By Phil Hecken, with Ron Bolton
It’s been a while since I collaborated with my buddy Ron Bolton (seen here with me at a Mets game this past summer), who you guys probably know more famously for his twitter handle, @OTBaseballPhoto. Our most recent undertaking occurred over the summer, when we took a look at baseball stadiums never built, but he’s partnered with me on a bunch of postings over the past couple years on Uni Watch. Ron’s back today with a new set of old timey photos and writeups, this batch involving “quirky” baseball parks.
Enjoy. Here’s Ron:
Quirky Baseball Parks
By Ron Bolton
Ketchikan, Alaska, ca 1905
Set at the southernmost entrance to Alaska’s famed Inside Passage, this small town at the turn of the century started a lover affair with the game of baseball but with sparse space to play it. The only area flat and large enough for a baseball field was on the tideflats of Ketchikan Creek, meaning twice a day the diamond had to deal with the hide tide and depending on conditions home plate could be under as much as 15-feet of water!
Despite the wet and muddy conditions of the field, many games were contested on a ground of soggy bark and logs that would need to be cleared before first pitch. Eventually higher ground was found in the 1920’s for a new (and drier!) ballpark and the days of the players battling the tides was done.
Sprudel Park, French Lick, IN
One of the most unusual and quirkiest venues to host baseball games. Originally built in 1896 as an double-deck bicycle track that was oval in shape and stretched and curved for 1/3 of a mile. It was constructed on the grounds of the luxurious West Baden Springs Hotel. Soon after the structure’s completion a baseball field was laid out in the center and would attract several MLB teams for spring training like the champion Cubs in 1908.
It was also home to the West Baden Sprudels, an independent Negro League team run by the Black employees of the hotel. And fans would watch the games from the elevated oval track 15-feet high.
Over time the structure grew weak and the owners of the hotel wanted to raze it but were hesitant due to the high costs of the project. But in the summer of 1925 good fortune struck the owners when a strong windstorm did them a favor and destroyed the flailing wooden structure.
Brookside Stadium, Cleveland, Oct 3, 1915
70,000 are on hand to watch Cleveland White Autos sweep the Conemaugh of Johnstown, PA by scores of 4-0 and 11-0 to advance in the World Amateur Baseball Championship. Louis Crowley was the hurler in both games for White Autos and allowed just four hits in both games combined.
Brookside Stadium is a natural amphitheater stadium capable of holding up to 115,000 as it did the following Sunday (Oct 10, 1915) as pictured in the panorama.
However, over time the playing field and the hills were hardly tended to and Brookside Stadium slowly faded into history and just remnants of the field and area remain as a reminder how alive the hills once were.
Ocean Park, Lynn, Massachusetts, ca 1907
As its name suggests this ballpark was located right next to the Atlantic Ocean and games played there were subject to odd weather conditions such as heavy fog and strong winds. And the fog at times was thick enough to postpone games. The oceanfront ballpark was home to the Lynn Shoemakers of the New England League. The teams nickname was on account of Lynn having one of the first strikes of its kind in the nation in 1860 when 3,000 shoemakers walked the picket line.
Fairbanks, Alaska, ca 1910
We go back to The Last Frontier but this time in Fairbanks were the ballpark might not be all that quirky or unusual but the time of day (or night!) they play an annual game that is called the “Midnight Sun Game” might be.
This photo was taken exactly at midnight, the year is an estimate but the time of year was June 21st (give or take a day) during the summer solstice and when Alaska gets 22-hours of sunlight. This annual game started in 1906 and was hosted by various teams in the area, but in 1960 the Alaska Goldpanners became the exclusive team to be the host and the games took place at Growden Memorial Park. Since they taken to the part of the home team the Goldpanners record is 45-12.
Here’s a look at a modern incarnation of the game, with a photograph was taken at midnight during the 2005 game, June 21, 2005.
Armory Park, Toledo, OH, ca 1900
One of my favorite little-known ballparks ever, I mean its left field wall is part of a frigging castle! Or an armory (hence the ballpark’s name), but it must have been the coolest thing to see in the day. The ballpark was built in 1897 and served home to the Toledo Mud Hens (Max Klinger’s favorite baseball team) until 1909 when it gave way to Swayne Field.
The most prominent feature of Armory Park was that huge fortification of bricks masquerading as the left field wall. While it looks like a castle it was in reality it was the Ohio National Guard Armory.
Armory Park was razed in 1910 and in its place was built a tabernacle where the legendary Billy Sunday would preach drawing big crowds.
Electric Park, Aberdeen, WA, 1907
Electric Park was home to Aberdeen Black Cats, a Class B minor league that played in Northwestern League. 1907 served the Black Cats bats well winning the league title with a 85-51 record while Irv Higginbotham (pitched for Cardinals) led team with 29 wins.
What makes this ballpark unique and quirky for me is 1), the setting, there are few places better to play our national pastime than the beautiful Northwest. And 2), the Electric Park grandstand. Its unique style just blends in with the landscape, when I look at this photo I always find myself staring at that structure. How can you not?
Thanks, Ron! Great stuff as always.
For those who don’t wish to click the links, Graig paints baseball heroes (and regular guys) from the past, and is an immense talent.
Occasionally, I will be featuring his work on Uni Watch.
Here’s today’s offering (click to enlarge):
Title: “Far From Albuquerque”
Subject: Ernie Banks, 1969
Medium: Oil on linen
Size: 24″ x 38″
Ernie Banks will forever be remembered as one of the best baseball players to never get into postseason play. However, he will forever be remembered as one of the game’s most gentle souls, as the good natured man from Dallas always wanted to “play two” in the “friendly confines” of Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Grateful for the ability to play baseball for a living, Banks had no interest in changing the world – especially one that was still going through integration on and off the field of play. His ideas on the word ‘race’ were reflected in how it affected his own life: the run to beat the throw.
Banks was picked up by the legendary Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues in 1950. At the advice of Cool Papa Bell, Monarchs manager Buck O’Neil had signed him from an amateur team in Texas. After an average first season with the Monarchs, 1953 saw a young Ernie Banks return from two years of duty in the armed forces. It was then that he began to show wonderful promise, batting in 47 runs in just 46 games. After Banks hit a homerun in the East-West Game at Comiskey Park that same year, Buck was sure that the kid was something special. When he left his job with the Negro Leagues to join the Chicago Cubs, O’Neil took remembered what had seen in Comiskey that day, and signed Banks for the second time, making him the first African-American to play for the National League ballclub in the Chicago.
Coming into the majors as a young shortstop near the end of the 1953 season, Banks did not look much like the power hitter he came to be known as. On September 20 of that year, Banks gave Cub fans a glimpse of what to expect, as he hit the first homerun of his career. Slim, tall and wiggling his bat nervously while waiting for an incoming pitch, one would never guess how much power was generated from his quick and strong wrists. A scout later touted that the thin-framed rook had “wrists right up to his armpits”. It was two years later, in 1955, that he set the record for most homeruns by a shortstop, with 44. He broke that same record four years later, with 47 round trippers. In a five year period, he had slammed more homers than anyone in baseball – more than guys named Mantle, Mays and Aaron. And, though erratic at the beginning of his career, Ernie became a hard working, dependable shortstop, making only 12 errors in over 500 tries in the last year of the decade. Such accolades earned him back-to-back league MVP awards in 1958 and 1959.
Quickly becoming a fan favorite in the mid-1950s, Banks became just as known for his interactions with fans and his jubilant spirit, as he did his marvelous craft. His modesty was also legendary, as he had declined the Cubs’ offer to give him a day at Wrigley, as he felt he had not been around long enough to deserve such an honor.
Banks continued his dominance into the 1960s, with remarkable performances in the 1960, 1961, 1962 and 1965 seasons. Though, the Chicago Cubs, who had managed but one .500 season in the 1950s, seemed destined to suffer the same fate in the early 1960s. Due to a string of injuries, Banks began to show his age as well, moving to regular duty as a first baseman in 1963. It was in 1966, with the hiring of Manager Leo Durocher, that the Cubbies began to show life. That season saw young pitching talent, such as Ken Holtzman, Bill Hands and Ferguson Jenkins. Rich Nye and Joe Niekro came to the team the year after, and helped Chicago reach third place, the highest the club had finished since 1946. In 1968, amid many injuries and setbacks, they strengthened their team with the additions of Phil Regan, Al Spangler, Jim Hickman and Willie, and again finished third. It was thought that all of the pieces of the puzzle were in place. 1969 would finally be their year.
Pictured is Ernie sitting on the dugout steps, signing autographs for his adoring fans on April 9, the first game of the 1969 season. The familiar bricked wall dugout of Wrigley provides a backdrop for equally delighted members of the Cubs grounds crew. In the twilight of his career, the then-38 year old Ernie Banks was playing in his last great season, a season that saw him drive in over 100 runs, a season that saw the Cubs rise to the top of the class in the National League by holding first place for 143 games out of 163.
And then, just as dramatically, the Cubs fell to second place on September 9th. All of the Cubs overworked regulars, faired poorly as the long season dragged on. Ron Santo, Randy Hundley and Glenn Beckert all slumped, and Ernie Banks hit a measly .186 with 1 homer in 86 at bats during the month of September. Try as they may, the Cubbies failed to regain their lead, and missed the playoffs for yet another season.
Though, no matter how historic their team’s collapse, Cub fans could never hold ill will towards their boys, most especially Ernie Banks. For so many years during his career, and years after, when his number was retired and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, to them, Banks was the symbol of all that was good in baseball – he was about the sport, plain and simple.
Thanks, Graig! You can (and should!) follow Graig on Twitter.
Raffle reminder: Paul here. In case you missed it on Friday, our annual year-end raffle, featuring dozens of cool items (including an amazing Uni Watch hockey jersey made by DIY genius Wafflebored, shown above), is now underway. Full details here.
Uni Watch News Ticker
Baseball News: Just what we need before the hot stove heats up: The new exhibit at the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum “Pain, Protection and Performance: The Evolution of Baseball Equipment” is now open. For more information, click here. … CROSSOVER ALERT! From Funhouse, check out this pic of Deion Sanders wearing his Atlanta Braves cap with his Atlanta Falcons uni! (Also posted in NFL). … You’ve always wanted to see the greatest songwriting duo ever possibly playing baseball, right? Right! (from Tailgate Throwback Sports).
NFL News: Here’s a (not-so?) subtle change that occurred for the Jacksonville Jaguars between the pre-season and regular season during 1997: the team began play with block shadowed numbers, quickly switching to non-shadowed numbers during the season (from Pens Chronicles). The change is noted in the GUD, but it looks a lot more drastic on the unis than in graphic form. … At the Grand Central Terminal Vineyard Vines, there is a set of those crazy metallic helmets (I think they’re part of the Riddell Blaze collection), from rick ho. … Isn’t that sweet? Drew Brees sent a custom commemorative football to every receiver who helped him break the career passing yards record (from Kary Klismet). … Good spot by Beau Parsons who noticed the Browns Baker Mayfield has a number “6” stitched onto his stocking cap. … CROSSOVER ALERT! From Funhouse, check out this pic of Deion Sanders wearing his Atlanta Braves cap with his Atlanta Falcons uni! (Also posted in Baseball). … The Buffalo Bills will wear their all red color rash unis today against Detroit. … The Browns will go orange/white/orange today vs. the Broncos (from our own Alex Hider). … We have an answer to the question, “what endzones will we see in
MetLife Giants Stadium?” as the Jets played late yesterday and the Giants play early today: generic striped endzones. Nice. … “NFL Network using pre-season image of Baker Mayfield?” asks Jon Solomonson. “No stripes on helmet.” … The Stillers will be wearing their color rash unis today — one of the better of the CR looks, no doubt.
College Football News: Oops: During yesterday’s “Cure” Bowl, CBSSN was having a rough go of it early. They were using the Lafayette logo on the ULL down and distance graphic. Here’s another look (from Trayton Miller and Andy Altemus respectively). The Ragin Cajuns (who now just go by “Louisiana”) logo looks like this. Should have looked like this. It was fixed later in the game. … Bowl sticker update: Sam McKinley notes, “CFP stickers on the OU helmet. Would appear (thankfully) OU is sticking with the traditional unis for the Orange Bowl.” … Here’s a look at the
RedBox corporately-named patches the Oregon Ducks will wear for their bowl game (from Glen Matthews). … Color vs. color is not always the optimal matchup in a neutral site bowl game. Example #1 (from Steve Helwick). I mean, seriously, what were they thinking (from Steve Carter). … Reader/tweeter Chris Mycoskie says he “Really like(s) @alleneaglesfb alternate helmet. Mascot with all five state championship trophies. Two more wins, and they’ll have to update this.”
Hockey News: It’s the most wonderful time of the year: “Incredibly cool holiday sweater uniforms for the Peoria_Rivermen of the SPHL,” notes Wes Huett. “Best touch is the embroidered numbers on the arms and back. Perfection.” … In his latest blog for NY Sports Day, Peter Schwartz tells the previously untold story about how the New York Islanders fisherman jersey was leaked to the Daily News in 1995! … As mentioned in yesterday’s post, the release of the Pens/Flyers SS logos will likely lead to new unis for both teams for the game. Is my hope for the Pens in gold realistic? … So you want an Ovi bobble wearing a white jersey and holding the Stanley Cup? Of course you do. Here’s how. … The Cincinnati Cyclones wore their Star Wars-themed unis last evening (from useroftweets). … More holiday sweaters: the Sioux Falls Stampede donned these last night (from Sioux Falls Stampede). … Still more ugly sweaters: The Reading Royals busted out the ugly sweaters yesterday (from Jeff Tasca). … STILL more ugly sweaters: this time from the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (from Al Gruwell). … And then, there are just plain ugly (from Daren Stoltzfus). … Getting ready for the WC: “This trailer rolled into the US from Canada this afternoon,” says LetsMakeThisAwkward.
NBA/College/High School Hoops News: There’s logo theft and logo appropriation, and then there’s this: “Clay City High School (IN), whose mascot is the eels (!), is using part of the Golden State warriors logo,” says Derek Linn. … Looks like Dayton Mens Hoops have added stars to their practice shorts for hustle (from John Bedell). … Big difference in NOB sizes for Maryland Eastern Shore hoops players (from cb58). … Two Virginia Tech basketball players — Justin Robinson and Kerry Blackshear — will wear graduation caps on their jerseys; both just graduated this week (from Andrew Cosentino). … The Evansville Aces wore sleeved throwbacks, and this article has a pretty good slideshow of photos of them. … Sean Hare notes this gray vs black in the Cincinnati vs. Miss St game. “Seems impossible to make the right pass,” he adds. … Of course there was a similar situation between Xavier and Eastern Kentucky. Dark grey vs maroon (from Johnathon O’Halloran). … Check out this referee with a matching referee stripe do-rag used for a rec league game (from Josh Gibson).
Soccer News: From our Pacific Rim correspondent Jeremy Brahm, we have a new logo for Japan’s J-League soccer “after advertising agreement with Meiji Yasuda Life Insuance for its 3 levels.” … Here’s a pretty clever twitter graphic showing the kit matchups for Premier League teams for match week (from Josh Hinton). … The next two items are also from Josh: UK Double Diamond brand Umbro recently announced not less than three important kit deals with teams worldwide, and the Nike San Lorenzo 2019 home kit just got leaked. … “My first ticker submission in forever!” exclaims Patrick Nance. “The American Outlaws–the official US Soccer fan group–come out with a T-shirt design every year and they just debuted the one for 2019. I thought this helpful placard was a fun tongue-in-cheek dig at the over-the-top “story-telling” we see a lot of times.”
Grab Bag: Bah Humbug! During the holiday season, United Airlines gives its flight attendants some leeway on how to accessorise their uniforms. But the US airline based in Chicago apparently doesn’t want its flight crews to go overboard with extras, such as antlers, Santa hats, haloes, etc. … Before the inaugural game of the third iteration of the Philadelphia Wings (NLL) yesterday, they re-raised the past championship & retired number banners (Bergey, Marechek, Eliuk) at Wells Fargo Center, but with the new Wings logo none of them played in (from Michael MPH). … Jimmer Vilk loves the “medals” the winners got in Springboat Springs this weekend.