If Old Ballparks Could Talk, What Tales They Would Tell
Way back a hundred or so years ago, between 1909 and 1915, no less than 13 new, state-of the-art baseball fields were opened. These classic fields had one defining characteristic — they were fireproof. Built of brick, concrete and steel, unlike their wooden predecessors, these ball fields were made to last
And last they did — in fact 10 of them lasted 50 years or more. And two – Fenway Park and Wrigley Field — stand to this day.
All 16 major league teams at the time called these parks home at one point or another. Shibe Park in Philadelphia, Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis and the Polo Grounds in New York housed both National League and American League clubs at the same time.
If these ballparks could talk, they’d have some amazing stories to tell. And some strange and unusual tales as well. To wit:
Shibe Park, Philadelphia, 1909 — On Opening Day in the new Philly digs, A’s veteran catcher Michael “Doc” Powers, who was also a medical doctor, crashed into the wall behind the plate while trying to catch a foul pop. Powers suffers a severe intestinal injury and left the game in the seventh inning. Despite three operations, Powers passed away two weeks later.
Sportsman’s Park, St. Louis, 1909 — St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck pulled off his most famous stunt in 1951. After jumping out of a cake between games of a doubleheader, 3-foot, 7-inch midget Eddie Gaedel, shown left, wearing number 1/8, stepped up to the plate and walked on four pitches from Detroit’s Bob Cain. Gaedel was pinch-run for, and never appeared in another major league game.
Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, 1909 — Late in the 1920 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds staged the last tripleheader ever played in the majors. After dropping the first two games by scores of 13-4 and 7-3, the Pirates salvaged game three 6-0. But by then the Reds had already secured third-place money.
League Park, Cleveland, 1910 — The Indians, on the way to their first championship, routed the Brooklyn Dodgers 8-1 in Game 5 of the 1920 World Series.. But the game will be remembered for three World Series firsts by Indians players — Elmer Smith’s grand slam, pitcher Jim Bagby’s home run, and shortstop Bill Wambsganss unassisted triple play.
Comiskey Park, Chicago, 1910 — Bill Veeck’s son Mike was the mastermind of Disco Demolition Night in 1979 — a promotion that backfired. Fans were encouraged to bring disco records to be burned on the field between games of a doubleheader with the Tigers. Mayhem ensued, thousands of fans poured onto the field and refused to budge, and the umpires forfeited the second game to Detroit.
Griffith Stadium, Washington, 1911 — The new Senators ballpark, right, built in just a month following a fire that destroyed the wooden grandstands, featured some odd dimensions, such as 407 feet down the left-field line. But the strangest quirk was the indent in center, with a portion of the wall jutting inward to accommodate a tree and several houses whose owners were unwilling to sell.
Polo Grounds, New York, 1911 — In a park made famous by Bobby Thomson’s home run and Willie Mays’ catch, the strangest event at the Polo Grounds was the death of Indians shortstop Ray Chapman in 1920 .Chapman was beaned by Yankees submariner Carl Mays and died the next day, the last death on a major league ballfield.
Crosley Field, Cincinnati, 1912 — President Franklin D. Roosevelt flipped a light switch at the White House and the Reds beat the Phillies 2-1 in the first night game in major league history in 1935. Crosley Field also was the first park to place distances on the outfield fences “so the spectators may readily ascertain far drives carry” according to the Sporting News.
Fenway Park, Boston, 1912 — The Red Sox abandoned Fenway Park, left, during the 1915 and 1916 World Series to play their home games at Braves Field. In 1929 they announced they were considering vacating Fenway. Between 1929 and 1932 the Sox played their Sunday games at Braves Field due to Fenway’s proximity to a church.
Tiger Stadium, Detroit, 1912 — Tiger Stadium opened on April 20, 1912, the same day as Fenway Park and less than a week after the Titanic hit an iceberg and went down in the North Atlantic. The new ballpark was known as Navin Field at the start, and was built on the same site where the Western League Tigers played in 1886.
Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, 1913 — In one of Brooklyn’s daffiest moments, the Dodgers wound up with three men on third base — Dazzy Vance, Chick Fewster and Babe Herman. Herman, who will long be remembered for doubling into a double play, was called out for passing a runner, and Fewster wandered off the bag and is tagged out. For years Brooklyn fans would respond “Which base?” when told the Dodgers had three men on base.
Wrigley Field, Chicago, 1914 — Surprisingly, the Cubs were not the first team to call Wrigley Field home. The Chicago Whales played at the new Weeghman Park in 1914 and 1915 before the ill-fated Federal League disbanded. The Cubs moved in for the 1916 season, and the park was renamed Cubs Park; 10 years later it became Wrigley Field, right.
Braves Field, Boston, 1915 — Built on what was once a golf course, Braves Field was a long par 5 — 400 feet to left and 440 to center, with a gaping 500-foot chasm in right center. Needless to say, it was not exactly a homer haven. Only eight home runs were hit in the first year of the park, and none of them went over the fence.
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