The Red Sox's ballpark is hailed as a national landmark today, but 50 years ago it was almost torn down.
It was 100 years ago today that Fenway Park officially opened, and whatever the Red Sox's current troubles (4 wins against 8 losses so far this year and new manager Bobby Valentine already in hot water) one thing is certain: Now is a happier time for the ball park than its 50th birthday was. Today the ball park is nothing less than an American icon, newly listed on the National Register of Historic Places and celebrated on a PBS documentary narrated by hometown-boy-made-good-in-Hollywood Matt Damon.
But it was very different 50 years ago. Back then the prevailing wisdom was that the Red Sox were trapped "in undersized, ancient Fenway Park" and looking for another place to play. Far from "sacred ground," what turned out to be a premature autopsy in Sports Illustrated pronounced that Fenway was not only "ancient" but was "obsolete... with its 33,524 seats, its totally inadequate parking facilities and its Great Wall in left field." Unless something was done to replace it, "the Boston Red Sox may well become the San Diego Surfers." Summing up the spirit of the time, Frank Deford wrote, "Fenway Park is not really a stadium anyway. It holds only 33,000 because, essentially, it is a left-field wall with seats. For years people laughed at it and said it was the ruin of the Red Sox."
Actually, Fenway's perceived problems were long-standing. The "Green Monster" of a left field wall, just 315 feet or so from home plate down the line, was regularly cited over the years, not as today's prime piece of baseball real estate, but as—according to Al Hirshberg's classic answer to the perennial question "What"s the Matter with the Red Sox?"—"one of the prime reasons why the Red Sox have had so much trouble down through their years of frustration. For by trying to tailor their ball clubs to Fenway Park, packing the lineup as much as possible with right-handed sluggers they have consistently left themselves wide open for disaster on the road."
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As to the complaint that Fenway's smallish seating capacity made it "obsolete" (especially in an era when 50,000-plus stadia were becoming the norm), such a concern dated back the ballpark's initial seasons. Just three years after its opening, the Red Sox shifted their "home" games for the 1915 World Series two miles west down Commonwealth Avenue to Braves Field, the newly built home of Boston's then National League team, to take advantage of its larger seating capacity. And they did it again when they returned to the World Series the next year, both times playing before more fans than Fenway itself has ever hosted. The attendance of 47,373 at Braves Field for Game 2 of the 1916 World Series must still be the largest "home game" crowd in Red Sox history. (You can make barroom betting money knowing that).