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Inside Fenway Park: An Icon At 100

Airs Monday, March 26, 2012 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: A policeman on horseback stands outside Fenway Park; colored photograph.

It’s been putting on the show for 100 years — America’s oldest ballpark. Old and quirky, with its odd outfield walls and intimate feel, Fenway Park is more than a ballpark or historic site: it’s a touchstone to our past and cornerstone of a modern city.

The exterior of Fenway Park, 1914.
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Above: The exterior of Fenway Park, 1914.

Red Sox players walking on the field at Fenway Park, 1912 World Series.
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Above: Red Sox players walking on the field at Fenway Park, 1912 World Series.

Mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, grandfather of John F. Kennedy, throwing out ball on April 20, 1912, for Fenway's first professional/official game against the New York Highlanders, later known as the Yankees.
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Above: Mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, grandfather of John F. Kennedy, throwing out ball on April 20, 1912, for Fenway's first professional/official game against the New York Highlanders, later known as the Yankees.

Now, venture inside and meet the people and hear the stories that give Fenway Park its soul. From bat boys to locker room attendants, from the facilities supervisor to groundskeepers, from hot dog vendors to scoreboard keepers, these workers, fans and ballplayers form a continuum that not only binds them together but defines the ballpark that hosts them.

A journey through a century of heartbreak and jubilation, the new National Geographic Special, "Inside Fenway Park: An Icon At 100," features interviews with columnist Mike Barnicle, author Glenn Stout, commentator Dick Flavin and ESPN senior writer Howard Bryant, along with archival footage and photos interwoven with a Yankees-Red Sox matchup.

The romance between the people of Boston and Fenway Park began in 1912. While other great structures had been built for wealthy patrons of the arts, Fenway Park was a building for the people of Boston. Working class masons, ironworkers and carpenters not only built it — they went inside to enjoy themselves.

Twenty-four thousand of those fans — rich and poor — packed Fenway Park on its grand opening day, April 20, 1912. Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, grandfather of John F. Kennedy, threw out the first pitch. The Red Sox won a 7-6 victory over the New York Highlanders, a team that the following year would become the New York Yankees.

Fenway Park owes its distinctive shape to the sloping land on which it was built by owner John Taylor. When the field was graded, it brought the land below the street, and a 25-foot retaining wall was built, precursor to today’s Green Monster. The Red Sox won 105 games in their first year and made it to the World Series.

Red Sox teammates Babe Ruth, Ernie Shore, Rube Foster and Del Gainer take a breather (1915-1917).
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Above: Red Sox teammates Babe Ruth, Ernie Shore, Rube Foster and Del Gainer take a breather (1915-1917).

Knowing that more fans would want to see the series, they enlarged the stadium, enclosing it entirely for the first time. Attendance continued to grow, and Fenway became home to the first baseball superstar — Babe Ruth. Ruth’s trade to New York in 1920 gave rise to one of the Red Sox’s team legends: the “Curse of the Bambino.”

In 1934, new owner Tom Yawkey spent lavishly to renovate park, but three months before opening day, a fire destroyed much of it. Yawkey redoubled his efforts and put hundreds of people to work in the depths of the Depression, forever endearing Fenway to the people of Boston. He covered the wooden left field wall with tin, now known as the Green Monster. He installed a manual scoreboard, today the last hand-operated scoreboard in the American League.

The final change to the playing field was a result of the extraordinary hitting of Ted Williams, who, in 1939, set a rookie record that still stands: 145 RBIs. He also hit 31 home runs — most over the right field fence. Not satisfied, Yawkey decided to bring the fence in closer. In 1940, bullpens were carved out of right field, shortening it by 23 feet. They’ve been known ever since as Williamsburg.

History of Fenway Park

Explore this interactive timeline of Fenway Park through the years.

From the 1940s to the 1960s, the Red Sox and Fenway struggled. The Curse of the Bambino wasn’t the only factor contributing to the decline. The Red Sox suffered from a self-inflicted wound, refusing to integrate long after others had done so. In 1945, the team was pressured into giving Jackie Robinson, Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams a tryout. None of them were signed, though two, Robinson and Jethro, would go on to become Major League Rookies of the Year.

Features of Fenway Park

Learn about the features of Fenway Park.

By the 1990s, more than 2,000,000 fans poured into aging Fenway every year, but the park was falling into disrepair and its future looked bleak. Many thought it should be torn down, but in 2002, a new ownership group took over, headed by principal owners John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino.

They were convinced that there was a way not just to preserve Fenway Park, but to make it into a thriving business as well. They brought in Janet Marie Smith to modify and restore the park, adding seats on top of the Green Monster, now the most popular viewing spot in the park.

Red Sox Hall of Fame

View the players in the Red Sox Hall of Fame, and read about their history in baseball.

In 2004, just a few years after what seemed like certain destruction, the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years. And in 2007, they did it again. The Curse of the Bambino was laid to rest. Far more important, the victories drew a sharp contrast to the failed teams of the 1950s who’d been hobbled by prejudice.

"Inside Fenway Park: An Icon At 100" pays tribute to those who set the stage for each and every game.

Video

Preview: Inside Fenway Park: An Icon At 100

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