One of baseball’s last hand-operated scoreboards is inside the Wall. There a few part-time Sox employees slide 2-pound 12-by-16-inch numbers into slots to tell fans how the Sox are doing and how things are shaping up around the American League. When there’s a pennant race and fans are rooting for the Sox to overtake the Yankees, there can be quite a bit of suspense when the kids behind the green door take down a zero and show them that the Orioles have just scored six against New York in Yankee Stadium. No electronic message board can duplicate this thrill.
The Wall has no permanent bathroom, although portables have been used. It’s dark, dirty, and designed for Quasimodo. Rat poison lines the floor. It’s boiling in the summertime and freezing in the spring and fall. But the kids get to talk with opposing left fielders, and Ted Williams says some of his favorite Fenway memories are chats with the faceless, Oz-like men behind the scoreboard. Tours of Fenway were instituted in the 1990s, and fans are allowed to duck into the room in the Wall. Some of the graffiti are pretty rough, but if you look hard enough you may find some signatures from members of the ground crew and American League players of the last half century. Walk into this secret sanctuary and the first thing you see is the names of Wall workers Dave Savoy, Jim Reid, and Billy Fitzgerald under the heading “1961 All-Star Game.” One can only presume that these three young men manned the big board for the midsummer classic during the John F. Kennedy administration.
“I worked inside the Wall for a couple of summers,’” recalls Joe Cochran, the equipment manager of the Red Sox. “Not every night, but enough games to know what it’s like. One night it was so hot, I wound up working in just my boots and boxer shorts. There’s drainpipes out there, and I used to see rats’ noses poking through. We had a portable toilet, so that helped. Later, when I’d be in the dugout with the team, I’d call to the scoreboard and tell them the Yankees or Tigers just got ten runs in the first inning. The poor kid would post the ten and the whole crowd would groan.” In 1975, the late NBC director Harry Coyle put a camera inside the left field wall. Legend has it that a rat appeared, which froze the camera operator and resulted in the best baseball video clip of all time. The unattended camera was focused on home plate and caught Carlton Fisk waving his arms, willing his fly ball into fair territory. His drive caromed off the left field foul pole, and NBC was rewarded with a clip capturing what TV Guide in 1998 ranked as the greatest moment in the history of sports television.
There are plenty of other signatures inside the wall. John Stone and John Giuliotti of the ground crew signed while working the 1986 World Series. To the right of their signatures is the autograph of Jimmy Piersall, a master defensive outfielder and baserunner for the Sox in the 1950s. He became famous when his biography, Fear Strikes Out, was made into a major motion picture, starring Anthony Perkins, of Psycho fame. Piersall went from Fenway to a mental institution, but in 1957 he was idolized by the kids inside the Wall and they kept track of his home runs, both at Fenway and on the road; the evidence is still there. Other graffiti indicate that somebody inside the Wall logged the home runs hit by Ted Williams in 1951 (there were 30). Meanwhile, there are signatures from current big leaguers: Andy Pettitte, Troy O’Leary, Curt Schilling, Scott Kamieniecki, Darren Holmes, Chuck Crim, Chris Bosio, Chuck Knoblauch, Steve Bedrosian, Scott Erickson, and Tim Salmon. There’s a message from Oil Can Boyd—“The Can”—and a marking from Boo Ferriss, 1945–50. There’s even graffiti from the turbulent ’60s—“Free Angela” and “Stop the War.”
According to Joe Mooney, the Sox groundskeeper, the Wall is a fine conductor of heat. When Fenway was buried in snow on April Fool’s Day, 1997 (while the Sox were opening the season on the West Coast), Mooney piled snow up against the Wall, claiming it melted faster that way.
In July 1998, the second year of interleague play, the Phillies veteran infielder Rex Hudler made Fenway part of his nostalgic tour. He snatched some ivy from the bricks at Wrigley Field, then went inside the Wall at Fenway and came away with a broken red light about the size of a small satellite dish. Hudler said someday he’ll tell his kids that Mo Vaughn hit a screaming line drive right through the light. Hudler also used an old bolt to scratch his name inside the Wall. (The thirty-eight-year-old Hudler was released by the Phillies a day after his Fenway heist.) One can only hope that Barry Bonds and Moises Alou sign their names when the NL Stars come back to Fenway in the summer of 1999.
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.