Eagle Feathers #4 – Play Ball!
By Bob (Monty) Doherty
This year marks the 100th birthday of Fenway park, the beloved home of our favorite baseball team. And with summer underway, what better time to celebrate Somerville’s influence on our nation’s favorite pastime? So, let’s start with the home team. While named the “Boston” Red Sox, the team has many connections to Somerville. Charles Taylor, founder of the Boston Globe, was a Somerville Alderman who raised his family on Belmont Street. Taylor had a son that was not particularly good at staying out of trouble so, in an effort to keep him on the right track, he did what any good old-fashioned working-class father would do and went out and bought him a baseball team.
The team, called the Boston Puritans, played in Huntington yard, which is the area now occupied by Northeastern University. As you might imagine, paying the rent for an entire baseball stadium is not exactly easy to swing (no pun intended, of course). So Taylor eventually mentioned to his son that he owned some perfectly good marshland over in the Fenway area, and that he saw no reason why they shouldn’t just clean it up a bit and build a stadium. And that is just what they did. Taylor’s son, John, did not like the team’s name, so he changed it from The Boston Puritans to the Boston Red Sox. The reason for the odd spelling is that he did not want to completely plagiarize the name of his favorite team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings.
But Somerville’s place in the history of baseball extends far beyond just the Boston Red Sox. In 1910, President William Howard Taft took a tour of Somerville that included stops at Prospect Hill, Winter Hill (where he dedicated Paul Revere Park) and Central Hill, where Somerville residents honored the President with a Fourth of July Parade. The President loved baseball and was the first Commander-In-Chief to throw out the first pitch at the beginning of a game. At one game in particular, he arbitrarily stood up and stretched during the Seventh inning. The public must have liked his idea because everyone else stood up and did the same thing. This action caught on quickly, was repeated at games following that one and has been coined the “Seventh Inning Stretch.”
In 1914, Brother Gilbert Cairns, a life-long Somerville resident until he joined the Xaverian Order at the age of 16, was coaching a baseball team in Baltimore, Maryland. One day when he was watching a game at St. Mary’s Industrial School, he discovered a left-handed player that he claimed could not only tear the cover off the ball when he got up at bat, but was an excellent pitcher as well. Cairns tipped off Jack Dunn, manager of the Baltimore Orioles, that this was no ordinary baseball player. The young player trained briefly in Baltimore and before the end of the year, Babe Ruth was a member of the Boston Red Sox. In 1919, the fate of baseball was in jeopardy due to the Black Sox scandal. Because of Ruth’s tremendous popularity and record-breaking exploits, he is considered by many to have saved professional baseball. So the next time you’re at a ball game, remember that Somerville provided a pair of red socks, a place to use them and a star to wear them.