'Let there be light' at Fenway

'Let there be light' at Fenway

BOSTON -- With its cozy interior, modest green finish and corner outfield landmarks -- from Pesky's Pole in right field to the Green Monster in left -- Fenway Park is the most beloved ballpark in baseball.

Few fans know that after World War II, Fenway struggled to remain relevant within its own hometown. Just a short walk down Commonwealth Avenue in nearby Allston, Mass., the National League's Boston Braves brought fireworks, concerts, clinics, neon foul poles -- even musical comics and fried clams -- to Braves Field under a trio of new owners.

"The Braves started to make some inroads," said Dick Bresciani, Red Sox vice president of publications, "and the Red Sox said, 'Uh-oh.'"

A public-relations assault from the second-fiddle Braves was just one motivation for the Red Sox to introduce night baseball to Fenway Park on June 13, 1947.

On the 60th anniversary of the Red Sox's first night home game, which the team won, 5-3, against the Chicago White Sox before a capacity crowd, Johnny Pesky soaked in the atmosphere as Boston prepared to take on the Colorado Rockies.

"It was like you were walking in daylight," said Pesky, who started at shortstop and went 1-for-4 on that historic June evening in 1947. "Of course, it was great."

The lights weren't as kind to the White Sox, who committed three errors and left 11 men on base.

The next day's Chicago Tribune reported that "the White Sox, in the role of guests, seemingly were confused by the electrical display."

Their defense was "atrocious," wrote the Tribune's Irving Vaughan. They received "no encouragement" from the umpire, and their performance with men on base was "almost impotent."

Perhaps, the White Sox were overwhelmed by the strength of the lights, which reportedly resembled "the output of 5,000 full moons."

Maybe the White Sox were distracted by the neon advertisements outside the park, which shined over the Green Monster from Kenmore Square.

According to the June 13, 1947, edition of The Boston Globe, one sign was "in a perfect spot to bother left-handed batters. The other will shine directly into the eyes of righties. It is not known as yet whether the signs will be blocked out on game nights."

As it happened, the Red Sox and owner Tom Yawkey did have a plan to mitigate the glare of the Fenway lights against in-park advertisements. There was such concern, in fact, about the batter's ability to see the ball at night (the Red Sox didn't schedule regular night games until the mid-1950s as a result), that Yawkey ordered the wall advertisements painted over.

"And that," Bresciani said, "is how they came up with Fenway Green [Monster]."

The Red Sox's longtime owner was never enthusiastic about night baseball. As The Globe's Hy Hurwitz reported, "Yawkey is strictly in the baseball business."

Hurwitz added that Yawkey didn't "believe in fashion shows, nylon hosiery, door prizes and other nonsense" -- an obvious contrast against Braves owner Lou Perini.

"As for the fireworks," Hurwitz wrote, "[Yawkey] hopes they will be provided by Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Rudy York & Co."

With night baseball, nonetheless, Yawkey obeyed the bottom line. Public demand ultimately drove the installation of lights at Fenway. Working Bostonians came to the ballpark and receipts soared.

Exactly 60 years later, the first four games of the Red Sox's current Interleague homestand are scheduled to begin at night. Like the last 336 home dates, they are expected to sell out.

Braves Field, long since displaced by Boston University's Nickerson Field sports complex, is only a memory.

Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.