Opening Day at Fenway

For everyone in New England (excluding pockets of Connecticut and Vermont where New York fans abound) and those regions of Red Sox nation beyond, tomorrow is an exciting day:  the opener at Fenway against the Yankees.  I always feel better knowing that baseball is on, even if I’m not watching.  And this is also an opportunity for me to showcase some really great photographs:  of the park but mostly of the players.

Fenway Park was built almost a century ago, in 1912, to replace the older Huntingdon Avenue Grounds.  A few years ago I wasn’t sure it would be standing for its centennial (it was placed on Preservation Massachusetts’s most endangered list in 1999) but its present owners seem committed to its preservation.  A century ago, it was the most modern of parks featuring all sorts of innovations for crowd accessibility and control:  reserved seating (with gold leaf lettering!), separate entrances for the bleacher, grandstand and pavilion seating (which some contemporaries feared was destroying the egalitarian sociability of baseball games).   I think of Fenway as the most intimate of stadiums, but at least one historian has noted that it and the other “modern” parks built just before World War I “standardized and depersonalized the sport while allowing more fans to see the game”, separated these same fans from the players, and “generally removed much of the previous informality”. (Robert  Bluthardt, “Fenway Park and the Golden Age of the Baseball Park, 1909-1915”, Journal of Popular Culture 21 (1987), a reference I owe to my SSU colleague Brad Austin) Still, Fenway is a far cry from the super stadiums of the later twentieth century, and for that I am grateful.

Some images of Fenway in its first few years (1912-14) from the Bain News Service archive at the Library of Congress; the last one features backup catcher Hick Cady who is so prominent in pictures from this era you would think he was Babe Ruth!

And now for some photographs of the old towne team in the same era.  From the collection of the Boston Public Library, photographs of the 1911 and 1912 Red Sox teams, the first on a down day in Los Angeles, the second in a (rather strange) diamond formation, and the third at the World Series of 1912.  The last photograph is a conventional roster shot of the 1913 team on a cigarette card from the New York Public Library.

The ability of the modern sports stadiums of the twentieth century, both early and late, to separate the players on the field from the fans in the stands must explain why I find the photographs of individual players (and managers) of the early century so particularly poignant.  The photographs below are from another archive in the Library of Congress:  a collection of photographs taken by Chicago Daily News photographers from 1902-33.  Among this collection are several of Boston Red Sox players at Comiskey Field.  Babe Ruth was there and is here, but the rest of the photographs I have chosen are of players (and one manager, Patsy Donovan) who are not quite as well-known:  after Patsy (1911), there is Harry Bartholomew Hooper (1912), Clarence “Tilly” Walker (1916) and Babe Ruth (1918).

I chose these particular photographs just because they seem so immediate and intimate.  Baseball players, politicians, average everyday people, it doesn’t matter:  people just seem to have a closer, more honest relationship with the camera in the earlier days of photography.  They are really there; look at Harry Hooper.

Baseball cards deserve another exclusive post, as they’re important forms of ephemera as well as cultural artifacts.  I’m going to include Harry Hooper’s card from 1912 here, however, just because of my particular fascination with him. 

Hooper is also an inspirational figure for the beginning of the season,  as he is the only player (SO FAR) to be a part of FOUR Red Sox World championship teams:  those of 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918.

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