Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Quick history of baseball stadiums. The classic era. Before 1960 most baseball stadiums had been built 40-60 years prior at the fringe of the city--often constrained by geography (strange sized block, hill, railroad) resulting, out of necessity, in a uniquley shaped quirkly outfield. Stadiums were unfair--some favored pull hitters (Polo Grounds, 258 & 279' down the lines that quickly sloped out, with 440' power alleys and a 482' centerfield), some favored right handed batters (Fenway Park), some favored left handed batters (Yankee Stadium, Baker Bowl, with a 281' right field line that DIDN'T slope out so the right field power alley was @340' away) but everyone knew going in what the park biases were. Batters tried to hit the short field, pitchers tried to locate strikes that would go to the deeper portions of the park.

Eventually the city grew around the ballpark, suddenly finding itself in a decaying neighborhood and almost always was not able to provide the acres of parking that the car crazed public now demanded.

Sampling of classic baseball stadiums--each had a bias but the bias was known and it was more talent than luck that addressed a quirky stadium. Forbes Field had 4 significant outfield changes, Ebbets Field also had 4, but the well in the outfield only appeared in 1948 so for 15 years previous there were only 2 changes. The quirky Polo Grounds has 6 changes but 4 involved the well in the outfield @500' feet away that was almost never in play--so in reality there were only 2 significant changes. Comisky Park only had 2 outfield changes

The second era, the modern era, was 1960-1990 when stadiums were built in the fringe of the urban area so they could be surrounded with a parking lot. As football was also booming, stadiums were build for both baseball and football, "like giant ashtrays"-circular that was barely suitable to be used for both sports but not really being good for either. Most outfield fences looked similar--with a gradual symmetrical arc. (see Old Oakland Coliseum below)

The neo-classical era, post 1990 began with Camden Yards--baseball only parks put back in the inner city, with outfield dimensions again constrained by geography or a nod to the asymmetry of the old ballparks. But the asymmetry nod would run amuck.
Camden Yards-only 3 significant changes--a realistic throwback ballpark..

The problem is that while Camden Yard was reasonable with their limited quirky outfield dimensions, more and more of the modern retro stadiums figure if a little change is good--then alot of quirkiness is better. But in essence the new retro stadium become skee ball machine--long fly ball might be a home run, but hit 5 feet to the left in "the well" a long out, hit 5 feet to the right on the side of the well on the high wall a double. They might as well put hoops on the top of the fence and holes in the fence and signs that say "hit the ball through the hole and get 2 bonus runs." While trying to recapture the feel of a mythical old ballpark that never existed- -in reality the old ballparks were not nearly as goofy as some of the new ones.
After my visit to Petco Park last year I wrote nice things about it but I also wrote "looks like a hodgepodge...right field corner is artificially gamed." I can now easily see why--9 angle changes in the outfield. Enron Stadium has 6. Citi Field also has 6--they will probably smooth out the right field well as bullpens hidden and power alley too far away.

Even refurbished ballparks try for that goofy feel. The "old" Oakland Coliseum was the typical modern multipurpose circular bowl (though really built on the cheap.) The outfield dimensions were symmetrical, and changed significantly twice. After remodeled, where Mt Davis (huge tower of stands in the outfield for football) ruined any feel for baseball the Oakland Coliseum had the outfield fence zigging and zaggin everywhere with 6 sudden changes--goofy indeed. Like most modern ballparks, smooth arc outfield at the Oakland Coliseum, boring but fair--now 6 changes in remodeled changes for that "retro" feel--good luck.
Diagrams from the great Clem's Baseball Stadium site

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