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Red Sox History: The Huntington Avenue Grounds, as seen By Nuf Ced

The home of Fenway's Faithful before Fenway was even built

Boston Public Library

Some of Boston's baseball history is tangible.

Originally, I was planning on writing this week about the Huntington Avenue Grounds, the original home of the Boston Americans (now Red Sox) before moving to the newly built Fenway Park for the 1912 season. As I began researching, however, I discovered something that I absolutely felt was worth sharing, as well.

Most serious Red Sox fans are aware of the Royal Rooters, the team's first organized cheering section, and their leader, Michael T. "Nuf Ced" McGreevy. McGreevy ran a popular pub at 940 Columbus Avenue called the Third Base Saloon (likely the first true sports bar in America), marketed as "The Last Stop Before Home," where he ended arguments between fans of the Americans and Braves by yelling, "Nuf ced," hence his nickname. The Royal Rooters came back into the limelight in 2004 when the Dropkick Murphys released their version of the Rooters' fight song, Tessie (from the musical The Silver Slipper), and the Red Sox conveniently went on to subsequently win the World Series. The band's connection with McGreevy continued in 2008, when bassist Ken Casey reopened the pub, now called McGreevy's, on Boylston Street, a convenient 1400 steps from Fenway.

The discovery I made pertains to the popular haunt of the Rooters and is a veritable font of baseball history that you can indeed hold in your hands. McGreevy accumulated a massive collection of baseball memorabilia and photos, which he proceeded to use to decorate the interior of Third Base. In 1920, when Prohibition forced McGreevy to close the watering hole, he chose to donate the veritable collection to the Boston Public Library to ensure its preservation.

Interior of Third Base Saloon.
Boston Public Library | McGreevy Collection

I'm an archivist by trade, so naturally I was interested in seeing if this collection was accessible to researchers. Not only was it indeed listed under the special collections heading on the BPL website, but it also has been largely digitized, giving researchers and baseball enthusiasts access for free from all over the world. It's an incredible resource.

The exterior of Third Base in its original location.
Boston Public Library | McGreevy Collection

I decided to sift through the digitized photos in the hopes of finding more information about Huntington Avenue Grounds, the Royal Rooters' stomping grounds, and wasn't disappointed. Almost immediately, I was greeted with a photo of the Rooters at the stadium in 1903:

The Rooters in 1903 taking in the first-ever World Series.
Boston Public Library | McGreevy Collection

The photo provides an excellent look at the grandstands and also reveals that the Rooters were considered so integral to the team's success that they were allowed to actually sit on the field right behind home plate. There's no netting to protect them from passed balls or wild pitches, a huge safety risk.

Huntington Avenue Grounds in 1903. Fans rushed onto the field to watch the World Series and even crowded around the infield.
Boston Public Library | McGreevy Collection

Huntington Avenue Grounds was no ordinary stadium by modern standards. It had the capacity to house 11,500 or so fans, but the thing that sets it apart most from a modern baseball stadium is the sheer size of the field. Since the field was built on the site of a former circus lot, it was very large - at the time the stadium was opened in 1901, center field extended 530 feet away from home plate, and this distance increased in 1908 to a whopping 635 feet. Considering that this stadium was active during the Dead Ball Era, that distance seems excessive for the time. The building is quite literally the polar opposite of Citizens Bank Park. There were spots of sand in the outfield where grass refused to grow, clearly visible in the above photograph, and even a supply shed in the far outfield that was considered in-play. If the Trop was an outdoor stadium, it would have been this one.

Panorama of Huntington Avenue Grounds (two images merged). Note the patches of sand in the outfield. The South End Grounds, home of the Boston Braves, was located across the tracks in the distance on the right side of the image.
Boston Public Library | McGreevy Collection

Huntington Avenue Grounds saw its fair share of iconic moments in not only Red Sox history, but also baseball history on the whole. The first World Series ever (1903) passed through Huntington Avenue Grounds, with the very first game and the very last game in the series both being played there. MLB's first World Champion was crowned on this field when the Americans won the final game against the Pirates 3-0. On May 5th, 1904, Cy Young threw the first perfect game in MLB history from the mound at Huntington Avenue Grounds. A statue of Young, located where the pitching mound once was, commemorates the event.

The stadium's life was short-lived. Fenway Park was open for business starting in 1912, and with the Red Sox settled comfortably there Huntington Avenue Grounds was demolished that year, as there was no more need for it. Today, both the Huntington Avenue Grounds and the neighboring South End Grounds, home of the Boston Braves, are both gone, part of the campus of Northeastern University. The Cabot Center, an indoor sports facility, stands where Huntington Avenue Grounds once was. Nevertheless, Huntington Avenue Grounds's legacy lives on - the nearest thoroughfare on campus is referred to as World Series Way.

Thankfully, "Nuf Ced" McGreevy's passion for the game provides us with a wonderful look at the stadium as it was, including the early fans who supported the team that would someday be known as the Boston Red Sox with the intense fervor that still characterizes fans of the team today. Had he not collected and later donated all of this memorabilia, we might not have been able to get such a good look at Huntington Avenue Grounds.

Instead, we're able to imagine what it would have been like to sit directly behind home plate on the field amidst the Rooters in 1903, singing Tessie at the top of our lungs.

Fans were often so eager to see during the 1903 World Series that they literally climbed the outfield walls to get in.
Boston Public Library | McGreevy Collection