Two hours before game time all is tranquil in the leftfield scoreboard at Fenway Park. Bill Rose, 31, enters the darkened quarters, which are right inside the Green Monster. As usual during home stands, a cheap, dusty radio is playing—to scare the rats away. Rose and his coworker in the scoreboard, 19-year-old James Stokes, haven't actually seen any rats this season, but Rattus norvegicus has been spotted scurrying about this 75-year-old relic in the not-too-distant past. There is a story that in the sixth game of the 1975 World Series, the television cameraman with the leftfield-scoreboard position stayed on Carlton Fisk as the catcher waved his winning home run fair—only because he was frozen with terror at the sight of a huge rat. Apocryphal story or not, when you leave the scoreboard you leave the radio on.
Rose hauls a ladder from the room inside the scoreboard and, placing it on the warning track, climbs up to post the day's matchups. He hangs the heavy steel placards from thick screws that stick out from the scoreboard at least an inch, enough to deflect a baseball crazily. Most of the signs are bent in one way or another. But from a distance it all looks swell.
This is one of only three scoreboards in the major leagues still operated by hand. The others are at Chicago's Wrigley Field and the Oakland Coliseum. Wrigley's is the biggest and most complete, with inning-by-inning scores of up to 12 games in both leagues. But Fenway's is charmingly parochial and eccentric, like Boston itself. Only the American League scores and pitchers are recorded. The initials of the late Thomas A. Yawkey, who bought the team in '33 and renovated the park in '34, and his beloved wife, Jean R., the current owner, are inscribed vertically in Morse code on the scoreboard's face.
The room inside is concrete and shaped like a submarine. It offers a phone, a few folding chairs, an abandoned fridge, a fire extinguisher and a TV. Numbers are hanging all over the walls—anything up to a 19-run inning can be accommodated. On hot days curious ballplayers inquire about the heat. (Not too bad.) Refreshments? (None.) Facilities? (A chamber pot.)
"It's a nice job for the summer," says Stokes, who has arrived at noon from his home in Roxbury. "Not too hard, not too easy." He and Rose are each paid $25 a game. And the job comes with two of the best seats in the house. Peering through any of half a dozen mail-slot-sized openings, they can see every part of the playing field except deepest left center. The perspective is at ground level, 325 to 330 feet from home plate, exactly where the leftfielder would be standing in a ballpark of normal size. "It's a great place to see a game," says Rose, who lives in Newton, Mass., works for an insurance company and plans to attend law school in September.
During batting practice, balls clatter off the scoreboard with teeth-rattling regularity. In the game, most of those are easily caught.
The first hit of the afternoon is Dwight Evans's line shot off the padded wall above the scoreboard. The ball caroms past Yankee leftfielder Gary Ward for a double. In the fourth the Yanks take the lead on a towering two-bagger off the Wall by Dave Winfield, who pauses to admire the flight of his drive before leaving the batter's box. In the bottom of the inning Boston's Wade Boggs extends his hitting streak to 22 games with yet another double off the Wall. "Here it comes," Rose shouts, and there is the thud of the ball overhead.
In the fifth, a sighting. "Look at this! Look at this!" cries Stokes, eyes wide. A spectacularly endowed blonde in a turquoise tank top is taking her seat in the leftfield stands. Busty Heart, a regular attraction at Celtics games, has turned her attentions to the Bosox. "I didn't believe that lady the first time I saw her," says Stokes, "and I still don't."
The game continues, vying for attention. Evans ties it at 2-2 with a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh that brings the packed park to life. In the next inning the fans start a wave. But with two outs, the Yankees' Mike Easier momentarily dampens the enthusiasm by lining one off the Wall. Jim Rice retreats for it, then reverses direction, backing toward the infield. Rice plays the carom barehanded and throws a strike to second to get Easier for the third out.
In the bottom of the eighth, Stokes watches through his slit as his favorite player, Ellis Burks, comes to bat with a man on first, one out. Burks crushes one toward left center. "That's out of the park, out of the park! That's in the webbing [the net above the Wall]!" shouts Stokes as the ball disappears overhead. The cheering of some 33,000 fans confirms it, and Stokes changes the score for the final time: Boston 4, New York 2.