The Green Monster is one of the most famous pieces of real estate in sports. It looms over the playing field at Fenway Park, a marvelous attraction, an advertising platform, a tall piece of history. Originally, the wall was lower than it is now, but in the 1930s, it was extended to the current height, 37 feet. Because the park had to be built within a strict footprint in The Fens neighborhood, the left field wall was forced to be close to home plate. It was thought that a high wall would make it nearly impossible to hit home runs to left.
When Joe Wood pitched there in the first years of Fenway, he said of the left field wall, “No one will hit the ball over it, not unless a giant hand picks the ball out of the air and drops it over.” But when batters started to swing for the fences a decade later, the short distance to the wall made it a sensible target for sluggers. The wall was even closer than anyone thought.
For more than 60 years, the Red Sox told everyone that the green monster sat 315 feet from home plate. But sneaky surveyors used airplanes to take photos of the landscape in the early 1970s and learned that the Monster was actually only 303 feet away. “We’ve known for years,” a team official said, “but it really doesn’t matter much.” Tell that to Mike Torrez.
In the history of the snake-bit Red Sox (20th century reputation), and the Glorious Red Sox (21st century version), the team was lucky to string together a lengthy succession of excellent left fielders to play beneath the tall wall in Bahston.
Still, with all the legendary left fielders in Boston history, Mike Greenwell is destined to be overlooked. For ten years he was out there in the shadow of that wall, a .300 hitter who put a few dents in the Green Monster. But his failure to be as great as the legends who played that position before him was the mistake that led to fans eventually turning on him.
The Boston left fielder timeline goes Ted Williams to Carl Yastrzemski to Jim Rice to Mike Greenwell. It spans more than 55 years starting in 1939. All four were All-Stars, all four could hit fastballs as easily as the rest of us eat breakfast cereal. Each of the first three won MVP awards, while Greenwell had to settle for a second place finish to Jose Canseco in 1988. Greenwell was overshadowed by more famous teammates (Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens), and even though Greenwell never changed uniforms and those other two moved on, it’s Greenwell that fell out of favor in Boston.
Later in his career, Greenwell struggled with injuries, but he refused to let it keep him out of the lineup. Predictably, playing hurt impacted his performance, but the fans didn’t care. He was booed so mercilessly in 1992 when he limped to a .233 average, that he stopped bringing his wife and child to Fenway Park. The stress weighed on Greenwell, and one day in Anaheim while he was around the batting cage, he got into a fistfight with teammate Mo Vaughn. It got so bad that Greenwell pondered retirement. He rebounded to hit .315 in 1993 and finished his career with a .303 mark. But he still wasn’t Yaz and the fans never forgave him for it.