SI Vault
Jack Mann
June 28, 1965
Fenway Park's left-field fence, seemingly only a few feet beyond third base, fascinates hitters and scares pitchers, and its presence hypnotizes the Boston Red Sox into perennial mediocrity
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June 28, 1965

The Great Wall Of Boston

Fenway Park's left-field fence, seemingly only a few feet beyond third base, fascinates hitters and scares pitchers, and its presence hypnotizes the Boston Red Sox into perennial mediocrity

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Pee Wee Reese, who played on seven championship teams for the Brooklyn Dodgers, was the "different kind of player" Yawkey talked about for 10 years before he did something about it in 1960. He named Dick O'Connell, a businessman, as executive vice-president, and O'Connell's first official act was to make Neil Mahoney, a career scout, director of the farm system. Mahoney, who was sidelined by a heart attack this year, shook up the scouting network, which needed it. When Yawkey liked a player—and Yawkey falls in love with players—he wanted to keep him on the payroll, so the scouting system became a sort of pension pool. "Give him a territory," the word was. One superannuated pitcher received three paychecks before he found out he was a scout. When a particular territory was not heard from for any length of time, it was simply assumed that no right-handed pull hitters had been turned up and there was nothing to report. What was reported wasn't much.

"We didn't fire many people," says Ed Kenney, Mahoney's assistant and another homebred (all Red Sox officials except Personnel Vice-President Mike Higgins, Executive Assistant Ted Williams and Yawkey himself are Massachusetts products). "But we called them all in and reindoctrinated them. We made it clear that we were interested in the complete player, one who could run and field and throw, whether he was right-handed or not."

Of the 39 men on the Sox spring roster this year. 27 were farm products. Only five players were more than 30 years old and the average age of the others was 23. When the season began four of the eight starters were left-handed hitters. (It is emphasized around Fenway these days that the 10 batting championships the Red Sox have won over the past 24 seasons have all been by left-handed batters: Ted Williams, Billy Goodman, Pete Runnels and Carl Yastrzemski.) Two of the starting pitchers were rookies.

After two months of play the Red Sox were under .500, which is one thing. They also didn't seem particularly disturbed about their standing, which is another. The advent of so many young and presumably hungry players seemed not to have much altered the mellow mood of 1961, when rookies Yastrzemski and Schilling attempted to "talk it up" on the bench and were withered into silence by the cool glances of their elders.

"They told me when I came here," Schilling says, "that there were a lot of guys who didn't care much whether they won or lost as long as they had fun. But a lot of those guys aren't here anymore. It's changed, but not enough for the public or the press to notice. I guess it hasn't changed enough."

"The attitude on this club did surprise me when I came here as a coach in 1960," Billy Herman admits. "But we've got rid of some of the dead wood. One reason I took the job is that I have complete authority. If I want to fine somebody $200, I don't have to call the front office for an O.K. I just do it, and nobody's going to give the money back."

But the fun habit is hard to eliminate. "If he has the kind of authority," one player asked, "why doesn't he use it?"

Actually, the Red Sox are only one of 20 major league clubs with playboy problems, and they don't even lead the American League in that department. There is a more fundamental reason for their aplomb in the face of failure. Through the years Yawkey has acquired a reputation for all-forgiving generosity, and he has earned it.

Yawkey is known as a conservative, and that is unfair. He relinquished both the San Francisco and Minneapolis territories in the name of expansion. He admires Judge Robert Cannon, counsel to the Players Association, for promoting "understanding" between management and players. This Yawkey needed least of any owner because his players to a man understand one thing about him. "All I know," they say unanimously, "is that he's been good to me."

Too good. The rules allow management to cut a player's salary up to 25% after a bad season. Yawkey almost never cuts anybody. "They say there's no sentiment in baseball," he says almost sheepishly, "but I guess I have more than most."

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