A (Family) History of Fenway Park

Fenway Park is the oldest, and most historic ballpark in the MLB. It opened its gates in 1912 and is located in the Fenway neighborhood in the city of Boston. The Fenway neighborhood is a beautiful section of Boston, from the world renowned hospitals, to many great colleges and universities, including my own school, Emmanuel College (Go Saints!) , which happens to be the closest campus to Fenway Park.

Growing up in Massachusetts, I have a soft spot for Fenway. I have attended more games there than any other stadium and many of my first baseball memories revolve around my Dad and I going to watch the Yankees play the Red Sox at Fenway. Now living less than 5 minutes away from the park for 9 months of the year has created this affection for the park. My whole family comes from the Greater Boston area and the Red Sox are religion and Fenway sacred ground to them. It has always fascinated me the amount of baseball history (and my own family history) that lives within the walls of Fenway.

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Let’s start at the beginning, John Taylor and his father owned the Red Sox and purchased the block of land to build the park on. When the ballpark finally was scheduled to open on April, 18th, 1912 the game was rained out. The next day was a doubleheader to make up for the lost game the day before on April 19th. It also happened to be Patriots Day which in Boston is a big deal because it is also the day of the Boston Marathon dating back to 1897. Patriots Day is a commemorative holiday to remember those who fought in the Revolutionary War. At the time the Marathon and the Red Sox weren’t linked but now the Red Sox play a game on Patriots Day every year starting at 11am in one of the unique traditions in baseball. Unfortunately, both games of the doubleheader were canceled. So after three rainouts the ballpark opened its gates on April 20th, 1912 when the Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Highlanders 7-6 in extras. The Mayor of Boston at the time, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald threw out the first pitch, Honey Fitz was the grandfather of future President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

My beginnings as a baseball fan started as I walked down the tunnel and saw the field at Fenway for the first time. It is different than any other park due to how close the seats are to the field. It feels more personal to be that close. But what made Fenway special for me is the time I got to spend with my Dad. My Dad was able to foster the love of baseball in me and it’s one of the greatest gifts he could have ever given me. That little kid’s love of baseball has only grown since his first game at Fenway.

When Fenway was built it had unique characteristics such as a massive wall behind the left field seats. The wall was unlike anything baseball had ever seen. The wall was built due to the large buildings on Lansdowne St. across from Fenway, John Taylor wanted to make sure that the only people could watch the game were people who bought a ticket so the 25 foot wooden fence was put in its place and then covered with advertisers because Taylor was a businessman at heart.

In 1926 there was a series of fires and bad storms at Fenway during the season. Including a fire on the 3rd base line during a Yankees-Red Sox game. The ballpark wasn’t tended to properly and due to the fires there was a large section of bleachers on the left field line that was removed and not replaced until 1934 allowing players to catch balls in a large strange piece of foul ground.

This wasn’t fixed until new ownership took over the Sox. The new owner Tom Yawkey would become a staple of Boston Baseball for decades to come. He bought the Red Sox for a little over a million dollars and put about a million more into the rundown home of the Sox. But in 1934 there was a massive fire which burned down many of the already completed refurbishments of the park. That is when the 37 foot wall with the hand operated scoreboard came into existence. The wall was originally concrete covered in tin but later would be changed out for plastic. The wall wouldn’t be known as the Green Monster until 1947 when all the advertisers were taken off and was painted green to match the rest of the ballpark. The Monster wouldn't get seats placed on top until 2003.

The Monster has seen many great moments but one of the most iconic would be Bucky Dent's 3 run home run in the 7th inning of the American League East tiebreaker game in 1978. The tiebreaker was necessary because without a wild card only the division winner would make the playoffs and they were both knotted at 99-63. The Red Sox were up 2-0 going into the 7th when Dent came to the plate whose line drive shot over the Monster drove in Chris Chambliss and Roy White giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead and helping them go onto win the game 5-4. The Yankees would go onto win the Pennant and the World Series. And to quote my Grandfather, a lifelong Red Sox fan, Bucky Dent became known as “That little pisspot”

My favorite Green Monster moment was is 2010, I attended Yanks-Red Sox with my Dad and after waiting out a rain delay on a Saturday afternoon we witnessed the Yankees destroy the Sox by a score of 14-3. The rout wasn’t what made the game special though. Mark Teixera hit three home runs all over the Monster and that nine year old kid was left in absolute awe.

In 1934 at Fenway Park there is a lesser known story that isn’t being covered by the media as closely as the refurbishments and fires at Fenway are. The Red Sox signed a lanky 6’4” right handed pitcher by the name of Joseph Mulligan. Mulligan grew up in Weymouth, MA roughly a half hour outside of Boston and went to college at Holy Cross only 45 miles away from Fenway. Playing for the hometown team is every kid’s dream and Big Joe got to live this dream pitching for the Red Sox for one short season. With his first paycheck from Tom Yawkey and the Sox he bought his kid brother a brand new bicycle. Mulligan went on to pitch mostly out of the pen but started two games and kept his ERA at a solid 3.63. Mulligan was able to match up against legendary Yankees such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and Lefty Gomez. Mulligan was able to strike out the Iron Horse in 1934 the same year Gehrig would win the Triple Crown. Gehrig was able get his revenge when he took Mulligan deep for a three-run bomb later in the year.

And as legend goes he would have struck out Babe Ruth too but, after having the Sultan of Swat down 0-2 in the count the umpire called 4 straight balls resulting in a walk. When Mulligan asked the umpire about it he was told no rookie was going to strike out the Babe.

If you haven't figured it out yet, Joe Mulligan was a part of my family. He was my great uncle and his kid brother my grandfather. He has forever been immortalized in family history for playing for the Red Sox and is one of the reasons my family’s ties to the Red Sox go so deep.

Joseph I. Mulligan (1934)

Joseph I. Mulligan (1934)

Long before I was born my Mom and Dad attended more than a few games at Fenway. My Mom in her Sox cap and my Dad in his Reggie #44 shirt. It might be the one and only issue that they’ve ever been divided on, but they will both tell you that Fenway is their favorite place to see a game.

History runs deep in Boston and it’s one of the reasons why Fenway is so beloved. The connection the people (and my family) have to Fenway is uniquely Boston.