Steve Zalusky: Green Monster rose from the ashes of Fenway
Last Sunday, for one week, baseball returned to NBC.
Fittingly, the setting was Fenway Park, once the home park of longtime NBC Game of the Week announcer Curt Gowdy.
During the broadcast, announcer Jason Benetti -- likely one day to join Gowdy among the broadcast immortals -- talked about the iconic Green Monster. At 37 feet 2 inches high, it was not part of Fenway Park when it rose from the marshes in 1912.
Nor was it always green.
More importantly, he mentioned the role that fire played in its evolution.
Before the monster, there was a 25-foot wooden wall covered with ads and built with the intention of screening out onlookers who might be tempted to take a free peek at the game without paying admission.
Beneath the wall, where fans in the dead ball era were allowed to sit, was a 10-foot embankment called "Duffy's Cliff," patrolled by left-fielder Duffy Lewis.
Lewis' fielding prowess and ability to negotiate the treacherous cliff led writers to compare him to a Rocky Mountain goat, while lesser fielders were compared to Jack and Jill tumbling down the hill.
The Green Monster as we know it was the result of two fires that broke out in the ballpark.
But the first major fire broke out on May 8, 1926 following a game against Cleveland. A grass fire ignited a billboard and spread to the third-base bleachers.
According to Associated Press, "The upper half of that part of bleachers was destroyed, and flying embers kept firemen fighting blazes all around the grandstand."
Damage was estimated at $25,000.
According to fenwayfanatics.com, Boston owner Bob Quinn, rather than rebuild, collected the insurance money and used it to spend on payroll.
"The team removed the charred remains and the area where the bleachers once occupied remained a vacant lot for several years, a prominent yet unsightly feature of the park."
Things would change in the early 1930s, when new owner Tom Yawkey announced major renovations to the park.
But fire struck again on Jan. 5, 1934. with more than $250,000 damage to the bleachers and five nearby buildings.
According to The Boston Globe, "The origin of the blaze has not yet been positively established, although the official police report states that an overheated salamander was the immediate cause setting fire to the heavy tarpaulins that had been protecting newly poured concrete from the weather."
Sections of the stands had been completed as recently as two weeks before.
The remodeled Fenway, including a left field wall composed of 30,000 pounds of iron would open. Eventually, in 1947, the ads would be removed exposing the green of the Green Monster.
Yawkey's improvements led to the iconic park that fans love today. Yet, there would still be lingering nostalgia for Duffy's Cliff.
On Sept. 19, 1933, Victor O. Jones, wrote about the demise of Duffy's Cliff: "Modern improvements, like modern plumbing, are great and not to be discouraged, but I wonder if many an old Red Sox fan won't feel a pang at the passing of Duffy's Cliff, that dangerous bit of Fenway Park terrain in left field."