Over the years, the Yankees have been so successful at Fenway Park that you could say they owned the place. In 1920, that literally was true. As part of the sale of Babe Ruth, cash-strapped Red Sox owner Harry Frazee received a $300,000 loan from Yankees owner Jacob Rupert, secured by a mortgage on a ballpark that still was fairly new.
Holding a note on that real estate was a big deal back then because Fenway was quite the sight in its youth. When it opened on April 20, 1912, for a game against the New York Highlanders (later renamed the Yankees), people could not get over the size of it.
"After seeing so many contests at the Huntington Avenue Grounds or the South End Grounds, Fenway seemed huge to them," Glenn Stout wrote in his new book "Fenway 1912."
A hundred years later, of course, size still is Fenway's calling card, for just the opposite reason. It has stature because it is so small.
And Fenway never seems so small, and so significant, as when the Yankees visit. The park itself is, and always has been, one of the major players in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. It is the rivalry's only constant.
Fenway is a metaphor for the differences between the clubs: the all-time champion vs. the perennial underdog. Unlike Yankee Stadium, which is grand and larger than life, Fenway is intimate and gritty. Fenway has no monument park, no decorative frieze and no towering third deck. It has seats that are close to the field and a big green leftfield wall that Bucky Dent could clear with one timely swing.
Fenway is where the Red Sox have last licks and the Yankees mostly have had the last word, such as Dent's 1978 home run in a one-game playoff weeks after the "Boston Massacre," in which the Yankees swept four games by a total score of 42-9. Fenway is where Mike Mussina nearly threw a perfect game, where Mickey Mantle hit a 480-foot home run.
That is all part of the rivalry, too. It still is hot because the Red Sox never have given up. What were all the home side's highlights on its own stage in these past 100 years? "There weren't many, until 2004," Stout said in an interview. But that made it so much sweeter for people at Fenway when Dave Roberts stole second and began the comeback from a three-games-to-none deficit in the ALCS for their first post-Ruth world championship.
History tied Fenway, the Red Sox and Yankees together from the start. Earlier than that, even. The park was designed by Osborn Engineering, which later built the original Yankee Stadium. Of course it had to be New York that was visiting for the first game, with a crowd so large that people stood four deep on the edges of the field behind temporary ropes (the first pitch was by Mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, 48 years before his grandson, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was elected U.S. president).
More than happenstance had to be at play for the first Red Sox no-hitter at Fenway (by Rube Foster on June 21, 1916) to have been against the Yankees, or that the first opponent home run over the restored post-fire leftfield wall in 1934 was by a Yankee (Ruth, naturally).
As timeless as Fenway Park might seem, Stout points out that it has remained alive and relevant because it has constantly evolved. His research tells him that the Fenway Park of today would be completely unrecognizable to anyone who was there for Boston's 7-6, 11-inning win 100 years ago Friday. For instance, he said, the structure was not fully enclosed as it is today. There was no press box (the first one came in 1949, just in time for young Vin Scully to make his broadcast debut on a Maryland-Boston University football game). What's more, the author said the leftfield wall was not commonly called "The Green Monster" in print until the 1980s.
The footprint has remained the same, though. There was no choice, given the property. For instance, field level is well below adjacent Lansdowne Street, so of course they had to build a tall fence to separate the two.
In any case, the quirky dimensions and quaint architecture have provided just the right-size cauldron to percolate a century of Yankees-Red Sox passion. People once debated about how many home runs Joe DiMaggio could hit there if he had been traded for Ted Williams. Fenway is where Jason Varitek pushed his mitt into Alex Rodriguez's face, where Don Zimmer charged Pedro Martinez.
Fenway still is huge. And it is the intensity that owns the place.