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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The first Negro the Red Sox signed for keeps was Earl Wilson, a 17-year-old pitcher, in 1953. He joined Pumpsie Green on the Red Sox in 1959, but wildness kept him going back and forth to the minors. In 1964, when he finally got the ball over the plate, people hit it over the fence 37 times, a Red Sox record.

There were three Negroes and Mantilla, a dark-skinned Puerto Rican, on this year's roster. In addition, Lenny Green, a discard from Baltimore, played his way onto the team. The N.A.A.C.P. has called off its pickets, but the Aarons and Clementes and Olivas are still playing for other teams, despite the shook-up scouts.

The managers have tried over the years since Joe McCarthy's two near-pennants in the late 1940s to lift the club, but they have not been much help. Billy Herman is a compromise between the laissez-faire of Mike ("they're grown men") Higgins and the abortive attempts of Lou Boudreau, Billy Jurges and Johnny Pesky to "build a fire" under a complacent team.

Boudreau, like Eddie Stanky, was one of those fiercely competitive players who should have been able to arouse the combative spirits of a team of zombies. But, like Stanky, he somehow inspired nothing so much as resentment.

Jurges, a teammate of Herman's on three pennant ventures with the Cubs, also tried to extol the virtue of hustle and failed dismally. "He would put on these rah-rah speeches in the clubhouse," an ex-Red Sox player says, "and you had to figure he was kidding." Jurges finally lost control one day during a meeting that may have been unprecedented in that he invited—"summoned" might be more accurate—the press. An unnamed player had been quoted in The Christian Science Monitor to the effect that the manager had some growing up to do. In plenary session, Jurges demanded that the player identify himself. It was a shrill failure that pretty well made the player's point, and Jurges was soon gone.

Pesky, despite a run-in with Yastrzemski that smoldered on in mutual hatred, might have been something like the manager the Red Sox needed, except for two things: 1) he tried to do too much too soon to change attitudes too long established and, 2) like Jurges, he was too sensitive to the barbs of the Boston press.

The Boston press takes some getting used to, even if you're just reading it. In a time when the Alphonses and Gastons of the publishing business have peacefully partitioned the morning and afternoon in places like Los Angeles and Detroit, it is a rarity to see an old-fashioned competitive press in a smaller city. Not only do editions of Boston's metropolitan papers pop out at all odd hours of the day and night, but the city is ringed by lively suburban dailies that want to—and do—get in the act. With 10 papers double-and triple-teaming the Red Sox' home games, Fenway's is often the only press box more populous than those in New York, and the rivalry is so keen that the newsstands carry more angles than a geometry book. Little things come to mean such a lot that Pesky had to endure strained relations with more people than Yastrzemski before his two-year stewardship ended.

"You have to understand something else," says a Bostonian who digs the Red Sox scene. "All the writers in Bahston are ball fans. Sure, they're sarcastic and cynical about the club, and they're always ripping somebody. But there's a reason for that. When those guys go to spring training they're conditioned to expect the worst. But they can't help looking for the best. They see a new shahtstop who looks pretty good, and they get carried away because they want to believe he's that good. Then in May the kid is hitting .191 and they're sahr as hell. They feel deceived. It's like they fell in love with some brahd and she took off with another guy. They're sahr all the time because they're fans."

Comes now the crowning irony. The same Boston press is honing its hatchets for the new stadium plan to be presented by Governor Volpe's three-man commission at the end of June. It is as true as it was when Tom Yawkey first surveyed his new holdings in 1933 that there is not room to play baseball between Lansdowne and Jersey Streets, and nothing would help the Sox as much as a new, spacious playground. But if the Boston press is composed of fans it is also composed of taxpayers. Even if they live in Quincy or Worcester or Wellesley, they are taxpayers to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which is uncommonly short of wealth these days.

"The total disclosure to the press and public cannot be made until June 29," says Msgr. George Kerr, a member of Boston College's 1941 Sugar Bowl team and now a member of the Stadium Commission. "But the basic plan is for an arena-garage complex as the first phase, to make money immediately to help defray the total expense."

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