Fenway in the ’40s –
A Day at the Park
By John B Holway
I was walking my dogs in suburban Virginia when I stopped to chat with Bob Allgaier across the street with his dog. We were both wearing Red Sox caps, so we stopped to chat. Pretty soon I had a story.
Bob, who’s my age, said when he was ten in 1940, Yankee pitcher Spud Chandler dated a girl in his Jamaica Plains neighborhood near Boston. He “talked funny,” Bob said, meaning Chandler’s Georgia accent. Spud gave the boy a ball signed by all the Yankees. When the kids lost their regular ball, Bob got Spud’s ball out of his drawer, and they used it until the signatures were almost obliterated. “My father gave me heck,” Allgaier said, displaying the ball with Lou Gehrig’s name the only one still barely legible.
Bob is my age, and he was 16 when he started selling concessions in Fenway in 1946.
Harry Stevens owned the concessions in all the eastern parks. An immigrant, he got his start in 1897 printing scorecards back before players wore their names on their uniforms. (It took another 60 years for baseball to think of that.) On a cold day in 1907 Stevens put a hot sausage in a roll and sold it as a “red hot.” A cartoonist christened it a “hot dog.” He sold ads in his scorecards, and a peanut company paid him in peanuts, which he re-sold, thus coining the phrase, “working for peanuts.”
We sold tonic [soft drinks, pronounced “tawnik”], for ten cents. Hot dogs were 15 cents, score cards a dime. We’d also sell souvenir bats about a foot long, and a packet of team pictures. After the bats, Cigarettes were the most expensive thing we sold – Camels, Luckies, Chesterfields, Phillip Morris.
Bob hitch-hiked from his home in Dedham and arrived early, especially for a Sunday double-header. Before the game their boss, Bob Murphy, told them, “All you Catholic boys, off to St Cecelia’s. Come back after Mass.” If the games were rained out before the kids had sold anything, Ryan made sure they all had five-cent carfare to get home.
Bob was part of a three-boy team at Doc Klein’s hot roasted peanuts stand. The first boy blew the bag open (“we weren’t supposed to, but we did”), the second put a scoop of peanuts in, and the third rolled the bag up.
My spot was right in front of the door to the Red Sox locker room. Ted, Pesky, Dom, and Doerr came in and waved to the boys. Pesky and Doerr almost always came in together. Ted and Dom ditto. We weren’t allowed to ask for autographs, so we said, ‘Hi, Ted.’ Williams always said, ‘Hi, fellas’ and waved.
They had to walk right by where the peanuts were roasted, and rookie Sam Mele stopped to gobble them. “It made Doc so darn mad, because he was eating all the profits.”
Next Bob manned a stand near the first base entrance.
One time she asked for a pack of Chesterfields. I said I was out but as soon as one of my buddies came along to take over, I’d get her some and take them to her seat. She said, ‘Well, I’ll watch your basket for you, I’ll need your hat with the prices on it, so I’ll know what to charge people.’ She put it on, and when I came back, she had sold some of my stuff.
Then the boys picked up their baskets and fanned into the stands. New boys sold drinks; the bottles were heavy and the profits only a penny a bottle. Next they might move up to hot dogs. “We had little wooden spoons to put the mustard on, but it was faster to use our fingers.” The senior boys sold cigarettes at 25 cents a pack, or 2.5 cents commission.
The Red Sox had some sluggers. When they were at bat, you couldn’t sell anything: “Get out of the way! Sit down!” So I’d sit down until the inning was over.
When the Yankees were in town, people would come up from New York and sit in left field. I made the mistake of saying, ‘Get your Ted Williams bats.’ They cussed me and told me where to shove that bat. Those Yankee fans were a rough bunch.
Bob, center, horsing around with the other vendors on a picnic
After every game the boys had to collect all the empty bottles and raise all the seats so the cleaning crew could sweep the trash. They didn’t get paid for this, and sometimes they were there until nine at night, when it was too dark to hitch-hike home, and Bob had to spend a nickel for the trolley. When the Massachusetts child labor commission found out, it ordered an end to it.
Still it was good work. Bob stayed on the job for five summers and in his last year made $2,000, “which was good money at the time.”
He went to college in Brockton (heavyweight champ
Rocky Marciano was a frequent visitor) fought in Korea, and joined the CIA.
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The Billy Goat Charm
Another excellent article. But the original Billy Goat Tavern (in the 1940s) wasn’t in the Loop, but a couple of miles west on Madison Street, near the Chicago Stadium. Though that one’s gone, there are at least three of them around town today. (John R. Schmidt)
Your “Genius” movie review was well done. Readers may want to read my article on “Ernest Hemingway and Baseball” in the June issue of The Journal of American Culture. (Robert Reising)