Wednesday, March 31, 2010

And In Conclusion, I Have No Life

A large part of the experience of going to a baseball game is the stadium itself. Stadiums carry a certain character in baseball, moreso than any other sport. (Seriously, about a quarter of the stadiums in the NFL look like each other. The only way you can tell whether you're in Charlotte, Washington, Baltimore or New York is the seat color. Same with Nashville, Jacksonville and Buffalo.)

So that said, let's kick the season off with naming the best stadium every MLB franchise has ever had. And by 'best' I of course will be using completely personal and subjective criteria.

The ground rules:

*Any stadium ever used as a home stadium in the history of the franchise is eligible as long as there's some documentation as to what it looks like. This includes all the rinky-dink 19th century stadiums long forgotten.
*No groundsharing. First dibs go to the team that used it the most and in the best condition.
*I reserve the right to specify a particular era of the stadium. This will come into play.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS: Chase Field. They've only ever had the one stadium, so not much debate here.

ATLANTA BRAVES: South End Grounds, Congress Street Grounds, Fenway Park, Braves Field, Milwaukee County Stadium, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Turner Field
The Brewers have dibs on County Stadium (spoiler alert), so the Braves can't have it. Same with Fenway and the Red Sox. Braves Field, used from 1915-1952, makes a case for the sheer difficulty in getting a ball over the fence. The foul poles were at 400 feet, distance would max out at 550 feet, plus the dead ball era, plus the wind blowing in, plus a gigantic foul territory, equals some very happy pitchers. Ty Cobb once said "Nobody will ever hit a ball out of this park." As it happened, it took ten years. Then came Fulton County Stadium, the 'Launching Pad'. It is unloved. Turner Field - or possibly Centennial Olympic Stadium- was originally built for that purpose. (Baseball during the Olympics used Fulton County Stadium.) It's fine, but a major part of the choice here is character. Braves Field has far more character than Turner Field, so that's the call.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES: Borchert Field, Lloyd Street Grounds, Sportsman's Park 3, Memorial Stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards
It would be easy to say Camden Yards and move on. So that's exactly what we'll do.

BOSTON RED SOX: Huntington Avenue Grounds, Fenway Park
The Huntington Avenue Grounds were used from 1901-1911. There were patches of sand in the outfield, a tool shed in center field was in play, it was a dump. Though Cy Young did throw his perfect game there. Fenway is the easy call. Though I want the pre-2003 Fenway, before they added seats on top of the Green Monster. The seats are nice and all, but I prefer balls just disappearing over the wall never to be seen again. You're a visitor and you get a ball over the Monster, Red Sox Nation shouldn't get the courtesy of being able to throw it back. That's a Cubs thing, anyway.

CHICAGO CUBS: Ogden Park, Dexter Park, Union Base-Ball Grounds, 23rd Street Grounds, Lakefront Park 1, Lakefront Park 2, West Side Park 1, South Side Park, West Side Park 2, Wrigley Field
It's easily Wrigley, but one note on the Union Base-Ball Grounds. It had a very short porch in right, only 200 feet. It was so far in that the ground rules originally only gave it ground-rule double status until its final year in use, 1884. Result: home runs all over the place, at least as far as that era was concerned. Ned Williamson had 27, a mark that would stand until 1919, when Babe Ruth came along and smacked 29, then 60.

What version of Wrigley? Pre-lights, with Harry Caray in the booth.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX: South Side Park 3, Comiskey Park, Milwaukee County Stadium, US Cellular Field
South Side Park wasn't much of anything and County Stadium belongs to the Brewers. Ask any White Sox fan what their pick is and they'll probably tell you "Old Comiskey". Because there's every chance they'll still be calling US Cellular Field "New Comiskey". The White Sox have renovated the Cell over and over to try and make amends, but... Old Comiskey all the way.

CINCINNATI REDS: Bank Street Grounds, League Park 1, League Park 2, Palace of the Fans, Crosley Field, Riverfront Stadium, Great American Ball Park
Great American Ball Park is fine, it's a hell of a name for a baseball stadium, but it ain't no Crosley.

CLEVELAND INDIANS: League Park, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, Progressive Field
League Park makes a case- 290 feet to a 60-foot fence in right, 375 feet to a 5-foot fence in left. 460 feet to center. Have fun. Cleveland Municipal had more fun with fences, as Bill Veeck would, for as long as the AL would tolerate it, move the fences as much as 15 feet between games. It would also have a berm- a mini hill- instead of a warning track in center field. Not that it mattered much; the berm was at 470 feet and nobody ever managed to reach it. Progressive Field has the groundskeepers shoot off fireworks after every half-inning to ward off seagulls, cozy, downtown, and is the fan favorite. Tough call for a neutral. Municipal was ugly, cold, filthy, housed a horrible Indians team, it was downright frightening being in the upper deck, but... it was THEIR ugly, cold, filthy, frightening home of a horrible team.

I give it to League Park. Even after Municipal Stadium was built in 1933, even when it was new, the Indians used League Park concurrently until 1946. That has to say something for League Park.

COLORADO ROCKIES: Mile High Stadium, Coors Field
Mile High Stadium was only used for two seasons before moving to Coors. But oh, those two seasons. Major League attendance records. 75,000 a game. What a noise. That said, Coors is still the better personality. The fans aren't much quieter, particularly when the Rockies are contending. And the fact that they have to use a humidor to keep the balls from ending up in Wyoming, and the thin air keeping breaking balls from actually breaking...

DETROIT TIGERS: Boulevard Park, Burns Park, Bennett Park, Tiger Stadium, Comerica Park
Why did Tiger Stadium have to go? Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?

FLORIDA MARLINS: Joe Robbie... er, Dolphin... um, Landshark... uh, Pro Player... Now it's Sun Life Stadium?! COME ON! Am I glad they're moving out of that thing next season. It's only here by default.

HOUSTON ASTROS: Colt Stadium, Astrodome, Minute Maid Park
Colt Stadium was a freaking oven. You don't go there for baseball. You go there to get grill marks. Also there were rattlesnakes. The stadium was relocated to Mexico, where it still stands. The Astrodome is a dome, but Houston has a bit of love for it. But let's not kid ourselves; it's Minute Maid easily.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS: Municipal Stadum, Kaufmann Stadium
Kaufmann easily. Beautiful ballpark. Just as long as it's post-1995, when they got rid of the turf.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM: Wrigley Field LA, Dodger Stadium (then called Chavez Ravine), Angel Stadium of Anaheim
We'll get to Chavez Ravine in a sec, but it's not really what you'd call the Angels'. Wrigley? When Home Run Derby needed a stadium bland enough and symmetrical enough to not favor any particular kind of hitter, they went to Wrigley. It's the Big A.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS: Washington Park 1, Ridgewood Park, Eastern Park, Washington Park 2, Ebbets Field, LA Memorial Coliseum, Dodger Stadium
A hard one to call, those last three, but really it's Ebbets or Dodger.

The Dodgers have now spent longer at Dodger than at Ebbets, and even though Ebbets is more lamented than any other former ballpark, the fans who were actually there recall it as actually kind of decrepit towards the end of its life and not really standing out. Dodger Stadium, once you read into its history, actually leaves kind of a bad taste in your mouth, once you read up on what's been called the Battle of Chavez Ravine.

For me, if Dodger Stadium, when you get right down to it, doesn't have enough special about it, enough character, to even keep the fans at the park the whole game, how's it going to beat Ebbets in its prime? Especially with that bad karma hanging over it?

MILWAUKEE BREWERS: Sick's Stadium, Milwaukee County Stadium, Miller Park
Having been to both County Stadium and Miller Park... Miller Park is nice, it really is, enjoy seeing games there, but it's County Stadium all the way. It's the stadium Major League was filmed at, Bernie Brewer actually slid into a beer stein, you could actually see some of the rest of Milwaukee even if the part of Milwaukee you actually wanted to look at was somewhere behind the left-field seating bowl and you were actually looking at the Masterson factory. We liked to play with Miller Park's retractable roof for a little while, then we got bored. Also it broke. And leaked.

Besides, the people outside could stand to be able to see in a little bit. It's a gigantic parking lot either way and we use every inch of it for tailgating. Also, prior to a 1973 expansion, patients at a nearby V.A. hospital had an unobstructed view of the games from their rooms, which they could therefore watch for free. That was nice. So let's take that configuration: after they added the beer stein, before they blocked off the veterans' view of the game.

MINNESOTA TWINS: American League Park, Boundary Field, Griffith Stadium, Metropolitan Stadium, Metrodome, Target Field
Minnesota got a retroactive affinity for Metropolitan Stadium, but largely because it was outside and the Metrodome wasn't. The love shifted completely to Target Field when it came along, because really, Metropolitan Stadium wasn't all that much of a ballpark. It was an upgraded minor league park with nothing special about it. Griffith Stadium had a center field fence that had to originally come in because the owner of the land there refused to sell it. The path between home plate and first was slightly downhill. The Metrodome, despite everything, has flavor to it, most notably the 'baggie' serving as an outfield wall and the dome that can be hit by a batted ball. Target Field has a good chance, but technically, no games have been played there yet, so let's not call it. For now? It's going to go to Griffith.

NEW YORK METS: Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium, Citi Field
You'd think it'd be the Polo Grounds. Uh uh. Even if the Giants didn't have squatter's rights on it, uh uh. They only spent two seasons there, when the Polo Grounds were old and dilapidated and they were just waiting for Shea Stadium to get built. They never got the Polo Grounds in its prime. And Shea is nobody's idea of a nice place to play baseball. Citi Field is the first actually pleasant stadium the Mets have ever had, so that's where they go here.

NEW YORK YANKEES: Oriole Park, Hilltop Park, Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium, Yankee Stadium 1, Yankee Stadium 2
Not New Yankee. Not until they fix that utterly broken wind tunnel out to right. And stop invoking class warfare behind home plate. It's clearly the House That Ruth Built. My chosen era of Yankee 1 is going to be the early 50's, when there was 'Death Valley' in deep center. Monument Park used to be in play, with a flagpole directly behind. So you could be chasing down a deep fly ball and all of a sudden have to contend with a whole other outfield patrol consisting of Miller Huggins, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. It was like that well into the 70's. And in the process you'd be dealing with rowdy fans from the Bronx.

I can say these things because I'm not the one shagging fly balls.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS: Columbia Park, Shibe Park, Municipal Stadium, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
Oh, are the A's happy they get first rights to Shibe over the Phillies. It's the clear choice. Columbia wasn't bad in the ancient, black-and-white, why-is-this-video-sped-up-so-it-looks-like-everyone's-on-some-sort-of-whimsical-steroid era. Municipal Stadium for the A's was mainly used to cause shenanigans with the right field fence to try and complain about the Yankee Stadium right field fence. Oakland-Alameda could get hit with a nuke and it'd be a net benefit for baseball.

As for Shibe, let's have it sometime before 1935, when the spite fence went up. The A's had a rooftop contingent similar to the Cubs, charging admission to the rooftops, but Connie Mack didn't even bother negotiating. He just sued, and when he lost, he put up a fence to block their view. The team went downhill afterwards; so did the neighborhood. Let's not have that fence.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: Recreation Park, Baker Bowl, Connie Mack Stadium, Veterans Stadium, Citizens Bank Park
The A's have first rights to Connie Mack, then primarily known as Shibe Park, having used it for 45 years as opposed to the 33 for the Phillies. No matter; the Phillies still have options. Citizen's Bank is great and all, but... if you can believe it, the nouveau-retro style is starting to look a bit too much like itself. A view of the skyline, a giant scoreboard somewhere, a concourse, nothing really distinctive for the style. I give it to the Baker Bowl. If you think the Green Monster is high, try the Baker Bowl's right-field fence. 30 feet closer, but 23 feet higher. 60 feet worth of wall. It was necessary; the place gave up way too many home runs otherwise. The fence was raised that high in 1920; by then the Baker Bowl was starting to fall into disrepair and was gradually becoming more ridiculed. So to maximize the height and minimize the disrepair, let's freeze the Cigar Box at 1920.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES: Exposition Park 1, Recreation Park, Exposition Park 2, Forbes Field, Three Rivers Stadium, PNC Park
Tough call between Forbes and PNC here. Forbes was one of those REALLY old stadiums where they'd allow overflow fans onto the field. It was another epic pitcher's park, starting out with a distance reading of 360-462-376, with 12-foot walls all around. (Although this guy puts left field at 320.) You'd still get home runs, but they were inside-the-park. Which when they happen are loads more fun. The right field walls were moved in to 300 feet in 1925, but the wall was put up to 28 feet to compensate. It also had ivy walls. PNC is beautiful, with nooks and crannies and the Allegheny Bridge in the background and everything, but we've yet to see it with a competitive team and a packed house that thinks it can win something. It'll have to go to Forbes for now.

SAN DIEGO PADRES: Qualcomm Stadium, PETCO Park
It's an easy call. PETCO by a mile.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: Polo Grounds 1, Oakland Park, St. George Grounds, Polo Grounds 2, Polo Grounds 3, Hilltop Park, Polo Grounds 4, Seals Stadium, Candlestick Park, AT&T Park
Oh, this is a toughie. Polo 4 is the one everyone knows and loves, with the jut in dead center above and beyond the cavern the rest of center field already was, coupled with short porches at either pole. AT&T is lovely, with McCovey Cove and the Coke bottle and the giant glove and brick construction and everything. And then there was Seals Stadium, a very intimate minor-league temporary home with no warning track and a little part of center field where if you hit a ball juuuuust right, it could go from being in play to a home run to back in play without anything getting in its way. This is almost a religious question as far as old stadiums vs. new stadiums, and what side of the Mississippi you live on, probably. Being on the east side of the river, I hand it to the Polo Grounds. But that's not a knock on AT&T. Toughest call in the entire league.

SEATTLE MARINERS: Kingdome, Safeco Field
The Kingdome lived and died on its acoustics. It ran into the same sterile why-can't-we-play-outside issues all domes run into, and it felt like a tomb early on. Then the Mariners started getting good and people started showing up, upon which they found, hey, this place can be kinda fun with a lot of people in it. They still wanted to play outside, though. Despite the raucous Kingdome I grew up seeing, I won't get in the way. Safeco is clearly nicer and prettier to boot; we'll go with Safeco.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: Sportsman's Park, Robison Field, Sportsman's Park 3, Busch Stadium 1, Busch Stadium 2
Back in its era, Sportsman's 3 didn't stand out all that much. But back then, the bar was high. Goats cut the grass, they had a Budweiser eagle flapping after every home run (you see things like that these days for the Mets and Phillies and Brewers and such, but back then it was a new thing), sportswriter Red Smith characterized the look as "a garish, county fair sort of layout". Neither Busch can match up.

TAMPA BAY RAYS: Not much choice here, it's Tropicana Field by default.

TEXAS RANGERS: Griffith Stadium, RFK Stadium, Arlington Stadium, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
Not much of a debate here. Griffith already was taken by the Twins, RFK is blah, Arlington Stadium was a minor-league hothouse, and the Ballpark in Arlington's pretty good in its own right.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS: Exhibition Stadium, Rogers Centre
Exhibition Stadium was proof that indoor baseball is not optional in Canada. On April 7, 1977, the Blue Jays played on a snow-covered field, the only time that's ever happened. (The Blue Jays beat the White Sox, 9-5.) Also there were lake-effect winds. And seagulls. And the sightlines were horrible. Rogers Centre in a walkover.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS: Jarry Park Stadium, Olympic Stadium, Hiram Bithorn Stadium, RFK Memorial Stadium, Nationals Park
RFK's a cookie-cutter, Jarry Park was an anonymous minor league stadium they never really bothered to upgrade, Olympic Stadium was a disaster. Hiram Bithorn is okay, but it has to be Nationals Park.

That makes for 16 clubs who have their best face showing this season. Plus potentially the Twins. Not too bad. But really... we could use a couple more caverns in the league. Someone go crazy and put the fences back 475 feet.

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