April 20, 1912: Red Sox open Fenway Park with extra-innings win over New York
Boston’s Fenway Park is pictured in 1912, the year it opened as home of the Boston Red Sox. (LIBRARY OF CONGRESS)
The first regular-season game ever played at Fenway Park took place on April 20, 1912.1 The Boston Red Sox hosted the New York Highlanders (often already being called the Yankees).2 Construction had been done quickly, completed in just over six months, but the ballpark was built solidly enough that it has endured for well over 100 years.3
Red Sox manager Jake Stahl started Buck O’Brien, and New York’s Harry Wolverton countered with Ray Caldwell.4
There was a ground rule in effect: Because of the overflow crowd of 24,000 or more, a couple of thousand fans were standing in the outfield, behind ropes; any ball hit over the ropes was a double.5
Before the Red Sox ever got to bat in their brand-new home ballpark, New York scored three runs in the top of the first. Left fielder Guy Zinn walked.6 Right fielder Harry Wolter sacrificed Zinn to second, reaching safely when both first baseman Jake Stahl and O’Brien tried to field the ball. The Boston American said O’Brien fumbled the ball, but that a play could have been made “if anybody had happened to think of first base.”7
First baseman Hal Chase bunted to Larry Gardner, drawing him in from third base; Gardner threw Chase out at first but there were runners on second and third with just one out. Shortstop Roy Hartzell singled to left, scoring Zinn; the Highlanders had scored the first run at Fenway Park. Wolter wisely held at third.
Bert Daniels, center fielder, hit one right back to O’Brien, who held the ball for a moment and then hurried his throw home. It struck the dirt in front of the plate and bounced into the air. Wolter scored the second run. Daniels took third base and Hartzell moved up a base, too, but went a little past second and Boston catcher Les Nunamaker snapped a quick throw to shortstop Heinie Wagner, who tagged Hartzell out before he could scramble back to the bag.
O’Brien then beaned the third baseman, Cozy Dolan. New York had its own Gardner, Earle, their (unrelated) second baseman. He singled to center and drove in Daniels for a 3-0 lead. Gabby Street, the catcher, struck out.
Leading off for the Red Sox was right fielder Harry Hooper, who grounded to pitcher Caldwell for an easy out. Second baseman Steve Yerkes doubled to the embankment in left field – a ball that might have gone for more than two bases had the ground rule not been in effect.8 Tris Speaker followed with another double, this one hit into the crowd in center field.9 The Red Sox were on the board with their first run in the new ballpark. Jake Stahl hit a half-hearted fly ball that shortstop Hartzell caught for the second out, and Larry Gardner hit a routine fly ball to left field.
Neither team scored in the second inning.10
For the second inning in succession, second baseman Yerkes committed an error on the first ball hit in the third, throwing wide of first. Hartzell held at first, but then advanced to second when pitcher O’Brien dropped the ball – the first balk in Fenway history.11
Daniels struck out, but Dolan singled to Hooper, scoring Hartzell; Dolan scooted to second base on Hooper’s throw home. Earle Gardner popped up to short. O’Brien threw a wild pitch and Dolan moved up another base. Street walked. Caldwell singled, driving in Dolan. Zinn flied to left. It was 5-1, New York.
The Red Sox went down easily enough in their half of the third, despite Yerkes’ two-out single and another single by Speaker. Stahl skied one to Daniels in center.
Wolter struck out leading off the fourth. O’Brien hit Chase on the left arm. O’Brien had him picked off first (“Hal fell flat on his face,” wrote the American) but Stahl couldn’t handle the throw. Hartzell flied out to Yerkes. O’Brien walked Daniels, putting runners on first and second.
Chase, the lead runner, danced off second enough to draw a throw from Nunamaker while he ran to third, taking the base. Daniels stole second and O’Brien walked Dolan to load the bases. Only sheer luck saved O’Brien from more damage, a wildly-thrown pitch glancing off Earle Gardner’s bat and rolling to Stahl at first.12
This game was not going well for the home team, with O’Brien struggling mightily and only the freak ending of the top of the fourth keeping any hopes alive. Larry Gardner singled to right field, Duffy Lewis walked, and Wagner’s groundball to third base handcuffed Dolan. The bases were loaded with Red Sox and nobody out. Nunamaker struck out. Buck O’Brien was due up and manager Stahl sent up Olaf Henriksen to pinch-hit. Henriksen walked, forcing in a run.
Highlanders skipper Wolverton had Jack Quinn relieve Caldwell. Hooper grounded to Gardner for a force out at second; Lewis came in to score on the play. Yerkes singled, a Texas Leaguer behind third base, driving in Wagner. Speaker was out on an infield dribbler. The Red Sox had closed to within a run, down 5-4.
Charley Hall relieved O’Brien starting the fifth. Neither team scored in that inning, nor did New York score in the top of the sixth.13
Hall led off in Boston’s sixth and Quinn walked him. Hooper sacrificed him to second. Yerkes singled again. Hall held at third. Speaker was walked intentionally. Stahl hit the ball back to Quinn, but it was too hot to handle and glanced to Earle Gardner at second. He threw out Stahl for the second out, but Hall crossed home plate with the tying run. There were runners on second and third, but Larry Gardner hit a weaker ball back to Quinn, who threw him out.
The seventh was largely uneventful. Hall retired the New Yorkers one-two-three, and Quinn got the first two Red Sox batters, then hit Nunamaker, but got Hall to fly out to Daniels in center field.
The Highlanders regained a one-run lead in the top of the eighth. Zinn hit a dribbler toward first base, which Stahl fielded and threw to Hall, covering. Wolter walked and stole second as Nunamaker’s peg flew into center.14 A pickoff play hit the baserunner and skittered into center, allowing Wolter to scramble to third. Chase singled to left, giving New York a one-run lead, but was cut down trying to stretch his hit to a double. Hartzell grounded to second.
Hooper made the first out for Boston in the bottom of the eighth. Yerkes singled for his fourth hit of the game. Speaker flied out to Daniels, in right. With two outs, Stahl doubled to center, tying the game again, 6-6. Larry Gardner reached on a ball bobbled at short, and Lewis walked, loading the bases. Wagner hit a ball that Street fielded in front of the plate, throwing to first.
In the Highlanders’ ninth, Lewis snared a low line drive in left and pitcher Hall collected consecutive assists on balls hit back to the box, by Dolan and Gardner.
For Boston, Nunamaker struck out a third time. Hall’s hit might have won the game, but the long drive to center landed in the crowd for a double. Wolverton brought in left-hander Hippo Vaughn. Hooper walked. Yerkes fouled out to the catcher. Speaker drove a “fierce liner” that another “sensational” catch by Zinn reeled in.15
It was extra innings. Street singled to start off the 10th but Vaughn hit into a force play. Zinn flied out to Hooper in right. Kauff grounded out.
For the Red Sox, Stahl lifted a high fly to right for the first out. Larry Gardner singled. Lewis struck out. Wagner singled; Gardner took third. Stahl had Hack Engle pinch-hit.16 Engle hit an infield grounder and was thrown out at first.
The skies were darkening and it was almost a foregone conclusion that the 11th would be the last inning, even if the game should end in a tie. Chase singled. Hartzell’s grounder forced Chase at second. Daniels hit sharply to Yerkes, who misplayed the ball for his third error. Carrigan grabbed a Dolan hit in front of the plate and threw to first. Earle Gardner walked, loading the bases, but Street hit into the third out.17
Hall wasn’t a particularly good hitting pitcher, and it’s unknown why he was allowed to bat for himself with there being little chance of a 12th inning being played.18 Hall struck out. Hooper popped up foul to the catcher.
Two outs, nobody on, but here came Yerkes again. He had committed two or three errors on defense, but he had the hot bat.19 He hit a groundball to Dolan at third base. Dolan bobbled it, hurried his throw to Chase at first and threw it over his head, Yerkes racing on to claim second base. He took third on a passed ball.
Vaughn faced Speaker, and after him it would be Stahl. The count went to 3-and-2 and the Globe felt that Vaughn had decided to intentionally walk Speaker and take his chances with Stahl, but at the last moment “tried to sneak one over.” Speaker was ready. He slashed the ball through short for a single and Yerkes scored the winning run.20 The Red Sox had their first-ever win at Fenway Park with many more to come.
The 1912 team recorded a record of 105-47, the .691 winning percentage remaining the highest in franchise history. They won the 1912 World Series at home, beating the New York Giants, 3-2, in 10 innings in the deciding Game Eight.21
This article was fact-checked by Kevin Larkin and copy-edited by Len Levin.
This game was previously written for the SABR book Opening Fenway Park in Style: The 1912 World Champion Red Sox, Bill Nowlin, ed. (Phoenix: SABR, 2012). That version has been rewritten here for SABR’s Games Project.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
For a thorough look at Fenway Park in 1912 – its construction, the reception by fans of the day, and the way the season played out, see Glenn Stout, Fenway 1912 (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011).
1 There had been an exhibition game played against Harvard on April 9.
2 The two teams had opened the season facing each other, at New York’s home in the Polo Grounds, and Boston had swept the three-game series by scores of 5-3, 5-2, and 8-4. The Red Sox had traveled to Philadelphia and lost 4-1, then won 9-2. Their record was thus 4-1 when they hosted New York. The Highlanders had fared poorly, dropping those first three games to the Red Sox, then losing a 1-0 game to the visiting Washington Nationals and a 9-1 blowout to Washington as well. The Highlanders were thus 0-5 so far under new manager Harry Wolverton and were anxious to get into the win column. The year before, New York had been 76-76 (with one tie, too) under manager Hal Chase and finished in sixth place. The Red Sox had been in fourth place, 78-75. Clearly, there wasn’t much room separating the two teams in 1911. New York had never finished in first place, though they had finished second three times in the first 11 years of the American League: in 1904 (just 1½ games behind first-place Boston), in 1906 (three games behind the White Sox; last-place Boston finished 45½ games behind Chicago), and in 1910, though it was 14½ games behind the Philadelphia Athletics. (Boston finished fourth, 35 games off the pace.)
3 There have, of course, been renovations. Fenway Park was built in just a little over six months at an estimated cost of $650,000 by Gen. Charles Taylor and his son John I. Taylor, owners of the Red Sox and also owners of the land on which they built the new facility in 1912. There was no formal ground-breaking, but newspapers of the day show that clearing of the land began in the first half of September 1911 and construction began later in the month. Groundskeeper Jerome Kelley made the move from the team’s prior ballpark (1901-1911), the Huntington Avenue Grounds, and he brought some of the grounds with him as well, installing some of the sod from the earlier park in the new one. For more on Fenway Park’s first season, see Bill Nowlin, ed., Opening Fenway Park with Style: The 1912 Boston Red Sox (Phoenix: SABR, 2012).
4 O’Brien was 19 days shy of his 30th birthday. He’d appeared in only six major-league games, debuting on September 9, 1911 – and was 5-1 in those games with a stunning 0.38 earned-run average. Caldwell turned 24 six days after this game; he’d been 1-0 in 1910 and 14-14 in 1911, with a 3.35 ERA. The first pitch was thrown at 3:00 P.M. sharp.
5 The Boston Herald reported “about 25,000.” See R.E. McMillin, “Sox Forced to go 11 Innings to Beat Yanks,” Boston Herald, April 21, 1912: 1S. The New York Times said 27,000. See “Another Defeat for the Yankees,” New York Times, April 21, 1912: C7. The Boston American also said 27,000. The weather was chilly, but the Boston Globe said, “The day was ideal.” T.H. Murnane, “Sox Open to Packed Park,” Boston Globe, April 21, 1912: 1. The 3:00 P.M. temperature was 60 degrees, dropping to 55 at 6:00. The cool conditions may have depressed the performance of both starters, and the field was “soft and slippery” (Boston Post) due to the rain that had caused two days of postponements. It was a little lumpy in places, not as hard a playing surface as one would have liked. The Globe’s Tim Murnane wrote that “[t]here was no time wasted in childish parades.” Mayor John Fitzgerald threw out the first pitch. As to the ground rule prompted by the overflow crowd, the Boston American asserted that it hurt the Red Sox the most and that three of the team’s five doubles would have been home runs. “27,000 See Red Sox Win Great Opening Day at Fenway,” Boston American, April 21, 1912: Sporting News Section 1.
6 Zinn, who batted left-handed, had seen action in only six games before the 1912 campaign, hitting .148 in his 27 at-bats in 1911.
7 “27,000 See Red Sox Win Great Opening Day at Fenway,” Sporting News Section 2. The Boston Post said Stahl fumbled the ball while O’Brien ran to cover the bag “rather lamely.” Paul H. Shannon, “Fenway Park Is Formally Opened with Red Sox Win,” Boston Post, April 21, 1912: 14.
8 The New York Times said that Zinn fell down on the embankment.
9 Speaker’s might even have gone for an inside-the-park home run, but the ground rule made it a two-base hit. Murnane noted in the Globe that three Boston hits went into the crowd and the home team might have scored more runs, while all the New York base hits were singles.
10 Caldwell led off the New York second; he grounded to Yerkes, who committed the first of three errors. Zinn flied out to Hooper. O’Brien whiffed Wolter and then got Chase to fly out to Speaker in center. In the bottom of the second, it was one-two-three with left fielder Duffy Lewis, Heinie Wagner, and catcher Les Nunamaker all quietly retired.
11 Umpire-in-chief Tom Connolly had a busy day. Connolly, as it happened, had also umpired the first home game at the Huntington Avenue Grounds, back in 1901. A two-man crew worked the game, The umpire on the bases was Bill Hart.
12 Gardner was at the plate and another wildly-pitched ball sailed too close to him. Had he ducked without incident, the ball would very likely have escaped Les Nunamaker and at least one run would have scored, perhaps a pair. When Gardner spun away to avoid getting hit, the ball struck his bat and rolled to Stahl, who stepped on first to retire the side.
13 In the fifth, new Boston pitcher Charley Hall got Gabby Street to fly out to Lewis in left and struck out Quinn. Zinn lifted a high fly to Larry Gardner at third. After Stahl flied out to short, Larry Gardner was called out on a two-strike pitch that the Globe declared was “six inches inside the plate.” Lewis singled and Wagner walked but Nunamaker struck out again. Despite an error, walk, and stolen base, New York failed to score in the top of the sixth.
14 Speaker always played a shallow center, and in this game had the crowd behind him, but any thought of trying to run on to third base that Wolter may have fleetingly had went by the wayside when he turned his ankle at second. Wolter had to be carried off the field and was replaced by pinch-runner Benny Kauff. Daniels moved to right field in place of the injured Wolter and Kauff took over in center field.
15 Who gets credit for the catch? The Globe gave it to Zinn in left, while the American credited Daniels, now playing right field. There is not quite enough detail in game accounts to be able to deduce the defender. The Globe’s account was generally much more detailed and more comprehensive, so Zinn might have been the man. The New York Times was no help at all, since that paper had someone named Carr playing right field – even though there was no Carr in their own box score or on the team roster at any point in the season.
16 Rather than risk seeing Nunamaker strike out for a fourth time (the only time he’d gotten on base was when he was hit by a pitch), Stahl called for the pinch-hitter. Carrigan replaced Nunamaker behind the plate.
17 The Boston American said he hit it to Wagner, who stepped on second for the third out. Every newspaper had a different account, the Globe forgetting to mention Dolan, the Times having Speaker making a “great fly catch.” Neither the Herald nor the Post attempted to detail the play-by-play. One thing was not in doubt. The Highlanders had failed to score.
18 Perhaps it was because Hall hit left-handed; the only three batters on the bench (Bradley, Cady, and Krug) were all right-handed hitters. But pitcher Hippo Vaughn was left-handed. Maybe Stahl just figured to go with someone who was already active in the game – and Hall had struck that long double in the ninth.
19 The Globe account showed him with two errors. Most other newspapers showed three. Yerkes is credited by all with five hits, two of them doubles. The Post agreed on the hits, and noted that he scored three runs while driving in two.
20 Where the ball was actually hit is uncertain. The New York Times said it went to center field. The Boston American said it was hit so hard at Dolan that Yerkes scored before Chase received the throw, while the other papers all pretty much said it was punched past shortstop Hartzell. It produced the first lead the Red Sox had in the game and was the run that won the game. Most newspapers showed that Boston had committed seven errors and New York three. Six errors for the Red Sox, wrote the Herald and the American. No one disagreed on the final score.
The game lasted 3:10 “and there were only a few minutes of daylight left when Tris Speaker beat out a single that scored Steve Yerkes.” See “27,000 See Red Sox Win Great Opening Day at Fenway,” Boston American. The New York Times wrote that by the time the winning run scored, “every one was in too much of a hurry to get home to cheer the victory.” The Globe’s Murnane mentioned the immense crowd “leaving for home for a cold supper, but wreathed in smiles.” The Boston Post reported far more excitement: “no longer a mildly enthusiastic body, but a yelling, cheering mob” which “hurried back to the four corners of Greater Boston to spread the news of an uphill fight, a thrilling finish and a great 11th inning defeat for Wolverton’s Highlanders.” The Boston American wrote, “Nearly all of the 27,000 went without dinner to see the finish. They went home satisfied No such struggle has been seen on the diamond in Boston in many a day.”
21 Game Two had ended in a 2-2 tie.
Boston Red Sox 7
New York Highlanders 6
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