the chance to preserve the Mona Lisa, you do that."

Fenway has a long way to go before it reaches Mona Lisa's 500-plus years, but the question on everyone's mind this week is whether the park can make it to its next centennial celebration.

"I guess that won’t be our question to answer, but you do at least believe that you’ve given future generations the opportunity to examine that question," said Steinberg.

As for Dennis Garrity, he offered, "I can't speak in depth about your beloved Fenway. I've never been there, I know about it."

Garrity is the President and CEO of Packer Fan Tours, which brought people from 21 different countries and 47 out of the 50 US states to Lambeau Field last year.

Lambeau is currently undergoing a $143 million project to add, among other things, about 6,700 seats. But that's not going to put much of a dent in list of 90,000 people waiting for approximately a quarter of a million season tickets for the 70,000 seat stadium.

Lambeau has another 45 years before it matches the 100-year mark Fenway celebrated yesterday. Can the sod that Lombardi trod make it that far?

"Oh my, things become old and obsolete so quickly in our culture it's hard to say," Garrity said. "I have a good feeling that Lambeau's gonna be around though in another 45 years and beyond."

This segment aired on April 21, 2012.

Karen Given Executive Producer/Interim Host, Only A Game
Karen is the executive producer for WBUR's Only A Game.



More from Only A Game

Listen Live