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The Great Wall Of Boston

Illustration for article titled The Great Wall Of Boston

Jack Mann's 1965 piece on the Green Monster:

The Fenway wall is the most famous of the structural idiosyncrasies so common in the major league ball parks that were built half a century ago, and now that the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field are gone it is one of the few remaining in this era of new, large and symmetrical stadiums. It starts near the left-field foul line, only 315 feet from home plate, and juts at a right angle 275 feet across the outfield until it meets the center-field bleachers. It is the most inviting target for a right-handed hitter in the major leagues; fly balls become base hits and would-be home runs that don't quite make it to the chicken wire ricochet off the wall below for doubles.

Hitters love it and pitchers hate it, and it drives managers crazy; both hitters and pitchers tend to alter their natural style of play to take account of the wall, and this too often adversely affects their play when they are away from Fenway and in a normal, unidiosyncratic ball park. Because abrupt adjustment from the incongruities of Fenway to the symmetry of other parks is almost impossible, Red Sox teams over the years have accepted consistent inconsistency (since World War II a .607 winning percentage at home compared to .446 on the road) as their manifest destiny. And Bostonians have bleakly but faithfully embraced the team as a poor thing but their own. Nobody gets hurt except 62-year-old Owner Thomas A. Yawkey, the only multimillionaire prisoner of the wall and slave to his own benevolence. Tom Yawkey may not be the last of the old-style patrons of baseball—those who bought teams simply because they liked the game—but he is the last of the long-sufferers. After more than half a lifetime of loving the game and his players not at all wisely and much too well, he sits in his gilded cage atop the Fenway roof and hopes. He listens for promises ("threats," he calls them) of the extravagant new Boston stadium that might soon be authorized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, liberating him to assemble the kind of team and play the kind of baseball he has wanted since he became the Red Sox' Daddy Warbucks in 1933.

"Hit and run," Yawkey says. "Steal a base. That's the way I like to play the game. Sure, the Yanks have been a power team, and when they hit a home run everybody says hooray. But they beat you with defense. They hold you close, then beat you with the home run. I say the hell with the fence and play as if you were in Comiskey Park."

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