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How Ballparks Have Changed


The Friendly Confines

When imagining baseball’s oldest parks in their earliest days, it’s easy to mistakenly picture old-time ballplayers running around in modern versions of the parks. The truth is that Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, Tiger Stadium and the rest all evolved over time, slowly becoming the parks that we know today or in recent memory.

Here we see some fascinating footage from the 1929 World Series in which the Cubs faced off against Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. This is Wrigley in an early incarnation, without the ivy or its signature scoreboard or many of the same buildings which now overlook the park. And yet, the basic configuration is recognizable.

It’s also charming to see a man near the third baseline with an enormous bullhorn, apparently announcing the team as they take the field.

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The Bathtub Field

The odd dimensions of the Polo Grounds are discussed in another section of this website in relation to Bobby Thomson’s 1951 Home Run. Here we see just how bizarrely the Giants home stadium was shaped.  First is the game-winning home run from the 10th inning of Game 1 of the 1954 World Series against Cleveland. The right field foul pole was just 257 feet from home plate, as is readily apparent on this drive. As the game is recapped by Jack Brickhouse, we then see the more famous play from that day — the Willie Mays catch in the deepest part of the park (455 to center). Another drive off the bat of Vic Wertz came earlier in the game toward the wall in right field where the bullpens were located (yes, in play). The hit sends the relief pitchers scrambling. The Polo Grounds did not always result in the fairest baseball but its quirks certainly led to plenty of excitement.

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“Stormin’ the Stadium”

While the old men gathered in the bleachers here don’t look like they are about to “storm” anything, it is true that County Stadium in Milwaukee strongly supported its Braves in the early years. After moving from Boston in 1953, where attendance had been dismal, the Braves drew seven times the number of fans in Boston during their first year in the Midwest. Attendance continued to increase as the Braves drew two million fans a year, capping off with the championship 1957 season. The high totals soon prompted other owners in places like Philadelphia, New York, Brooklyn and St. Louis to take franchises on the road as well. 

Here we get a good look at County Stadium, built in 1950 on the former site of a garbage dump. The stadium featured an enormous state-of-the-art scoreboard in right field topped by a Miller High sign and Longines clock. Stately pine trees were featured in a grassy area beyond center field bearing the unfortunate nickname “The Braves Reservation.” In this clip, Bobby Thomson, famed Dodger killer, is at it again with a home run against Brooklyn that clears a rather rudimentary chain link fence in center. 

Despite continuing to win, attendance in Milwaukee steadily dropped and by 1962 new owner William Bartholomay began looking south. Hank and the boys would soon be on their way to Atlanta, giving Major League Baseball its first team in Dixie.

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The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum may have been the silliest place to ever serve as the home park to a Major League Baseball team. The Dodgers played here for four seasons while they waited for their new stadium to be finished in Chavez Ravine. For millions of fans, the Coliseum’s elongated dimensions further added to the oddity of the Dodgers no longer representing Brooklyn or playing in Ebbets Field.

Here we see two clips that illustrate the park’s ridiculous baseball configuration. In the first clip, Stan Musial hits a bloop fly that graces the 40 foot screen set up in left field just 250 feet from home at the foul line. Wally Moon of the Dodgers (who at the plate became known for his “Moon Shots” that could loop over the left field screen) plays the ball and nails Stan the Man at second.

In the same game against the Cardinals, we see a blast from Charlie Neal which leads to a standup triple. The wall in right-center was a mere 440 feet from home plate.

The notorious screen would end up at the center of a 1959 controversy in which a Joe Adcock home run that hit a steel girder behind the screen was incorrectly called a ground-rule double, eventually costing the Braves the pennant. 

By 1962, the Dodgers had a new park and the Coliseum was retired from Major League Baseball. When the Angels asked to play there in 1961, Commissioner Ford Frick said no.

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430 To Center

In the 1970s and 80s, baseball fans got used to the standard dimensions of baseball outfields. With a few exceptions remaining (Yankee Stadium, Fenway, Tiger Stadium), the new multipurpose parks of the 1970s virtually transformed the baseball field into the regulated dimensions of a basketball court or football field. Every stadium seemed to be about 330 down the line and 400 straight away. While that has changed in recent years with retro parks with aesymmetrical dimensions, it is still a surprise to see this clip of the 1965 World Series in which the ball must carry some 430 feet to get out in Minnesota.


Watch Out for Sprinklers!

Famously, Mickey Mantle caught his cleat on a sprinkler head during the second game of the 1951 World Series.  This story always made me wonder.  A sprinkler head? In the grass?  That does sound dangerous!  The injury that followed would affect the rest of his career.  Groundskeeping wasn’t the same in those days and sprinkler heads seemed to have just been part of the obstacles which plagued outfielders.  Here we see Curt Flood in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series appear to also have a cleat problem with a sprinkler head. Announcer Harry Caray says Flood misjudged it, but a close look reveals that Flood seemed to catch his foot on something.  Any theories?

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As mentioned in the article below regarding the Chris Chambliss home run, the kind of madness once exhibited by fans at the end of championship games always looks strange to the modern eye. What also stands out here is the condition of the field. Granted, the Mets were on the cusp of winning the World Series, but on the lazy fly to right field for the second out, I was shocked by the amount of debris on the field. One finds this to be true during most Cubs games from the 1970s as well — the field is just filthy.

Dave Johnson makes the final out here against the Mets. 17 years later he’d back to manage the Mets to their second World Series when he was better known as Davey.

Below we see a clip from the 1938 World Series in which Yankee Stadium looks even dirtier, if that’s possible.

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Liberal Ballpark Security

This clip from a 1970 Expos-Pirates game in Jarry Park in Montreal seems to demonstrate the differences in stadium security in those years. This was probably especially so at the converted minor league stadiums where expansion teams like the Expos, Rangers and K.C. A’s played their early games. Here we see a fan blatently run onto the field, retrieve a foul ball and get back in his seat without anyone apparently thinking too much of it. These days he’d probably spend the night in jail.


The Green Monster in the ’70s

Visiting players never seem to know what to do with balls bouncing off Fenway’s Green Monster.  This video shows that was every bit as true in 1972 as today, as Oakland’s Reggie Jackson misplays a carom, leading to a double for the presidentially-named John Kennedy. Notice the differences in the monster, which had far less scoreboard, no ads and of course no seats on top.

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The Wild ’70s

Whenever I see a scene like this one in which Chris Chambliss wins the 1976 ALCS over the Royals and all hell breaks loose in Yankee Stadium, I feel like the entire 1970s are from Mars. Questions abound: Why did they allow this to happen? Why doesn’t it happen now? What has changed? Was the entire world on Speed?  Seriously, it is just so strange looking. The people who are out on the field look manic, and not only because it was an exciting ending to a baseball game. Perhaps there was just more alcohol served at ballparks in those days. I would really like an explanation for this madness.  

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Give That Fan a Contract!

In this highlight from Game 6 of the Angels-Orioles 1979 ALCS, broadcaster Dick Enberg mentions a tradition in Memorial Stadium that if a fan made a nice play in the stands, he or she was given a “fan contract.” I had never heard of a ballpark doing this cute gesture and I could not find any direct reference to it online. However, apparently Orioles PA announcer “Rex Barney” used to yell “give that fan a contract” after a nice play (or even “give that fan an error” after a bad one). Still, no mention of an actual ficticious contract for a gold glove fan.  Anyone know more about this Oriole tradition? Does seem like a “nice idea,” as Enberg says.

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Starving in Seattle

Expansion cities had it rough throughout most of baseball history. While the most recent expansion locales (Colorado, Florida, Arizona, and to a lesser extent, Tampa) have enjoyed relatively quick success, expansion cities before the 1990s generally had to be ready for long stretches in the cellar. 

Here we see Seattle baseball in 1982 on the biggest night of the year. Gaylord Perry is pitching for his 300th win. The Kingdom is packed for once and the shrill voice of the local broadcaster and the hungry fans seem desperate for something to cheer. This would be the Mariners’ best season to date (76 wins) after a number of dismal seasons following their 1977 inception. They would not field a winning team until 1991, when they still finished in 5th place. 

More than 27,000 are in attendance on this night and over 36,000 would show up for “Funny Nose Glasses Night” two days later. However more typical was the 4,625 who would attend that Monday night for the start of a series with Cleveland.

We are also reminded here of the strange pinball atmosphere of the Kingdome where a rock-hard turf and towering outfield walls allowed players like Jim Maler (with his one career steal) to get an easy stand-up triple.

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Field of Nightmares

Sometimes it seems amazing that baseball ever survived the places where fans had to watch the games in the 1970s and ’80s. Concrete donuts, converted football stadiums and artificial domes changed the way the game was played, but more importanly, they changed how it was watched. And it was watched badly.

Perhaps no Major League ballpark was ever as bad as Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium. It hosted baseball’s first snowy opening day in 1977 and things didn’t get much better from there. Built for the Canadian Football League (with a field 30 years longer than the NFL), the stadium’s baseball conversion featured a near-cement artifical surface with dirt cutouts, seats that in many places did not face the field of play and a configuration that resulted in the plush seats being in left field (although the first few rows could not see over the wall) and grandstand-style benches behind homeplate.

And as seen in this clip of a George Brett home run, there was nothing behind the right field wall except the rest of the football field. This comical setup hosted some strong Blue Jay teams, and the 1985 ALCS. In 1989, the Jays moved to “Skydome,” which is certainly an improvement in low temperatures, but is only a marginal upgrade as a ballpark.

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Just Missed the Cut

Baseball discovered what was great about old ballparks just a tad too late to save one of the greatest places where the game was ever played — Comiskey Park. Torn down in 1991 to make way for the sanitized, shopping mall of a stadium that is the new Comiskey, its predecessor never received its due. In the early ’90s old yards like Tiger Stadium, Comiskey and even Fenway were seen as aging relics. There were serious plans to dismantle the Red Sox home and rebuild a new edition. But the Camden Yards retropark revolution and the renovations made at Fenway by the John Henry ownership group showed Major League Baseball that the grand old cathedrals simply needed new love. I believe if Comiskey had survived another ten years it would be regarded as another Fenway or Wrigley — an untouchable gem.

Here we see the 1983 Chicago White Sox, AL West pennant winners, in one of their best comebacks of the year. The energy in Comiskey is electric as Carlton Fisk (with echoes of his 1975 shot) and Tom Paciorek (how many pennant winners have a first baseman hitting 8 homers on the year?) nearly leave the park. Then “The Bull,” Greg Luzinski, steps up and rockets one into the upper deck. 

Baseball writer Grant Brisbee recently completed a series on SB Nation analyzing the best and worst current ballparks for viewing home runs. Was there ever any ballpark as magical as Comiskey for viewing home runs? The upper deck looming over the field make well-hit drives look absolutely mammoth.

The Sox would go on to win the game in extra innings on a Julio Cruz chopper (see below) leading to “Hey, Hey, Goodbye” and the exploding scoreboard.

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Armstrong Interference

The odd arrangements at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto probably didn’t help on this play as Blue Jays reliever Mike Armstrong essentially commits fan interference on a George Brett liner down the right field line. The Blue Jays “bullpen” seems almost comically pinned into the stadium’s corner, from which Armstrong jumps up to field the fair ball, prompting a rule discussion that leaves even baseball sage Earl Weaver clueless.

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