Old Yankee Stadium and 4 Ballparks That Should Never Have Been Torn Down

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistJune 8, 2011

Old Yankee Stadium and 4 Ballparks That Should Never Have Been Torn Down

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    The House That Ruth Built...
    The House That Ruth Built...Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    Do you remember the first baseball game you went to?

    Remember the smell of the freshly cut grass, the energy that enveloped you as you walked through the tunnel and the stadium exploded before your eyes?

    What about how giddy you were when the public address announcer said for the first time: "Now batting, (insert number, position and name of your favorite player)" — remember that?

    Of course you do.

    Your first major league baseball game is one of those seminal moments in any child's life, a memory that stays with you forever.

    Now let me ask you ... what stadium was that game in? Is it still standing and being used?

    If your answer to that question is yes, then congratulations — you, my friend, are one of the lucky ones.

    However, if you are one of the hundreds of thousands of fans who have seen their stadiums turned into parking lots, apartment buildings, shopping malls, etc. ... I feel your pain.

    After the jump, five ballparks that only live on in the minds of fans.

Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, NY

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    "We wept, Brooklyn was a lovely place to hit. If you got a ball in the air, you had a chance to get it out. When they tore down Ebbets Field, they tore down a little piece of me." - Duke Snider

    "Brooklynites" and their fellow New Yorkers first stepped foot into Ebbets Field on April 9, 1913, where they witnessed their Brooklyn Superbas* lose 1-0 to the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Named for then-owner Charles Ebbets, Ebbets Field was located in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Part of the stadium was built atop an old garbage dump that was known as "Pigtown" due to the pigs that would eat the garbage dumped there.

    Chances are that back then, Brooklyn smelt much like Staten Island does today.

    A marble-lined rotunda, with floor tiles that looked like the stitches on a baseball and chandeliers that looked to be made up of baseball bats holding baseball-shaped globes, greeted fans when they entered.

    Upon its opening in 1913, the stadium capacity was 25,000 people. This would be increased to 32,000 in 1932.

    Johnny Vander Meer of the Cincinnati Reds threw his second consecutive no-hitter at Ebbets Field on June 15, 1938, beating the Dodgers 6-0. Amazingly, Vander Meer walked more Dodgers (eight) than he struck out (seven).

    Major League Baseball's first televised game was played at Ebbets Field on August 26, 1939, a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds. The teams would split the two games, as the Reds won the first game 5-2 while the Dodgers took game two by a score of 6-1.

    April 15, 1947.

    That, of course, is the day that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and became the first black man to play in a major league game as the Dodgers beat the Boston Braves 5-3. Jackie would go 0-3 with one run and a sacrifice hit.

    Without question one of the most important events of the past century.

    As the team's success increased so did the demand for tickets. With a small seating capacity and little-to-no available parking, then-Dodgers' owner Walter O'Malley was prepared to build a new ballpark at the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, one that would be able to accommodate the growing fanbase.

    Noted developer and then-Commissioner of Buildings in New York City Robert Moses was opposed to O'Malley's plan and instead wanted the new stadium to be built on land in Flushing, Queens.

    We all know how this story ends.

    The "Bums from Brooklyn" would play their last game with the "B" on their hats on September 24, 1957, as O'Malley would close up shop and re-emerge on the West Coast in Los Angeles.

    With no tenant, demolition began on February 23, 1960 to make way for apartment buildings that would open in 1962 called the "Ebbets Field Apartments", and known since 1972 as the "Jackie Robinson Apartments." A small plaque on one of the buildings mentioning Ebbets Field is the only recognition of what once stood at the site.

    What some may not know is that as his discussions with Moses went nowhere, O'Malley was urging New York Giants' owner Horace Stoneham to move out West as well, and not waste his time trying to work with Moses, who was only interested in the Queens project..

    Had Moses and O'Malley been more flexible and reached an agreement, the face of baseball as we know it would forever be changed.

    The Dodgers would have remained in Brooklyn and never moved to Los Angeles.

    The Giants may have been able to build a new stadium to replace the Polo Grounds (perhaps in Flushing as Moses wanted), never moving to San Francisco.

    The New York Mets would, most likely, not exist.

    *The team in Brooklyn went by many names prior to moving into Ebbets Field. They were known as the "Superbas" from 1899-1910, adopted the moniker of "Dodgers" in 1911 and 1912, reverted back to "Superbas" in 1913 for the inaugural season of Ebbets Field, switched to the "Robins" from 1914-1931, and finally settled on the "Dodgers" in 1932.

Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY

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    The House That Ruth Built
    The House That Ruth BuiltAl Bello/Getty Images

    "All I wanted to do was grow up and play in Yankee Stadium." - Johnny Bench

    From 1912-1922, the Yankees shared the Polo Grounds with the New York Giants. Giants owner Charles Stoneham grew increasingly irritated with having to share his stadium with another team, especially after the Yankees nearly beat his Giants in the 1921 World Series, which saw all games played at the Polo Grounds.

    Finally, on April 18, 1923, Yankee Stadium opened its doors on 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx where a lumber yard once stood. Over 70,000 fans watched as Babe Ruth led the New York Yankees to a 4-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox.

    There are multiple stories as to how the building simply known as "the stadium" became "The House That Ruth Built", but the prevailing one is that Fred Lieb, a writer for the New York Evening Telegram, coined the phrase prior to that first game.

    Yankee Stadium was not only the first baseball park to be called a "stadium", but was the first to have a "triple deck" design and utilize an electronic scoreboard. (The scoreboard would eventually be sold to the Philadelphia Phillies and be used in Connie Mack Stadium until it closed.)

    Other features in the stadium included: a running track at the edge of the outfield (the first in baseball, now known as the warning track and found in every stadium), the frieze/facade encircling the top of Yankee Stadium, and the nearly 200 foot tall exhaust pipe in the shape of a baseball bat outside of the stadium, a meeting spot for fans.

    While the stadium had work done to it on a few occasions, the biggest changes were made from 1974-1975 when the Yankees once again shared a building with another New York baseball team, this time Shea Stadium with the Mets.

    These changes included replacing the original frieze with a new, concrete version, the lowering of the playing field, the addition of seats to the upper deck and the removal of seating in the center field bleachers, as that section was blocked off and painted black to create a "batter's eye". Hitting a ball into the black was a feat that only a handful of players were able to accomplish.

    When the "new" Yankee Stadium opened directly across the street from the old stadium in 2009, fans who attended games had no choice but to witness the dismantling of the original stadium. This one hit home for me, as the original Yankee Stadium is near and dear to me, and watching an old friend be torn apart as you stand there unable to do anything about it is really a miserable feeling. 

    The first game my sister and I attended at the new stadium in 2009, I can remember us walking around to see what the new building had to offer. On more than one occasion, one of us would stop to look at the old stadium across the street and say "that's just not right" — a sentiment many Yankee fans shared.

    Upon the completion of demolition in May of 2010, construction of "Heritage Field", a public park to replace parkland used by the Yankees in the construction of their new stadium began. The new park will include a regulation baseball diamond, little league diamond and softball diamond among other amenities. Thankfully, the bat that was a beloved landmark and part of the old Yankee Stadium will remain intact and be incorporated into this new development.

    While the "new, improved" Yankee Stadium is an impressive facility, I for one never thought that there was anything wrong with the original. To remove a piece of history, a place that icons and legends including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra called home, remains to me, a travesty.

Tiger Stadium, Detroit, MI

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    DETROIT - APRIL 12:  A general view of Tiger Stadium from the street outside on Opening Day on April 12, 1999 in Detroit, Michigan.  The Tigers lost to the Twins 1-0.  (Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images)
    Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

    "Ladies and gentlemen, less than six months ago, we began a warm season of farewells, and with each passing day we came a little bit closer to this historic occasion. The Lions, Joe Louis and Nelson Mandela. Six-thousand eight-hundred and seventy-three regular-season games, 35 postseason contents and a trio of spectacular All-Star Games, Tiger Stadium has been home to this great game of baseball. But more than anything, it has been a cherished home to our memories. Will you remember that last base hit? The last out? How about that last pitch? Or maybe it’s the first time as a child when you saw that green, green grass that will forever be etched into your mind and soul. Tonight, we say good-bye. But we will not forget. Open your eyes, look around and take a mental picture. Moments like this shall live on forever. It’s been 88 moving years at Michigan and Trumbull. The tradition built here shall endure along with the permanence of the Olde English D. But tonight we must say good-bye. Farewell, old friend Tiger Stadium. We will remember." - Ernie Harwell

    Two iconic baseball stadiums opened for business on April 20, 1912 — Fenway Park in Boston and Navin Stadium, dubbed so by then-Tigers owner Frank Navin in Detroit. Twenty six thousand fans packed the house to watch their hometown Tigers beat the Cleveland Indians 5-4.

    Built on the site of the Tigers original stadium, Bennett Park, Navin Stadium was expanded a few times before Frank Navin's passing in 1935. New owner Walter Bennett carried out Navin's wishes to continue to expand the stadium, and in 1938, now called Bennett Stadium, the 53,000 seat park saw its first action.

    After John Fetzer took control of the Tigers in 1961, he renamed it Tiger Stadium, a name that would remain until it's closing. Current Tigers owner Mike Ilitch would continue to add amenities to the park, but there was no denying that the stadium was falling into disrepair and something needed to be done.

    Robert Fick would hit an 8th inning grand slam for the Tigers on September 27, 1999, leading the Tigers to victory over the Kansas City Royals by a score of 8-2.

    With a 125-foot flagpole in left center field (that was in fair territory), a right field upper deck that protruded onto the playing field and one of the only upper deck bleacher sections, Tiger Stadium was beloved by Tiger fans and baseball historians around the world for both its history and "old-time feel".

    After spending millions to maintain the crumbling ballpark up until 2006, the city of Detroit, against the wishes of its fans, demolished the grand structure that had come to be known simply as "The Corner".

    Where the stadium once stood is now an empty lot, though the diamond from Tiger Stadium still remains. Volunteers continue to maintain the field to this day.

    One has to wonder whether Tiger Stadium could have undergone a massive renovation, which while it could have cost as much as building Comerica Park did, would have placated those who called this corner their home.

Crosley Field, Cincinnati, OH

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    "Crosley Field. When you came through that left field gate and saw that green grass, it was better than going to heaven." -Lou Dollin, 80-year old Reds fan who has been at every Cincinnati Reds home opener since 1946.

    At the same site as the Cincinnati Reds' prior two homes, League Park and Palace of the Fans, Redland Field opened on April 11, 1912, where the Cincinnati Reds beat the Chicago Cubs 10-6.

    Named Redland Field in honor of the Reds' name and color, it would not become Crosley Field until 1934 when Powel Crosley Jr. bought the team.

    One of the smallest ballparks in major league baseball with a capacity of 25,000 in 1912, only an additional 4,600 seats were added by the time it closed in 1970.

    The first recorded save in major league baseball history occurred at Crosley Field on April 7, 1969. Bill Singer of the Los Angeles Dodgers went three scoreless innings in relief, keeping the Reds at bay in a 3-2 Dodger victory.

    Left field sloped upwards at a 15 degree angle as you neared the outfield wall, making it sometimes difficult to traverse. Baseball legend Babe Ruth fell flat on his face while chasing after a fly ball up the hill during his last season in 1935 as a member of the Boston Braves.

    Interestingly enough, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson absolutely loved the terrace — to the point that he tried to convince the Orioles to include one in the design of Camden Yards.

    Crosley Field was a victim of urban development — as more and more people got around by car, it became difficult for them to find parking in the highly populated west end of Cincinnati. Crime also became an issue, and between that and the lack of parking, Reds fans grew frustrated.

    On June 24, 1970, Crosley Field held its last Reds game, a come-from-behind 5-4 win over the San Francisco Giants. Johnny Bench and Lee May would hit back-to-back solo home runs in the bottom of the eighth inning off of future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal to give the Reds the win.

    Today the site is home to multiple buildings and a street runs through the playing field. The only noticeable remnant is a parking lot built where the terrace in left field was — the lot slopes upward.

    Totally not related to the Reds, but an event that would have been an amazing thing to witness in person. On June 13, 1970, Crosley Field was home to the Cincinnati Pop Festival. Headliners included: Grand Funk Railroad, Bob Seger, Traffic, Alice Cooper, The Stooges, Mountain and Mott the Hoople. What a show that must have been.

Shea Stadium, Flushing, NY

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    FLUSHING, NY- OCTOBER 25:  A general exterior view of Shea Stadium taken during the World Series Game between the New York Yankees and the New York Mets on October 25, 2000 in Flushing, New York. The Yankees won 3-2. (Photo by: Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Sid, at Shea Stadium, I saw the top of the mountain. - John Lennon, to Sid Bernstein who promoted the Beatles' 1965 concert at Shea Stadium.

    William A. Shea Municipal Stadium opened nearly two years behind schedule on April 14, 1964, on the same site Robert Moses had offered to Frank O'Malley and the Brooklyn Dodgers seven years earlier. 

    Over 50,000 fans of the New York Mets watched their team lose a heartbreaker to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-3. Bill Mazeroski would hit a ground ball single to drive in Willie Stargell with the winning run in the top of the ninth inning.

    Nearly 50 years later, things haven't changed much for the Mets.

    With an expansive foul territory, an apple that popped out of a magic top hat every time a Met hit a home run and neon outlines of baseball players on the outside of the stadium, Shea was, well, quirky and perhaps even cheesy.

    Yet Shea Stadium made such an impact on Chipper Jones, Barry Larkin and Gary Cooper that all three have named children after Shea Stadium.

    On October 26, 1986 in Game Six of the World Series, Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner misplayed Mookie Wilson's ground ball, watching it squirt through his legs at first base as Ray Knight scored the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning. As we know, the Mets would go on to win the championship in Game Seven.

    With their crosstown rival New York Yankees about to get a new stadium, Fred Wilpon, owner of the Mets, wanted a new stadium as well. On September 28, 2008, the Mets would play their final game in Shea Stadium, losing late, as they did upon Shea's opening. This time, with two runs in the top of the eighth inning, the Florida Marlins beat the Mets 4-2 and knocked them out of contention for the Wild Card.

    While the ballpark that replaced Shea, Citi Field, is without question a much nicer facility, it was built for a team other than the Mets. Aside from Jose Reyes, whose blazing speed allows him to stretch balls hit in the expansive gaps into extra-base hits, none of the Mets' core players (David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay) seem to be able to achieve the same success that they previously had in Shea Stadium.

Closing Thoughts

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    There are a number of other stadiums I considered, including the original Comiskey Park in Chicago, Shibe Park in Philadelphia, the Kingdome in Seattle and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. For a number of reasons, those stadiums were past their primes and while sad, the best option for the teams involved was to build a brand new facility.

    So, do you remember your first baseball game?

    Did I leave out your favorite ballpark?

    Let's hear about them in comments.