Fenway back in '07 (Photo by the author)
We in the sabermetric community have been able to enumerate many different aspects of baseball. This rush of discovery has taken on increasing speed over the the past several decades. Hitter performance is often defined through various metrics down to the third or fourth decimal place. We know what pitchers can and can't control and we know when a player of any ilk is receiving an undo dollop of love from the baseball gods. Comparing the level of knowledge about baseball as the world stands now on Sunday, June 26th, 2011 to just ten years ago is staggering.
And yet there are still some things that we just can't quantify. I'm not talking about points of debate, like which WAR stat is best, or what is the value of a certain defensive metric. Some things are unquantifiable. Like Fenway Park.
I lived in Boston back in 2000. This was before the John Henry Wins Explosion took over the franchise and brought happiness and fluffy puppies to all in Red Sox Nation. This was the John Harrington Era, an era of equal parts brilliance and neglect. The team was competitive but flawed. The ownership's focus was seemingly not on the field but on gaining a new field. Fenway Park had been deemed too old, too small and too lacking in filthy rich-making luxury boxes to continue on as the home of the Red Sox.
Seemingly every weekend brought a new stadium proposal. Various iterations included retractable roofs and replicated features from Fenway up to and including the ladder that climbs the Green Monster. A new park along the South Boston waterfront was my favorite. It was so because the price tag was $1 Billion. For the land. The park and any and all required infrastructure improvements would be, as they say, not included. The Red Sox brass putting out that proposal had the same feel as a teenager asking his dad if he could take the sports car out on Friday night and, oh by the way, could he have $2,500 for drugs?
As we have seen, the failure wasn't of Fenway Park, but of imagination. A new regime arrived just in time. Whether by the obscene price of a Boston parcel or a deep appreciation for Fenway's place in baseball history, their eyes were opened to the possibility, indeed the need, to preserve and improve, as John Updike wrote, the lyric little bandbox. As you know, Fenway remains to this day.
I made my yearly pilgrimage last week (you may have read about it here), I was struck, as I seemingly am each time I visit, by the intimacy of the park. For those of you over six feet tall it's an unfortunate byproduct of a park constructed in an era when people were simply smaller than they are now. But it's not just the closeness of the seats, it's the way the park wraps around the field and still fits into the city fabric with the Prudential Tower and the Citgo sign looming in the distance.
As I sat waiting for the rain that wouldn't end to end, which it did then didn't then did then didn't then did then didn't, I thought about how no team in baseball can claim this feeling on its resume. History often comprises a nice weekend outing that we put out of our heads as we go for lunch. That is, unless it can still be put to use. Is there a historic site in the whole country put to better use than Fenway Park?
That no team can claim this but the Red Sox has to be an advantage over any other club. Or, let me put it this way. There are some beautiful, some amazing ball parks in the major leagues, but if you could play in one game on any field anywhere, where would it be rather than Fenway Park? My guess is nowhere.
I was thinking these thoughts when, virtually speaking, along came WEEI.com's Alex Speier with this article about how Fenway Park helps the Red Sox recruit draft picks. He is no doubt correct, as It certainly does that, but it likely also helps recruit fans, and may play some small part in attracting free agents as well, though I'm sure John Henry's money doesn't hurt.
Fenway Park is a living history museum, a multi-level marketing miracle, a recruiting bonanza, and to many fans, Red Sox and not, it's baseball Mecca. Can you put a number on that? Maybe. It wouldn't shock me if the Sox front office has a few that run four decimal places deep. In any case, the value of the place is immense, financially, historically, and on some higher plane as a symbol of both baseball's past and future. Not bad for something the previous owners couldn't wait to crush with a wrecking ball.