It is a New England landmark, no less so than the Bunker Hill Monument, the Old Man of the Mountain, or Walden Pond. And when major league baseball is no longer played in Fenway Park, there is a good chance that the left field wall will be preserved, either as part of the next park or as a monument to the first century of American League baseball in Boston.
It was built to keep baseballs in play, but its beauty is the memory of all the balls that have sailed over it. No one knows when the left field wall was first called the Green Monster, but it stands upright as the signature feature of this singular baseball park.
It is probably the Wall’s appeal to young people that explains its lasting fame. A six-year-old at his or her first big league game might walk into Camden Yards in Baltimore, Jacobs Field in Cleveland, or even Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, and never remember anything specific about the park itself. But a little kid going to his or her first game in Boston is sure to remember the first breathtaking glance at the huge wall in left field. It’s big and green and unlike any facade in professional sports. Children remember the Green Monster the way they remember their first look at the Grand Canyon or the Golden Gate Bridge. Size matters. The Green Monster is impossible to ignore or forget.
More than any quirky feature, the Wall has come to symbolize and encapsulate the Fenway experience. The Boston Garden had its parquet floor (which has been moved to the FleetCenter), Wrigley Field has ivy-covered bricks in the outfield, and Notre Dame football is played in the shadow of the Golden Dome under the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus, but Fenway’s Wall is the most identifiable feature of any sports venue in America.
When network television cameras broadcast a Red Sox game across the country, fans in Des Moines see the Wall and instantly know that the game is being played in Boston. It’s like hearing the chowder-thick accent of Ted Kennedy on a newscast. It’s everything Boston.
The Wall is a larger part of Boston’s baseball history than Ted Williams or Carl Yastrzemski. It is worshiped by hitters, feared by pitchers, and alternately mastered and butchered by outfielders who want to play its unconventional caroms. Managers have lost their hair trying to make the Wall work in their favor, and too many pitchers and hitters have changed their natural practices in an attempt to take advantage of what the Wall offers and denies. The Baltimore Oriole pitchers used to do an imitation of the short Sox righty Marty Pattin pitching in Fenway. The routine involved staring in for the sign from the catcher, getting the sign, then turning around to look at the Wall and shaking off the sign. Once. Twice. Three times. That was Marty Pattin, scared to pitch with the Green Monster lurking over his right shoulder.
Fenway’s left field wall is 37 feet high and capped by a 23-foot screen that prevents balls from peppering the pedestrians and venders on Lansdowne Street. The Wall is 240 feet long and was originally constructed from thirty thousand pounds of Toncan iron in 1934. Its reinforced steel and concrete foundation sinks 22 feet below the field.
Signs advertising whiskey, razor blades, and soap covered the Wall for more than ten seasons before it was painted green in 1947. Today Monster Green is a custom blend made by John Smith, a commercial painter in Wilmington, Massachusetts, who inherited the job from his father, the late Ken Smith. The initials of Thomas A. Yawkey and his wife, Jean, are set in Morse code on its scoreboard. The Wall was rebuilt in 1976: old tin panels were replaced by a Formica-type covering that yielded more consistent caroms and less noise (the tin panels were cut into small squares and sold, the proceeds going to the Jimmy Fund). When the old wall was in place, batting practice shots in an empty Fenway produced a clang; now it’s something closer to a thud.
At the foul pole, the Wall is only 309 feet and 3 inches from home plate, but for most of the century the Red Sox posted a sign that read “315.” Club officials refused to allow anyone to measure the real distance, but when the Boston Globe snuck into Fenway and came up with the new figure, the Sox grudgingly changed the sign. Major league rules today stipulate that no fence in any new park be closer than 325 feet from home plate, but this will probably be waived if the Sox choose to duplicate the Wall in their next park. The term “grandfather clause” was invented for Fenway Park.
The Wall’s massive dimensions make it appear closer than it is, and that, too, is part of its appeal. Baseball fans are dreamers, and most of them played a little hardball in their day. Is there a healthy male in his twenties, thirties, or forties who doesn’t believe he could stand in Fenway’s batter’s box and line a couple of shots off or over the Green Monster?
From Fenway: A Biography in Words and Pictures by Dan Shaughnessy and Stan Grossfeld.
Copyright © 1999 by Dan Shaughnessy and Stan Grossfeld. Reprinted with permission.