Although this is Harvey Frommer’s 41st book on sports (including some, in the spirit of full disclosure, about the New York Yankees), the author is content to lean heavily on others to tell Fenway Park’s story. At the front of the book, he briefly introduces his sources, 135 in all, ranging from fans, reporters, vendors, broadcasters, groundskeepers, and former ballplayers. Oddly two of the team’s most recent Hall of Famers, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice are not among the players quoted (maybe they were too talked out), but it hardly matters, because the memories of those who are included work wonderfully to keep the book moving nimbly ahead.
Not surprisingly for a book that covers 100 years, the first oral history entry doesn’t appear until Chapter 3, when the book chronicles the 1930s. Former Red Sox pitcher Bill Werber, who passed away at 100 in 2008, relates his contract talk with owner Tom Yawkey in 1933. Yawkey managed to lower Werber’s salary by $2,000, which was big money back then. But after signing, Werber caught a foul ball in the visitors’ dugout, holding on although he fell. After the game, Yawkey recalled Werber to his office and said he was going to restore the $2,000 to Werber’s contract.
Frommer’s narrative is the mortar that holds the many quotes together. One of the more intriguing revelations in the book is how the Red Sox came to give Jackie Robinson and two other black ballplayers a sham tryout at Fenway Park in 1945, two years before Robinson would officially break the big-league’s color barrier. Boston’s baseball brass agreed to the tryout in order to extend a waiver from the city council needed to continue playing games on Sundays. The Red Sox, as it turned out, were the last team in the majors to integrate, when Pumpsie Green made the roster in 1959.
As with all the new Fenway books, this one makes striking use of many vintage photographs. Two of the most arresting occupy side-by-side pages. One shows Ted Williams sliding in under the tag of airborne Yankees catcher Yogi Berra. The other shows Williams, of all people, releasing a pitch during an all-but-forgotten mound debut in 1940. The very back of the book features a “By the Numbers” section, including entries for “18” (number of turnstiles when Fenway first opened) and “409” (the lowest single-game attendance ever, in September 1965, versus the Angels).