FENWAY PARK WAS HOPELESSLY OUTDATED, THE RED SOX OWNER SAID. HIS club and its fans were in desperate need of a new, spacious ballpark with all the modern amenities, such as a retractable roof, he said. Worst of all was that infernal, 37-foot-high green wall that stood just 315 feet down the leftfield line, forcing him to assemble a team that could never win. "Damn it, that wall hurts," the owner told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. "It has an effect on the organization from top to bottom. We have to go after players who have that Fenway stroke, but then they get in the habit of pulling the ball, and they try it on the road—in Yankee Stadium or Comiskey—and it's no good. Hitters' habits are hard to break."
The man speaking was Tom Yawkey, and that quote appeared in SI's issue of June 28, 1965, when the Sox were in their 54th year of tenancy at Fenway, in their 47th year without a World Series title and headed toward a 62--100, ninth-place finish. At that time Yawkey expressed his certainty that Massachusetts would soon authorize the construction of Fenway's retractable-roofed successor. That authorization never came, however, and complaints about Fenway persisted until Yawkey's death in 1976, and then through 1999, when the club, whose streak of seasons without a title had reached eight decades, announced plans for a New Fenway.
The new stadium, which was to be built adjacent to its forebear, would cost $545 million and would retain the same dimensions—complete with a new Green Monster—while adding 10,000 seats and some 100 private luxury boxes. "The longer we wait, the further behind we'll fall," the team's G.M., Dan Duquette, said to The Boston Globe in May 2000. "We need a new ballpark to survive."
When the Red Sox were put up for sale by the Yawkey family trust in 2001, nearly all of the potential ownership groups agreed with Duquette's assessment. Included among the bidders was Frank McCourt, the Boston real estate developer who wanted to build a new stadium on waterfront property he owned in South Boston (and who, after being stymied, ultimately purchased the Dodgers two years later, with disastrous results). But one prospective buyer—a group led by businessmen John Henry and Tom Werner and longtime baseball executive Larry Lucchino—had a different idea.
In 1992, as president of the Orioles, Lucchino and a team that included brilliant architect Janet Marie Smith built Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The stadium had sparked the baseball world's infatuation with constructing idiosyncratic new parks that gave off old-fashioned auras, a movement that served as the death knell for the symmetrical, multipurpose facilities of the 1960s and '70s. In the late '90s Lucchino and Werner had planned the building of San Diego's Petco Park, when Werner was an owner of the Padres and Lucchino the team's president. But in Fenway, Henry, Lucchino and Werner saw a ballpark with the history, the tradition and the bones that Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium and San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium had lacked. To them, the idea of demolishing Fenway—or most of it, anyway—bordered on sacrilege.
Why install a new red seat to mark the place the 502-foot blast struck by Ted Williams in June 1946 would have approximately landed when you could keep the existing one—bleacher section 42, row 37, seat 21—but make it better? Why build a new Green Monster when you had the original and could improve everything around it? Why construct a simulacrum of Fenway Park when you already had Fenway Park?
"Replicas just aren't the same," says Werner, a graduate of nearby Harvard. "Part of what makes Fenway so special is that it's got a lot of old memories. When you sit in your seats, you can almost imagine the ghost of Babe Ruth or Ted Williams. You don't create an imitation if you have the real thing."
As Lucchino recalls, "Everyone had bought into the prevailing wisdom that Fenway Park was a relic on the wrong side of history. We were going to endeavor, if at all possible, to preserve, protect, enhance, improve and expand Fenway Park, rather than to be the ownership group responsible for tearing it down and trying to build a new one somewhere else."
Henry, Lucchino and Werner won ownership of the Red Sox in 2002 and would prove saviors for architectural and baseball purists—not to mention Red Sox fans. The owners hired Smith, the Camden Yards architect, to help them do what they and a few small grassroots groups desperately hoped they could do: save Fenway. "Red Sox fans for generations have taken their friends and children to this ballpark," Werner says. "People remember the first time they came here, their memory of seeing the Green Monster or seeing that green grass. There was an emotional resonance to the place, but we needed to do a study to see if we could solve some of the problems. As we started to make improvements, we felt more strongly that what we were doing was on the right track."