Friday, January 6, 2012

Author Interview with Richard A. Johnson

Today we're talking with Richard A. Johnson, author of Field of Our Fathers: An Illustrated History of Fenway Park 


FQ: First, can you tell us a little about the title, Field of Our Fathers? The significance and why you chose that as your book's title.


I figured that most of the competing titles would be something like, Fenway 100, or A Centennial History of Fenway Park, etc. and I wanted a title that would both give the book shelf life beyond the centennial and convey the nostalgic nature of the park. I also wanted to make sure readers knew this was not just another history of the Red Sox.

FQ: There's a tremendous amount of research that has gone into this book. How long did you work on this project and where did you do find so many nuggets of history related to Fenway?


From the time I signed a contract it was roughly a year and a half of work but honestly it drew upon my nearly four decades as a writer and historian as well as my hundreds of trips to Fenway as a fan.
I have also been a collector of baseball publications and Fenway related artifacts for many years. It was nice to finally have a platform from which I could share them with readers.

Most of the research for this book was done in the micro-text department of the main branch of the Boston Public Library at Copley Square. That facility is nothing less than an "Alladin's Cave" of primary source material drawn from Boston's many daily newspapers. Three generations ago Boston boasted of seven daily papers as well as niche publications like the Afro-American Boston Guardian. All of these as well as newspapers and publications I discovered online were of help to me.
However, sometimes you simply get lucky and such was the case roughly a year ago when an old neighbor from my childhood home of Worcester, Mass called me at my office and wanted me to see some scrapbooks he acquired at an estate sale.

These turned out to be the scrapbooks and financial records of the famed Pare Marquette sports teams affiliated with a Knight of Columbus lodge in South Boston. Not only did Babe Ruth remain a director of the Pere Marquettes long after his sale to the NY Yankees but the team divided it's football games between Braves Field and Fenway Park.

Their story represented one of the breakthroughs for my book as I found evidence the team not only was a major financial supporter of local church related charities such as the Columbus Day Nursery but also was the bellewether for the NFL's arrival in Boston as they played the NFL Champion New York Giants at Fenway in November 1927. The Pere Marquette charitable efforts came more than a decade before the Catholic Worker Movement supported similar endeavors and their game with the Giants would form the basis of a nice Hollywood script.

I am great believer of the old adage that hard work begets luck and such was the case with the appearance of these invaluble scrapbooks from my buddy Moose Savage. I also had several similar experiences with locating items on EBay that helped me tell the story of America's oldest big league ballpark.

FQ: Was it hard deciding what to include/what not to include? Were there things you had to leave out due to space considerations?


Oh yes, there were several events that could have received more space such as FDR's final campaign speech in November 1944. I'd have loved to include the entire speech but I ran out of room. I tried to focus on the history most folks didn't know (including me until I began work in earnest) about Fenway such as the many boxing & wrestling, matches, collegiate & high school football, concerts and the like.


FQ: Would you give our readers a sneak peak at some of your favorite, lesser known tidbits about Fenway?


Here are a few...
*The national high school football championship games played between Everett (Ma) High School and Oak Park (Il) High School in 1912 and 1914. The '12 game was the first significant non-baseball event held at Fenway and the '14 game was an 80-0 win by Everett in a season in which they outscored their opponent's by an aggregate score of 600-0.
*The arrival of the three circus elephants purchased by the children of Boston for $6,700 comprised of contributions of nickels and dimes from 70,000 kids. Fenway was the venue where an overflow crowd of 50,000 kids and their parents welcomed the elephants to Boston amidst marching bands, politicians, jugglers, and clowns.
*The June 5, 1915 baseball/lacrosse doubleheader featuring the Red Sox versus the White Sox and the Boston Lacrosse Club versus the New York Lacrosse A.A. in the nightcap. The Red Sox won 4-2 and the Boston Lacrosse Club won by a score of 9-2.
*The Pere Marquette vs New York Giants football game in November 1927 that served as an "audition" for Boston's entry to the NFL.
*Glasgow Rangers 2-2 draw with the Boston Wonder Workers of the American Soccer league before a crowd of 10,000.
*On September 6, 1932 World Lightweight Champion Kid Chocolate defeats Steve Smith in a 10 round decision in one of the many bouts fought by black boxers at Fenway during the 20's and 30's.
*In 1932 alone there were 47 high school football games played at the park.
*The park was home to pro football's Redskins (NFL, 33-36), Shamrocks (original AFL,36-37), minor league Bears ('40), Yanks (NFL, 44-48) as well as the Patriots (Afl 63-68). Among the collegiate football teams that played "home" games at Fenway were Dartmouth, Tufts, Boston College, and Boston University.
*The Harlem Globetrotters played at Fenway in 1954 and 1955.
*The Boston Jazz Festival showcased such greats as Dizzy Gillispie and Ray Charles in 1959 and the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival was moved to Fenway where such stars as Stevie Wonder performed.
*Presidential candidates Barry Goldwater and Eugene McCarthy spoke to large crowds in 1964 and 1968 respectively.
*Soccer icon Pele and his club team, Santos FC, dazzle Boston fans as they score a 7-1 win over the hometown Boston Beacons in the lone season at Fenway Park.
*The park's centennial celebration begins with a series of high school and collegiate hockey games featuring men's and women's teams from across New England.

FQ: Okay, you talk about both Boston University and Boston College in your book so I have to ask, BU or BC? (This is a trick question - I have a child attending one of these schools).

BU..Several relatives are proud Terriers. No Eagles as yet.

FQ: On a related, but more serious note, there's chatter on the internet about having the 2012 Beanpot Tournament held at Fenway to commemorate the Park's anniversary. Any chance of this, or is it too late? What about 2013?


I think both are complete non-starters as the Beanpot is a Garden treasure.

FQ: I absolutely love the reproduced ticket stubs that are included in the book. Where did you find the originals?


Many I collected over the years and a couple were from The Sports Museum.

FQ: Fenway is not just another ball park for those of us living in New England. Is it the history behind the park that attracts us and makes us such obsessive supporters of the park or is there something more magical about those "eight acres of...centrally located but soggy land"?


Fenway is the field and park, not just of our fathers but of our mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grandparents and friends. It binds us with our childhood and the precious history of the many teams and performers who've called it home. It has to be the most beloved piece of real estate in New England and the oldest and most storied ballpark in America.

To learn more about Field of Our Fathers: An Illustrated History of Fenway Park please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.