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Last modified: Sunday, April 10, 2011
Just in time to celebrate the arrival of a new baseball season, Remembering Fenway Park, a beautiful salute to the leg- endary home of the Boston Red Sox, should be as satisfying for any Sox fan as a timely win over the New York Yankees.

The colorful history and remarkable quaintness of Fenway simply can't be matched by the more modern and spacious major league ballparks. In fact, Fenway's only rival when it comes to genuine old-fashioned charm is Wrigley Field, playground of the Chicago Cubs, where the ivy-covered walls provide the distinction.

The Cubs, however, haven't won a World Series in more than 100 years, or since before Fenway Park opened in 1912. The Red Sox endured their own painful championship drought not so long ago. Early on, they'd won five World Series but then in 1918 traded Babe Ruth to the hated Yankees and proceeded to go 86 years before winning their sixth.

Was Ruth the greatest baseball player of all time? Perhaps to many, but not to Red Sox fans. That distinction is reserved for Ted Williams, also known as 'The Splendid Splinter.' And this big, heavy coffee-table book is filled with paragraphs and photographs about Williams, who so famously stroked a home run in his final turn at bat in 1960.

If Williams was Fenway's greatest star, then the 'Green Monster' must be its most famous - or notorious - physical feature. Even those who may detest the Red Sox - say, your typical Yankees fan - must recognize the name given the towering wall that's a little more than 300 feet from home plate. Relatively weak right-handed hitters love the Green Monster for the same reason otherwise capable and confident pitchers are often unnerved by it. And whoever patrols left field for either the visitors or the home team must learn to play the wall. It's tricky.

But even not dyed-in-the-wool baseball fans may find plenty of pleasure in this photograph-rich book because it has another, far different, attraction, a sort of informal history of 20th century fashions, as displayed by the fans and the players' uniforms (as well as the Fenway billboards). Readers with an interest in business may also enjoy learning how the team's ownership has changed over the years. There was a time when millionaire owner Tom Yawkey would almost spontaneously hand individual players bonuses for exceptional play. Of course, back then player salaries were a mere fraction of today's.

The fashion changes, incidentally, are most striking in the photographs of the fans crammed into Fenway's grandstands and bleachers. In the earliest days, nearly all the faces are male and nearly all their heads are covered with the fedoras so typical of that time. Later, the photos show far more women, far fewer hats and, almost universally, more casual attire (including baseball caps, worn backward).

But this is, first of all, a tale of a ballpark and, less directly, its extremely popular team. Harvey Frommer, who has written more than 40 books in a long and distinguished career, chose an intriguing and appealing approach, carefully inserting the commentaries and reminiscences of former players, managers and even ordinary fans (is Michael Dukakis an ordinary fan?) into his narrative so that they blend together seamlessly.

The book comes alive with a flood of these 'oral history' interludes and Frommer provides a directory that explains who all of these contributors are. Any Red Sox fan will immediately recognize (and reminisce about) many of the names: Dennis 'Oil Can' Boyd, Bernie Carbo, Dom DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, Dennis Eckersley, Dwight Evans, Terry Francona . . . the list goes on and on. Johnny Pesky, who first donned a Red Sox uniform in 1942 and can still be seen around Fenway Park at age 91, provides the introduction.

Yes, this book is about Fenway Park, and in that respect it succeeds beautifully. But it's much more than that. It is also about a time in our lives and about a New England institution that is unlike any other. It's a bit pricey at $45, but - like Ted Williams in his day - well worth the investment.