By Phil Hecken
I’ve always been fascinated by the old baseball parks, especially the ones that were long gone before I was born. So many quirks, so much history — the ghosts of baseball past, if you will. Unlike today’s retro parks (which were, of course, inspired by the cathedrals of the past) and their immediate predecessors — the cavernous concrete multipurpose donuts and municipal yards that were built either on the cheap or without character (oftentimes both), ballparks of yesteryear have always held a special place in my heart. Sure, they’re not uniforms, but after uniforms, they’re my one of my true loves.
I had often wanted to write a piece on some of the old parks, and today I’ll give a quick look at some of my favorites. I have to say, I was inspired to write about these a long time ago, and after some rather intense discussions with some of my Deep Freeze comrades last weekend, where I found my love of these parks was far from unique, I decided to think about it. Then, this past Tuesday, Paul posted a ticker item featuring one of those newfangled computer baseball games in which one can “select” an old school stadium (to be precise the particular game featured seven of my favorites old buildings: The Polo Grounds, Crosley Field, Forbes Field, Griffith Stadium, Shibe Park and Sportsman’s Park) in which one could play a game. That cinched it — and this post was born.
There are far too many stadia (although to be fair, most of them weren’t stadiums at all, but much smaller, more intimate places), most of which featured some amazingly unique architecture or other characteristics which can’t be replicated today, to actually cover in one post (or even 100). So, I’ll just scratch the surface and provide you with a few links so you can
waste spend the rest of the day just enjoying the simpler times, before night games, commercial breaks and t-shirt shooting cannon. Back when “lets play two” was a weekly occurrence and you could spend a day at the park without taking out a loan. So without further ado, here’s a look at five of my favorite old-tyme ballparks:
Ebbets Field: No list would be complete without Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. Opened in 1913, this wasn’t the first park in which the Dodgers played, but it’s the most famous (sure, Dodger Stadium has it’s finer points, and it has hosted more Dodgers games than Ebbets Field). It was one of baseball’s first cathedrals, and was no doubt most famous for the rotunda. The New York Baseball club that “replaced” Brooklyn (and the Giants) upon their westward move attempted to replicate that rotunda when they christened their new ballpark last season (and didn’t do too bad a job).
But Ebbets had many other glorious features as well: Like many parks of yesteryear, it was shoehorned into the neighborhood, and featured a very short rightfield porch, famously adorned with ads, including the iconic Abe Stark (“Hit Sign Win Suit”) sign, and an angled wall with a high wire fence. The big “Schaefer Beer” sign would tell those keeping score whether a play was a “HIT” (the “H” in Schaefer would light) or an “ERROR” (the “E” would light up). Awesome.
Shibe Park: A Philadelphia classic, Shibe Park (later known as “Connie Mack Stadium”) was also an architectural splendor to behold. It featured a magnificent French Renaissance facade, and was the first ballpark (constructed in 1909) built entirely of concrete and steel. Featuring gargantuan centerfield dimensions (over 500 feet from home plate in the early years), it too was built to fit inside a city grid.
Shibe was home to both the Athletics and the Phillies, with the A’s being the original tenant in 1909. By 1938, the Phillies had moved in (and would remain there after the A’s departed for Kansas City), and would stay until the Vet was built.
While devoid of multiple quirks like other ballparks of it’s time, Shibe did have one distinguishing feature: Connie Mack, owner of the A’s, was pissed that those in the neighboring homes could see games for free over the low fence, so he constructed a “spite” fence in right field. The new fence effectively cut down on the “squatters” but didn’t endear him to the neighborhood.
Griffith Stadium: Look at the size of that left field! That’s not an illusion, when Griffith Stadium was constructed, it was a whopping 407 feet down the left field line, and it actually increased to 424 feet in 1921! Another stadium whose dimensions were reflected by it’s relation to the neighborhood, Griffith Stadium also had an extremely unique quirk: the centerfield wall jutted inward at almost a right angle, detouring around a tree and five houses.
The Nationals/Senators called Griffith Stadium home (as did the Negro League Grays and the Redskins), and it was the site of perhaps the longest home run in baseball history. The Mick hit one that was “supposedly measured” at 565 feet (baseball’s first “tape measure” shot, although the gentleman who later claimed to have used an actual tape measure later claimed to have merely guestimated the distance).
Polo Grounds: Another New York icon, the Polo Grounds always intrigued me because of it’s horseshoe shape. It was actually the fourth ballpark built on that spot, and was home to the Giants, the Yankees (for a few years until they’d build a somewhat famous stadium across the river), and after Horace Stoneham paired up with Walter O’Malley to move the Giants (with the Dodgers) west, the New York Metropolitans, who played there for two years. Now, the Polo Grounds wasn’t always an enclosed stadium, but the builders quickly went from this to the fully enclosed stadium shortly after construction. Like most parks of it’s age, centerfield was very deep, and the monument was in play (and is in memory of Captain Edward Leslie Grant, who was mortally wounded in France during World War I).
The Polo Grounds was full of quirks, including the monument and the giant scoreboard and cutout in centerfield between the bleachers (through which players and fans both exited the stadium). One of the oddest features occurred due to the shape of the field, which not only had the deep outfield, but two incredibly short left field and right field walls. While short porches aren’t uncommon in older parks, unlike other fields, they couldn’t erect high fences to keep those short shots in play, as they would block the fans’ views. As a result, pop flies right down either baseline would become home runs. And although the right field fence was closer to home plate than the left, left field featured a somewhat unique overhang, which shortened the distance considerably.
One of the most famous catches in history occurred here, when the Say Hey Kid robbed Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series. And of course, only years earlier, the short left field porch would be home of perhaps the most famous home run in the world, with Bobby Thompson’s shot heard round the world. This occurred on October 3, 1951, a season in which the Giants would make a miraculous September charge,
winning stealing the pennant from the crosstown Dodgers.
Sportsman’s Park: This grand old park, opened in 1902 and used until 1966, was also referred to as Busch Stadium in later years. Until baseball began moving westward in the 1950’s, Sportsman’s Park had the distinction of being the furthest west park in baseball. While not particularly large or small in comparison to other old parks, it did have a fairly deep center and short right field porch. Originally home to the Browns (when it first opened), the more famous tenants (and later owners) were the St. Louis Cardinals.
While not particularly ‘quirky,’ Sportsman’s Park did have two very cool features: whenever a Cardinal hit a homerun, the Budweiser Eagle on top of the leftfield fence would flap it’s wings. Before the eagle sat atop the fence, like several ballparks, the flagpole was in fair territory.
Of course, when your owner is the inimitable Bill Veeck, there will be some interesting players on the team: Pete Gray, the one-armed major leaguer and Eddie Gaedel, baseball’s shortest player, both played at Sportsman’s Park (note the original dimensions and orientation of the field superimposed on a later shot). Perhaps my favorite quirk of the Stadium occurred during the 1946 World Series, when the Cards dropped the Red Sox and the field featured a crazy ring around the mound. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this feature before or since in any park.
That’s going to do it for this installment of the old ballparks. If you guys enjoyed it, I’ll do another set in the future. So what say you, do you love the old parks as much as I do? Have any others you consider your favorites? Got any stories of seeing games in any of these? Although, unless you’re considerably older than I, *coughrickocough* I’m guessing most of these were gone before you were born. Either way, whaddya say?
“Be Like Mike.” Such a great marketing phrase back then. Not so much now. Here’s Rick:
Everything is a learning experience, right? I mean, that’s what they tell us. So why should we doubt that philosophy because something goes a little amiss? We just file it away and move on. Again. Grumbling.
Enjoy your Saturday Benchies.
Guess The Game From The Scoreboard: Back today for a little college action. This one may give you some trouble, but you never know. Jake was there, and that’s probably even more of a hint than you need. Guess The Game From The Scoreboard. Date, location and final score, please, and be sure to link to your answer. And, as always, if you enjoy the game, please send me some new scoreboards! Drop me a line. Thanks!
Our next round of Uniform Tweaks, Concepts and Revisions is upon us again. We’ll be examining all sports now. So, if you have a tweak, change or concept for any sport, send them my way.
Our first contestant is UW stalwart Mike Engle, who took crayon to paper to create this interesting Habs mashup:
As we all know (and especially me, as a McGill student), the Montreal Canadiens have been celebrating their old age for two years, while giving five throwback jerseys cameos. Though I am not advocating that the Habs even THINK about adopting this third jersey (I’m not even sure Jim Vilk would wear this thing), I am willing to share the result of my “blue duck syndrome.” I wanted to see what would happen if I took the Habs’ throwbacks, threw them all into a blender, and made one “encyclopedic” alternate top. Turns out, since the Habs have mostly exclusively been bleu, blanc et rouge, I didn’t need special helmets, breezers, or socks. I’d prefer natural leather brown gloves with this jersey, but I’d settle for standard red and blue gloves. Either way, the other team will definitely be wearing white.
Don’t mind the pencil guidelines or the lighter-than-supposed-to-be scanned color pencil. The colors are red, royal, white, and forest green. The NOB and number font are the same as currently used, so any differences there are coincidental as well. The thin white torso stripe and the blue upper is from the 1909 blue jersey; the sleeves are from the barber pole. The green accents are, of course, a recessive gene from the 1910 jerseys. I intentionally dialed back the green since it’s obviously a forgettable 1% of the uniform history. The green is only an accent when needed for extra contrast. The sleeve CA patch is directly from the 1912 jersey. But since I hate sleeve numbers on one sleeve or less, and didn’t want to interrupt the barber pole stripes more, I moved the TV numbers to the shoulders. Hardly the usual, but if Team Canada can do it, so can I. I invented the MCMIX patch for the right wrist as a “tattoo” to bookend the Reebok vector–I’d rather both be hidden than both seen on the ice, but the fans can certainly enjoy the year patch. (That’s Roman numeral for 1909, their first year, and I LOVE Roman numerals.) I put a CH logo front and center because it’s the famous logo, of course; I included a lace-up collar because they are my favorite; finally, the “normal” look below the torso stripe is to tie in with the rest of the non-throwback uniform. And oh by the way, why Ken Dryden for the model? My mom is a Cornell alumna, so I have to love Dryden.
Next up is James Hayden, who has some new looks for the Washington, D.C. football club:
Since I was designing new unis for the “Dead-skins” anyway, I decided to create a full set using my questionable graphic design talents and forward my results to you.
My basic concept is based on the NFL 75th Season throwbacks from 1994 — I always liked the jerseys they wore and even spent a couple bucks on ebay for a Mitchell & Ness Ricky Ervins repro that somebody didn’t read the washing instructions for (the NOB has a distinctive pink-ish cast to it). The current helmet would remain in use (I don’t really see the new GM pushjing for a re-design, since his dad designed it to begin with!), although Gray facemasks are a possibility — the change back to Gray from a colored mask seems to have worked out for the Colts.
Anyway – I’ve created 4 basic designs including a Burgundy Home Jersey, a White Road Jersey, a Gold Alternate and a “George Allen” Throwback – since George’s son is the new GM. Being a modern NFL team – I have three regular pants colors (and one alternate) so they can do the whole crappy high school look if needed (Red over Red – yay!). I’ve also returned to the darker Burgundy color they wore through 1968 (and on their Redskins 75th Alternates) and prefer to use the Yellow/Gold color they are supposed to be using – although they have a habit of using too light of a shade (closer to Packers Yellow that the more correct Steelers Yellow/Gold) – their 1971 Throwbacks from 2008 especially suffered from this issue – thanks again Reebok.
1. Dark Jersey – Based on the aforementioned 1994 Throwback – Dark Burgundy jersey with Yellow/Gold numbers and sleeve gathers, the numbers are “shadowed” in Old Gold. The TV numbers are placed up on the shoulder. The collar is similar to what the Packers wore back in the 1990’s and echos the 1969-1977 jerseys designed by Vince Lombardi. I’ve, of course, deleted any sleeve striping (since modern sleeve striping looks silly) and have placed the Chief Joseph logo on the sleeve ala’ 1930’s (and the 1994) jerseys – but I’ve used the helmet logo from 1982 (the “folded feather” logo). Basically I’ve tried to have some sort of homage to every era of Redskins football combined into a single jersey.
This jersey could (should) be worn with either Yellow/Gold or White pants – it’s not noted on the image, but the pants would have a contrasting stripe based on the Steelers uniforms – i.e. a single wide Burgundy stripe on the Yellow/Gold and White pants and a Yellow/Gold stripe on the Burgundy pants.
2. White Jersey – this mirrors the Burgundy jersey – same collar, numbers are Burgundy, but retain the Old Gold “shadowing” and the circle around Chief Joseph is Burgundy (with a very thin outline of Old Gold). This jersey would most properly be worn with the Burgundy pants (harking back to the Joe Gibbs eras), although White pants could be worn.
3. Alternate Gold Jersey (ugh) – I hated to do this, but modern teams need their alternates and a Black jersey would match absolutely nothing in the ‘skins design genre. That being said, there was a (jinx) picture of Jason Campbell on the cover of Sports Illustrated last summer where he was wearing his QB practice “red-shirt” jersey – which, of course, can’t be red so its (the proper shade of) Yellow/Gold with Maroon Numbers and I thought that it looked kind-of cool. In addition, Nike’s WVU Yellow jerseys actually looked okay (for Nike, and I hate WVU’s numbers), so there’s a bit of influence from that quarter as well. This jersey omits the “Lombardi-esque” collar in favor of Plain Burgundy and Chief Joseph’s circle lacks the this gold trim. I’ve also used an alternate number style as the Old Gold “shadowing” wouldn’t look quite right. Either White or Burgundy pants should be worn with this jersey, although I’m sure somebody would want to try Yellow/Gold pants for a nice monochrome crappy high school look.
4. Throwback – modernized version of the 1969-1978 unis worn during the George Allen era, in consideration of the fact that the George’s son is the new GM. Basically the dark version of the 1971 Throwbacks they wore in 2008 (but with the proper shade of Yello/Gold), they use the current lighter Maroon shade used since Vince Lombardi designed “Packer-style” unis in 1969 and are worn with matching special Throwback pants and socks (BTW – the socks echo the jersey striping). They current helmet is worn, of course, since it was designed by George Allen for 1972 and has been used ever since (with the exception of the “folded feather” logo in 1982 – worn in Super Bowl XVII by everybody but Joe Washington and the change to Yellow facemasks. Of course, an alternate Throwback would just be the current unis, since they haven’t really changed since 1978 anyway…
Well, that’s my tweak – I’ve considered doing the Ravens, but all my designs eliminate Purple for either Blue (where they end-up looking too much like either the Colts or the CFL Baltimore Stallions) or Green and Silver like the AAFC Baltimore Colts (which means the look a lot like the second season USFL Washington Federals, or how the Eagles should look) – thanks for your time…
Today’s final set of tweaks comes from Kaleb Stuckey, who has a whopping sixteen NFL teams he would like to see change their looks:
Baltimore Ravens– I got rid of the God-awful purple and replaced it with a maroon/burgundy to kep with the “dark” Ravens theme. Also, I gave them a new helmet logo.
Buffalo Bills– Probably the most necessary redesign, I gave the team back the old school white helmets, because I am obviously a big fan. Also, I made all the blues on the uniforms the same. The seven or eight different shades on the current uniforms is an eyesore.
Carolina Panthers– I got rid of the silver and, again, gave them white helmets. I changed the blue to actual “Carolina Blue.” And, just for the sake of change, I made the sleeves and jerseys different colors.
Cincinnati Bengals– I hated the old oval numbers and gave them more of a block style. Obviously the biggest change is the helmet. The stripes have worn their way out of my mind. Instead of the tiger stripes on the sleeves, I put them on the pants.
Cleveland Browns– Not too much change to these, just consistency.
Dallas Cowboys– Another consistency issue, I got rid of the ridiculous green pants and royal blue on the white. I also changed the white jersey sleeves with one band instead of the two. I also gave the three tone socks.
Detroit Lions– I got rid of the black on the color and white uniforms. If they want to wear black, they can wear the alternate, but hopefully rarely.
Houston Texans– Probably the most far-fetched concept, I brought back the old light blue from the Oilers days. I also gave them the underarm stripes.
Kansas City Chiefs– I gave more contrast to the two colors. The old red was too light and the yellow was too bright. I darkened the red and dulled down the yellow, as well as with yellow pants.
Minnesota Vikings– Obviously I used the South Carolina Gamecocks template for these, but anything is better than what they have. The new pants colors are what makes these uniforms better.
New Orleans Saints– I like simple uniforms (Colts, Jets), but boring is a different story. The Saints colors are the same as my high school colors were so I have played around with them before, but these might be my favorite. Accents and outlines are what makes them so different from the current uniforms.
New York Giants– Not too much difference in these, except for sleeve cuffs and white pants.
Pittsburgh Steelers– The most important change in these uniforms is that they have the logo sticker on both sides of the helmet (the most annoying idea in NFL uniforms.) The italicized numbers were also agonizing, so I gave them a block style and changed the color to yellow on the color uniforms.
Seattle Seahawks– Probably my favorite, I used the same current uniforms, but with the awesome colors of the former uniforms. Just as long as they don’t use the neon alternate.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers– Not too many obvious changes, but I got rid of the orange color in the accents. No team should have more than four colors on their uniforms.
Tennessee Titans– These didn’t need too much change, so I just adjusted a few things that bugged me. The helmet stripe is changed to the lighter blue. I just hope they don’t mix the light blue jersey/pants with the dark blue jersey/pants.
Thus endeth the tweaks for today. Don’t forget about the Official NFL Jersey Tweaks Contest too, which is separate from the normal uniform tweaks section. Remember, the deadline for the contest is February 1, (this Monday), so the contest WILL be closed down after that date. Keep them coming, and if you have a uniform or set of uniforms you have concepted, send them my way.
It had to happen sometime, right? After almost 22 years of inertia, this past week I took the semi-momentous step, at least for me, of returning to the university environment, beginning my post-graduate studies in pursuit of a Masters Degree in Journalism. Right now, it’s only one course (so at this rate, I’ll have a degree in four years) for now, but it’s a beginning.
Why am I telling you this? Aside from an ever-so-slight chest puffing, it means I may need to start scaling back some of the weekend columns, depending upon the amount of assignments and such I will have. Or it may just mean I need to better organize my time. Either way, I still fully intend to bring at least as much quality (if not quantity) to the weekends as I have in the past (insert “what quality?” joke here).
My favorite (or one of my favorite) part of the weekends is being able to work with many of you to bring a special or unique-ish main article to the readers, and I’d especially like to continue that. I try to work in one if not two of those per weekend, so I’m going to keep pulling a Tom Sawyer and keep those coming. However, in most of the instances, I seek a co-collaborator or two out. What I’d like to ask of you guys, though, is to come to me.
So, if you have an idea for a uni-related (unlike like today’s article) column, I’d love to see if we can’t put something together. If you have any ideas for a weekend piece, let me hear from you. No idea is too outrageous, so long as uniforms are involved, and all suggestions will be considered. If there is a topic or a sport you don’t think we see enough (or any) of on UW, let’s see if we can’t tackle it together.
OK? OK! I thank you in advance for your patience and understanding.
And I’m not the only journalism student who needs your help these days. You may remember Kenny Ocker, the Uni Watcher who scored the fantastic interview with Casey Martin last month. Well, he’s back at the U of O and he needs your help. I’ll let Kenny explain:
Dear Uni Watch Community,
When I (The Hemogoblin/Kenny Ocker) am not on the internet, I’m a sophomore journalism major at the University of Oregon. This term, I have a class that requires me to write a 100-page research paper. My topic question is “Should cities, counties and states use public money to fund the construction and operation of sporting venues for private organizations as a way to stimulate the economy?” If any of you feel as if you have something to contribute to my topic, you can e-mail me at The Hemogoblin (at) G-mail (dot) com. I’m especially looking for people who I can interview and stories/documents that are relevant to stadium funding. (I know that you all are a relatively educated bunch on this topic, given the success of the “I’m Calling It Shea” t-shirts, and that you’re all dedicated sports fans.) Any insight on my topic would be fantastic. Also, this is why you all will hardly see me until I get through this term.
No, thank you Kenny. What say you, fellow Uni Watchers, can you help a brother out?
Alright everyone, that’s going to do it for today. Everyone have a fantastic Saturday, ok? OK!