MLB Should Have Kept Just One Concrete Donut Stadium

Paul Francis Sullivan@@sullybaseballChief Writer IMay 24, 2012

Very few trends in baseball history have been looked down upon as much as the circular, concrete multipurpose stadiums that populated the baseball landscape in the 1970s and 1980s. Cold, impersonal and indistinguishable from each other, they were derisively called “Cookie Cutter” ballparks.

They were the antithesis of the quirky and uniquely personal stadiums of old. The rise of throw back stadiums, beginning with Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1992, and the profits those ballparks generated, brought the demolition teams to destroy each and every one of the concrete donuts. There are none left.

For the most part, it was probably best. I went to games in Riverfront Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, Shea Stadium and Veterans Stadium and they all seemed to be either crumbling or smelling of something foul.

But there should have been one “Cookie Cutter” ballpark spared and for an unlikely reason: Nostalgia.

Baseball nostalgia has been virtually monopolized by Baby Boomer’s pining for the post-war years in baseball. Almost every uniform has been designed to have a traditional look and the stadiums seemed to all be emulating Marty McFly and shooting back to the 1950s.

Any garish colors and designs or oppressive multipurpose stadiums need not apply to today’s baseball world. 

But therein lies the conflict. I am a 40 year old man. I am as big a baseball fan as you will meet and I am often nostalgic for the game as it was in my youth. I was not alive during the 1950s. I have no memories of the Brooklyn Dodgers nor of watching games through a knothole in a fence.

PHILADELPHIA - MARCH 21:  Veteran's Stadium, the former home of the Philadelphia Phillies, implodes to make way for a parking lot March 21, 2004 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Phillies new home, Citizen's Bank Park will open next to where
Pool/Getty Images

I was raised with baseball in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of my favorite memories took place with players wearing polyester uniforms, garish colors and in cookie cutter parks. My first World Series memories were of the Pirates winning in 1979 and the Phillies in 1980. Both of those teams called a concrete donut home.

Several fan bases had some of their greatest moments take place in a Cookie Cutter Park. What three highlights for Atlanta fans can top Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, Francisco Cabrera’s single or the Braves winning the 1995 World Series? All of those took place in Fulton County Stadium. 

The greatest era for Pittsburgh sports took place almost exclusively at Three Rivers Stadium. From the 1971 and 1979 World Series titles, multiple Division Winners and not to mention the Steelers Dynasty, so many memorable moments happened in that unmemorable park.

Think of all the Mets moments at Shea Stadium. The 1969 and 1986 World Series and home runs by Al Weis, Lenny Dykstra, Todd Pratt, Mike Piazza, Benny Agbayani and Robin Ventura’s grand slam single were all at Shea. So were the Beatles.

The Philadelphia Phillies had only played in October twice before moving into “The Vet.” There they won their first ever World Series and two other pennants along with being a regular Division Winner. Tug McGraw clinched the elusive World Championship on the Veterans Stadium mound.

Great Cardinals moments from Bob Gibson’s 17 strikeouts to start the 1968 World Series to Bruce Sutter clinching the 1982 crown to Jack Buck telling the crowd to “Go Crazy” after Ozzie Smith’s homer to Jim Edmonds’ walk off blast in 2004 all took place in the multipurpose Busch Stadium.

Those moments bring great nostalgia to people my age and are lost in the new cozy ballparks.

While nostalgia for the Cookie Cutter parks might sound absurd, remember how so many loathed trends and styles eventually come back in vogue. Outlandish fashions soon become stylish again. Long forgotten stars make revivals. Just this week the death of Bee Gee Robin Gibb was treated with reverence. That is a far cry from his songs being included in the Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park in 1979.

And a strange thing has happened with the new throwback parks. They are starting to look alike. Not all of them, of course. Camden Yards in Baltimore and Progressive Field in Cleveland look distinct. PetCo Park with the warehouse in left field has charm and character. And AT&T Park in San Francisco has created the best new tradition in baseball with the boats in McCovey Cove.

But what distinguishes Citizens Bank Ballpark from New Busch Stadium from Citi Field or from Nationals Park? What is the charming detail that makes a fan think: “Oh this is just feels like the Mets”?

And Minute Maid Park in Houston took the nostalgic obsession to its absurd limits with nonsensical additions like a fake train in left field, a meaningless hill in center and dimensions that are artificially quirky. All of these details betray the Astros identity of being the team of the future.

The great irony is that if one of the Cookie Cutter parks were left, it would be distinct. A fan would know exactly where the game was being played.

And as people my age get older and start pining for our own nostalgia free from the Baby Boomer’s grip, the idea of a round multipurpose stadium might be cutting edge.

Remember, Bell Bottoms came back.


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