Today In History – First Red Sox Patriots’ Day Game

19 April 1902 – One hundred five years ago today, the Boston American League franchise took the field at Huntington Avenue Grounds against the Baltimore Orioles (who would later become the New York Yankees) and rallied from three runs down in the ninth to win 7-6 in the first-ever Patriots’ Day home game in team history. The holiday in itself is observed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in honor of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War, fought on that date in 1775; since 1969, Patriots’ Day has been observed on the third Monday in April. The Red Sox have made it a tradition to play a game at Fenway Park on that date every year since 1960, not including scheduled off-days in 1965 and 1967 and games missed due to the players’ strike in 1995,[1] with the start time usually scheduled to coincide with that of the Boston Marathon, giving ticket holders a chance to watch the race at Kenmore Square following the game.

In 1902, however, the holiday was observed as it was every year until 1969 on 19 April; as it fell on a Saturday, Boston decided to take advantage of this opportunity and received permission from the league to open its season four days ahead of every other club in the American League. Records at Retrosheet show that Cy Young, who led the league in wins (33), ERA (1.62), and strikeouts (158) in 1901, was given the ball by manager Jimmy Collins to start the game for Boston, opposed by Tom Hughes, though it does not show who eventually won the game for the home team nor who scored the game-winning run. The following year, the team began the tradition of making the contest a morning baseball game; with a 10:00 AM start time, Boston defeated the Philadelphia Athletics, 9-4.[2]

[1],[2] Patriots’ Day and the Red Sox. Boston’s Pastime, retrieved on 18 April 2007.

Today In History – Fenway Park Opens

09 April 1912 – Ninety-five years ago today, Fenway Park hosts its first-ever baseball contest with the Boston Red Sox defeating the Harvard Crimson 2-0 in an exhibition contest amid snow flurries and near-freezing temperatures. Over the past eleven seasons, the Boston franchise had played each and every one of its home games at the Huntington Avenue Grounds, which had been hastily built between March and April of 1901 after the city had been awarded a franchise in the newly-minted American League. The original capacity of that park was 11,500 people and, as was typical of early ballparks built in urban settings, Huntington had some rather odd dimensions. To the left field foul pole, it was 350 feet; to left center, it was 440 feet. The right field foul pole was a mere 280 feet away, but to center field, a ball had to travel an impossible 530 feet to clear the fences. Oddly enough, when renovations were made in 1908, the center field fence was moved 635 feet from home plate![1]

In June of 1911, then-Red Sox owner John I Taylor announced plans to build a new ballpark in the Fenway section of Boston on a plot owned by the Fenway Realty company, of which the Taylors were substantial stockholders. The announcement came at a time when baseball was experiencing a building boom of new ballparks like Shibe Park in Philadelphia, Comisky Park in Chicago, and the Polo Grounds in New York. Ground was broken in September that same year on land that as recently as the late nineteenth century had been nothing more than a swampy saltwater marsh and the Red Sox played their last game at the old ballpark on 07 October, an 8-1 win over the Washington Senators.

The new ballpark was designed by Osborn Engineering with a capacity of 35,000 seats and construction was overseen by James McLaughlin; in total, the new ballpark cost $650,000 to build.[2] Following the exhibition win, Boston’s initial opener was suppose to take place on 18 April against New York, but steady rains for two straight days delayed the first regular season until 20 April, with the Red Sox defeating the Highlanders 7-6 in 11 innings. Under player-manager Jack Stahl, Boston would go on to win 105 games in 1912 and the World Series championship, besting the New York Giants four games to three.

[1], [2] Ballparks by Munsey and Suppes.

Today In History – Ted Williams Makes His Boston Debut

13 March 1938Ted Williams dons a Red Sox uniform for the first time in an exhibition game, playing right field and batting third in a 6-2 exhibition loss to Cincinnati in Sarasota, FL; Williams is hitless in four at-bats. Born in San Diego on 30 August 1918, the same day that Carl Mays wins two complete game efforts for the Red Sox on the way to Boston’s fourth World Series championship in seven seasons, Williams played high school baseball at Herbert Hoover High School. After graduation, the youngster turned pro and signed on to play for his hometown Padres of the Pacific Coast League; it soon became apparent that he was the real deal and scouts quickly got the word back to American and National League clubs.

In the fall of 1937, then-Boston general manager Eddie Collins made the trip west to broker a deal with the Padres for the rights to Williams; the trip paid off not only with the Red Sox sending Dom Dallesandro, Al Niemiec, and cash to the Padres in exchange for the 19-year-old future Hall of Fame player, but Collins’s trip also landed another future Hall of Fame player, Bobby Doerr. After his spring training stint with the Sox in 1938, Williams was farmed out to Minneapolis of the American Association; a year later, he arrived in the majors for good, becoming one of the best hitters over the next two decades and perhaps the greatest ever, in his own words.

Today In History – Ellis Burks Returns To Boston

05 February 2004 – Ellis Burks returns to the team where he started his major league career and signs a one-year deal with Boston for the 2004 season. As a rookie in 1987, Burks combined speed and power to earn him a starting role as the everyday centerfield with the Red Sox and became just the third 20-20 player in team history (20 home runs, 20 steals in one season). However, despite continued success over the next five seasons, sporadic injuries that kept him out of the lineup for short stretches and concerns for his long-term health eventually led Boston to let him leave via free agency after the 1992 season. When healthy, Burks produced and enjoyed success in his later career with Colorado, San Francisco, and Cleveland, earning MVP considerations with the Rockies in 1996 with 40 home runs, 128 RBI, 142 runs scored, 32 stolen bases, and a batting .344 average. Although injuries continued to haunt him, relegating him to designated hitting duties for the final four years of his career, Burks continued to produce, even cracking another 32 home runs and driving in 91 RBI while batting .301 in 2002 at the age of 37.

Following his release from Cleveland after the 2003 season, Burks looked for an opportunity to play at least one more season and took Boston’s offer of $750,000 to platoon as the designated hitter. Unfortunately, his season was cut short in late April as knee surgery cost him all but 11 games during Boston’s championship run. He did make two appearances late in the season, the first being his final Fenway Park at-bat on 23 September when he appeared as a pinch hitter and produced a single, much to the delight of the home crowd. In his final appearance, the first game of a doubleheader on 02 October in Baltimore, he started as the designated hitter and went 1-for-2 with a run scored before getting lifted in favor of rookie Kevin Youkilis, Burk’s knee sore from his trip around the bases one last time. That last game also happened to be the 2,000th of his career and, less than a month later, the veteran would have the dubious honor of carrying the World Series trophy off the plane in Boston after the team captured its first title in 86 years, the only time that Burks was part of a championship team.

Today In History – Sherm Feller Passes

27 January 1994Sherm Feller, who had served as Fenway Park’s public address announcer since the magical 1967 Impossible Dream season, dies of a heart attack one day after the Red Sox hire Dan Duquette to replace Lou Gorman as general manager. Feller was best known for his trademark statement made before the start of every Red Sox home game: “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… welcome to Fenway Park.” Prior to his stint as the voice of the Red Sox, Feller was a well-known area disc jockey on WEEI, host of the popular Club Midnight, and was privileged to acquaint himself with many mid-twentieth century artists and performers, including the likes of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Tommy Dorsey, and other well-known entertainers. He also wrote several songs, including the Top-40 hit “Summertime, Summertime” and “She Was Five And He Was Ten” (sung by then-wife Judy Valentine). However, it was in his role as Red Sox announcer that Feller became a Boston legend, well-liked not only by the club that he served but the people who came to Fenway Park every season for the 26 years that he served in that position. Even today, his voice and that trademark statement can still be heard before every Red Sox game broadcast on the New England Sports Network.