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Fenway 1912

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At times, Stout’s detailed account of the ballpark’s design and construction process – descriptions of beams and steel-enforced concrete, of foundations and wooden forms – proves cumbersome and confusing, but slog through this section, and readers are in for a treat.

While researching, Stout pored through voluminous amounts of newspaper articles written during the park’s inaugural year. His narrative could have easily become bogged down in a never-ending sequence of truncated game recaps, culminating with the World Series; however Stout’s greatest triumph is his ability to manage the pace of the 152-game season, breaking up game summaries by delving into the lives of the teams’ larger-than-life characters.

There’s Jake Stahl, the banker turned Red Sox player-manager, both indecisive and quick to hold a grudge; opposing Stahl in the World Series, fiery New York Giants manager John McGraw, treating each game “as a life-and-death struggle” (fellow coach Artie Latham once said McGraw “eats gunpowder every morning for breakfast and washes it down with warm blood”); there’s the team’s petulant ace, “Smoky” Joe Wood, who harnessed his other-worldly fastball and fragile psyche to pull off a season for the ages; and then Wood’s regular season nemesis, the deferential young ace of the Washington Senators, Walter “Big Train” Johnson.

Stout does a particularly fine job recreating the epic, late season showdown between Wood and Johnson. As game time approached, some fans stood, six-to-eight deep in the outfield, while others risked their lives sitting on the wobbly left-field wall. So many people poured into the ballpark, jockeying for standing room and spilling onto the field, that, as Wood warmed up in foul territory, “It was like trying to play catch on the subway platform at Park Station during rush hour.”

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