Fenway Park gets exhibit in Hall of Fame

Fenway Park gets exhibit in Hall of Fame

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Baseball's most gifted players wait at least five years after the end of their career to be feted at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. For Fenway Park, it took a century.

The venerable old stadium -- best known for its Green Monster and native Boston charm -- will have an exhibit dedicated to its 100th anniversary at the Hall of Fame during this season. That exhibit will officially open on Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET, but it's already available to visitors to the baseball shrine.

More than a year of planning went into the display, which houses artifacts from some of the park's most indelible moments. Lenny DiFranza, the Hall's assistant curator of new media, spent some time Monday walking through the exhibit and talking about some of the most interesting items.

"It's like magic," DiFranza said. "When you talk about it for so long, you spend so much time worrying over every detail and trying to tell all the stories -- especially when it's 100 years of history. To finally see it burst to life three-dimensionally and in full color, it's a wonderful thrill. And then to not only see it built and real, but to see the visitors come through here and start to tell their stories, it's special."

Indeed, the fan experience is one of the most integral parts of Fenway's lore, and it's an intangible quality that the Hall of Fame hopes to capture as part of the exhibit.

For the first time, visitors have been asked to write down their memories on an index card, and some of those recollections will eventually find their way into the display. That, in some ways, is the best way to tell Fenway Park's story, and DiFranza said it's important to connect today's fan to history.

"It's central to what we wanted to bring to light with this exhibit," he said. "There are physical attributes to the ballpark itself, and we wanted to call attention to them and to tell their histories. A lot of people know there's a Green Monster, but they don't know if it was always there or how it's evolved over time. We wanted to unite those elements. And we also wanted to talk about the relationship that the players have and that the fans have with the ballpark. That's central to the Fenway story."

The first evolution for Fenway Park, perhaps fittingly, happened immediately. The exhibit includes an original insurance map of the ballpark, which doesn't include seating added for the 1912 World Series. And it also shows a long-ago picture of the left-field wall -- well before it was christened the Green Monster -- in which the fence measures just 25 feet tall and is festooned with advertising.

The heart of the exhibit -- and the artifacts that will keep fans coming back -- is the connection to the play on the field. The contract that authorized the trade that sent Babe Ruth to the Yankees is housed under glass, as is the famed "Bloody Sock" worn by Curt Schilling in the 2004 World Series.

There's also a bat used by Carl Yastrzemski and a photo of two of Fenway Park's most beloved landmarks: Pesky Pole and the red seat that marks the landing spot of the longest home run by Ted Williams. And if spectators desire, they can even sit down briefly in a pair of old Fenway Park seats.

"There's no way we could ever have all the greatest artifacts here," said DiFranza, noting that several items were loaned to the Hall of Fame by private collectors. "It's nice every once in a while to show some loaned artifacts, and we have some of those in this exhibit as well."

The most amazing part of it all, frankly, is how close Fenway Park came to never meeting its 100th birthday. The ballpark was in peril as early as 1925, but it received an extensive renovation after owner Tom Yawkey took control of the club. City officials considered building a new park again in the 1960s, but then the Red Sox won the pennant in 1967 and set a league-wide attendance record.

The park was in trouble again in the '90s and was nearly torn down, but it eventually received a stay of execution -- again -- in the form of a new ownership group. Fenway Park somehow cleared all of those hurdles and appears to be going strong in its 11th decade of existence.

"It's circumstance that Tom Yawkey bought the club," said DiFranza. "They wouldn't have had the money to rebuild Fenway Park otherwise. It was during the Depression, and if somebody else had taken it over, or if it hadn't been sold at all, perhaps Fenway would've just crumbled.

"And then in 1967, there's the fact that the team did so well and captured the heart of Boston just when it seemed the die was cast. Is that luck? I don't know. And then similar to Yawkey, the new ownership group came in in 2002 and decided that Fenway was worth holding on to.

"If that's luck, then that ignores the hard work of the people who lobbied to keep the park. If they hadn't done that, the old ownership may have just gone ahead and made changes. This was community organizing -- the people of New England and fans of the ballpark -- at its very best."

And on some levels, it's still a throwback. Even with improved construction methods, it's hard to imagine seeing a modern-day stadium reach 100 years of use without becoming obsolete. Fenway Park has one peer in Wrigley Field, but after that, we may never see their like again.

"Except for Wrigley, all the other parks didn't make it. And a lot of them -- Tiger Stadium, for instance -- people fought tooth and nail to keep them," said DiFranza. "Wrigley only has two years to go. But after that, I think it's very unlikely. The next oldest park is Dodger Stadium, and it was opened in 1962. To wait until 2062? Even if they do keep it going, we'll all be very lucky to be here at that point."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.