Review (and Giveaway) of Fenway Park: The Centennial

With Fenway Park turning 100 years old next year,  you can count on a steady stream of publications, specials and documentaries on the history of the ballpark.

I mentioned one a few weeks ago (Remembering Fenway Park) and today, another crossed my desk.

Fenway Park:The Centennial by Saul Wisnia, features both a book and a DVD Documentary which is narrated by New England native and Red Sox Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk.

This beautifully illustrated 176-page coffee-table style book captures the feel and spirit of Fenway Park which has been home to the Red Sox since April 1912.  Fenway has also seen its share of  pro and college football games, major cultural and civic events, an international soccer game in 2010 between Celtic and Sporting Lisbon, and even the New Year’s Day 2010 NHL Winter Classic game won by the Boston Bruins and played on a specially built hockey rink in the middle of the field.

The book includes over 200 images, including many from the archives of the Boston Public Library – as well as rarely seen artifices and memorabilia from the decades of events held in Fenway.

While the book naturally focuses on the Red Sox, there a photos of the NFL’s Boston Yanks, who played in Fenway from 1944-1948 as well as the AFL Boston Patriots, who called Fenway home from 1963 to 1968. Even soccer legend Pele played a game at Fenway when the Boston Beacons of the North American Soccer League hosted Pele’s Santos club from Brazil in 1968.

The book includes sections on:

  • The inception, construction, and early years of Fenway
  • Detailed looks at Red Sox legends from Babe Ruth to Ted Williams to Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz
  • The greatest moments of the Green monster, Fenway’s most famous feature
  • A trip inside the Monster’s manually operated scoreboard
  • Fenway fans and their love affair with the legendary stadium through the years
  • Unforgettable seasons, including the 1967 Impossible Dream team and the 2004 World Series champs
Author Saul Wisnia is a former sports and news correspondent for the Washington Post and feature writer for The Boston Herald.  Wisnia is now a senior publications editor at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.  He has authored, co-authored, or otherwise contributed to numerous books on Boston baseball history, and his essays and articles have also appeared in Sports Illustrated, Red Sox Magazine, and The Boston Globe.  He lives 6.78 miles from FenwayPark in Newton,Massachusetts.
The book is being released this coming Tuesday, September 13th. The publisher has agreed to give BSMW three copies of the book and DVD to give away to readers.
If you would like to enter the giveaway, please leave a comment below (with a valid email address so I can contact the winners) between now and the end of the day on Monday. On Tuesday, I’ll pick the three winners at random from among the commenters.

Book Review – Game Six

Sure, yesterday was a big anniversary in Red Sox history, but today is another one.

What were you doing 34 years ago tonight?

If you can remember that far, (I can’t) no doubt you were engrossed in a little baseball game that was taking place over at Fenway Park. The date was October 21st, 1975  and after a three days of rain delays, the Red Sox were set to play the Cincinnati Reds in game six of the World Series.

It turned out to be perhaps the most memorable game in World Series history, ending on the famous Carlton Fisk home run off the foul pole in the 12th inning which gave the Red Sox the win, and tied the series at three games apiece. Beyond Fisk, there were too many heroes to name – for both sides.

Writer Mark Frost has spent two years reading, digging, exploring and talking to players, managers, broadcasters and spectators from that historic night. He made numerous visits to Fenway Park, to the Hall of Fame, talked with as many people involved as he possibly could in order to weave all their stories together into a story that actually ends up encompassing a hundred years of baseball history within the confines of a single game.

The result is Game Six: Cincinnati, Boston, and the 1975 World Series: The Triumph of America’s Pastime.

At most, I’m what you would call a casual golf fan. However, I had read Frost’s books The Greatest Game Ever Played and The Grand Slam and couldn’t put either one down. So I was particularly enthused when I learned about this book and that it was Frost that had written it.

It doesn’t disappoint. If you read the two books mentioned in the previous paragraph, you are aware of Frost’s attention to detail and gift of narration. They are on full display once again here in this work. With eight Hall of Famers prominent in this game, Frost tells their stories as well as those of sportscasters such as Dick Stockton – you learn for instance that he had quite the rep as a “ladies man” back in the day, and that he got the phone number of future wife Lesley Visser in the press box prior to this game.

It’s not just the stars that get detailed however, the bit players, the network execs, the cameramen, the umpires, groundskeepers, and fans all have the night chronicled from their perspective, along with how they got to that night, and what it all meant for them at that time in their lives.

Asked about his favorite discovery that he unearthed in the course of his research, Frost says:  “Many discoveries: the story of Luis Tiant’s moving reunion with his parents, who’d been caught and left behind in Cuba after Castro came to power; the rise and fall and rise of Bernie Carbo; the remarkable relationship between Sparky Anderson and his quartet of superstar players. This is my favorite era in baseball, because I followed the game much more closely then, and to revisit it through the personal experience of the people involved brought it all back in vivid and memorable ways. Every player in this game has a story, and they are all, in one way or another, remarkable.

The book spends a fair amount of time focusing on what baseball was like before free agency. When asked how the game has changed since then, Frost responds: “Games Six and Seven of the ’75 World Series are the last baseball games played before the advent of free agency. The rules of the game off the field, for better or worse (certainly worse for the players), had remained unchanged for 100 years; within a year that structure had been dynamited, and all of sports — and its increasing obsession with the dollar — hasn’t been the same since. You couldn’t invent a more revealing time capsule to show us where we were in 1975 and where we’ve traveled since.”

It really is a time capsule, giving you the most complete picture you can imagine some 34 years after this game was played. The two golf books mentioned took place in 1913 and 1930 respectively, and Frost made those time periods come to life in living detail. To bring 1975 back, then, is a piece of cake.

If you hadn’t guessed, I really enjoyed this book.

Game Six: Cincinnati, Boston, and the 1975 World Series: The Triumph of America’s Pastime

Fighting Words “Lost Chapter” on Patriots

Last week I posted an interview with Jerry Beach, the author of Fighting Words: The Media, The Red Sox and How Boston Finally Won It All.

Beach had mentioned that he had written out a chapter on the New England Patriots and their relationship with the media, but that the chapter had been excluded from the book.

On his blog, Beach has posted the contents of that chapter, spread across three parts. Part one looks at why baseball lends itself to more thorough coverage than football as well as coverage of the Patriots in the early part of the franchise, leading up to the Bill Parcells era. Nick Cafardo explains why he enjoyed Parcells’ tenure as head coach:

“He was an interesting guy in his press conferences,” said Cafardo, who was moved from the Red Sox beat to the Patriots beat when Ron Borges was promoted to NFL columnist in 1996. “He wasn’t afraid to say things about players. He would go off on the writers. He was just very entertaining and he would always fill up your notebook.”

As we know, it’s not whether you win or lose, it all about whether you fill up the reporter’s notebook. That quote kind of tells you all you need to know about the mentality of a lot of sportswriters.

Part two of the chapter looks at the hiring of Bill Belichick, along with a look at his time with the Cleveland Browns, and how writers from that city still talk about how much they dislike him. Beach looks at Belichick’s refusal to provide colorful assessments of players – good or bad – immediately following a game, noting:

Such reluctance to discuss particular players runs counter to the needs of writers, who often need a quote about a particular player for a feature. And Belichick’s singular focus doesn’t leave much room for reflection or prognostication, which are also regular topics for writers.

Part threeof the chapter examines the Patriots policies on talking about injuries…noting that while Belichick gets labeled as uncooperative in this area, his practices aren’t all that different from what goes on all over the league, and explains how talking too much about injuries can be a disadvantage come game day. The chapter also looks at the Patriots attempts to coach their players on speaking with the media, and how the team has embraced new media:

They were the first American professional sports team to embrace new media in 1995, when patriots.com was launched. That year, the Patriots also became the first sports team to publish its own full-color weekly newspaper (Patriots Football Weekly).

In 1997, the Patriots began a nightly online program called “Patriots Video News.” The team also has an online radio station, carries all Belichick and Brady press conferences live online and archives the audio and transcriptions of these press conferences online.

These moves were ahead of all the other teams in the league, many of who do the same things. “Spygate” is touched on, and Beach notes that this incident “provided the most resounding proof yet: Under Belichick, the Patriots talked about what they wanted to when they wanted to and on their own terms.”

Beach notes that this chapter on the Patriots had to be cut from the final book because “there was just no way to put this in the book and maintain some sort of flow.” He adds that his original idea was to write “about how the Patriots, Celtics and Bruins are all secondary to the Sox in Boston,”  but that the end result got bogged down in “minutiae of Bill Belichick’s first two years and the Brady/Bledsoe controversy in particular.”

In the end, I’m rather glad that the chapter on the Patriots was omitted, not because of a lack of material, or because it wouldn’t have been interesting, but because it wouldn’t have fit in with what was a Red Sox dominated book.

I’ve never understood the fascination some in the media have with creating a competition between the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins. They make it out as if fans can’t pull equally hard for all teams, but have to choose one over the other. The media might put the Red Sox ahead of the other teams in Boston, but I don’t think real sports fans in the region do. The chapter has some interesting material, and I encourage you to look it over. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before there is an entire book put together on the Patriots media practices anyway.