Saul Wisnia knows a thing or two about the Red Sox and Fenway Park. He grew up in Boston near the historic ballpark, and he’s been going there ever since he was a child growing up in the golden era of Red Sox baseball after being born just before the famous 1967 season began.
He’s put that knowledge to use in the forms of various books, and he’s done the same with his new book, Fenway Park: The Centennial — 100 Years of Red Sox Baseball.
Wisnia took some time to answer a few questions for NESN.com about his history as a follower of the Sox and about his new book. Read the entire transcript below.
NESN.com: What is your fondest Fenway Park memory?
Saul Wisnia: I have two. I was at Game 6 of the 1975 World Series with my family as an 8-year-old, and have distinct memories of watching Luis Tiant warm up in the bullpen (I was sitting in the right field corner right nearby) and the hush that fell over the crowd when Fred Lynn ran into the centerfield wall. I was pretty tired by the time Carlton Fisk his home run, so I don’t recall that vividly. One of the coolest parts of writing the book was getting to talk to Lynn about that game and hear about his “crash” through his point of view. Everybody in the park thought he was knocked out, but he was conscious -– he just couldn’t feel his legs for a while and was afraid he was paralyzed. So he lay still.
In more recent years, it has to be Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS. I had been at the awful Yankee blowout in Game 3, sitting in one of the last rows of the bleachers, and this provided the ultimate contrast. I was with my friend (and fellow author) Bill Nowlin in his fantastic first-base side seats, and from the moment a sun-splashed Pedro Martinez walked in from the bullpen amidst reverent applause that sounded like what you’d hear at a POPS concert, and young cancer survivor Jordan Leandre -– who I have interviewed several times in my “day job” at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute –- sang the National Anthem, it was an unforgettable evening. And when Papi hit his bloop single to win it, we all celebrated like the Red Sox had already won the pennant. The momentum had completely shifted, and we were on our way.
NESN.com: Who was your favorite Red Sox player growing up?
SW: Like everyone in my generation -– I was born a few weeks before Opening Day, 1967 -– I loved Yaz and imitated him in Little League right down to tugging on my pants and spinning my bat. I’d throw balls high off the back wall of my parents’ house and pretend it was the Green Monster and I was Yaz playing a ricochet. He was on every Red Sox team of my life until I was 16; after that my favorites became Dewey Evans and Jim Rice. I still don’t understand why Dewey has not gotten more Hall of Fame support, and I wish they’d retire his number.
NESN.com: Aside from the Green Monster, what do you think is the coolest feature of Fenway Park?
SW: Everybody there seems to have a story. I know a lot has been made of the “pink hat” invasion in recent years, but I have found that even a lot of the people wearing pink have great tales to share about their passion for Fenway and how it’s been passed down by a parent or grandparent. This familial aspect even extends to the employees -– I never knew how many second- and third-generation vendors there were (along with a lot of siblings and married couples) until I started talking to them.
NESN.com: What is the most amazing Fenway Park story you’ve heard throughout your years of covering Boston baseball?
SW: I guess there are different ways to look at this. In terms of famous feats that happened during games, I guess the story about the Green Monster cameraman who stayed trained on Fisk during his home run wave in Game 6 because he saw a huge rat atop his camera is a pretty good one, but most people have heard about that. In terms of the not-so-famous feats, it’s hard to vendor ’Rob Barry’s feat of throwing a bag of peanuts from the first base box seats clear across to the third-base side and into the hands of a buddy –- during a game! Rob pitched for Northeastern, so he could really hurl those nuts.
I’m always looking for more stories, however, and a bunch of them that didn’t get in the book are going to wind up on my blog, saulwisnia.blogspot.com. Please take a look and if you have a story of your own to share, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe you’ll wind up in the second edition.
NESN.com: What would you say separates your book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, from other Fenway Park books/Red Sox books of years past?
SW: There have been a bunch of books that have included details about Fenway’s famous features -– the Wall, the Pesky Pole, etc. -– but what I think sets this one apart is that it tells the story in a historical narrative from the pre-1912 era all the way up to today. The story unwinds through the eyes of the people who played, worked, and cheered there, and in several cases it’s several generations of people telling the tale.
I conducted interviews over more than 20 years that formed the basis of the book, so in a lot of cases the people talking are no longer alive to share their stories – so this is their lens. When you walk onto Yawkey Way, the first guy you see is Nicky Jacobs, selling peanuts. He’s been there about 30 years, but before him his dad was at the same spot selling peanuts. And before HIM, his grandfather had the spot -– all the way back to Opening Day, 1912. Nicky’s cart is partially made from pieces of his grandfather’s cart.
When you throw in all the wonderful, rare photos my editors and I worked to uncover, and all the sidebars about Fenway’s non-baseball history –- in the 1920s, for instance, high school football games there regularly outdrew the Red Sox –- and the DVD of rare archival footage including newsreels going back to the 1930s, narrated by the great Carlton Fisk — it makes for a package I hope people will really enjoy.
For more information on Fenway Park: The Centennial — 100 Years of Red Sox Baseball, click here.
For more information on Saul Wisnia, click here.