The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the category “Baseball Ball Parks”

Last of the Old Negro League Ballparks

I’ve always been fascinated by the history of the Negro Leagues.  Recently, I was wondering about which of the old Negro League parks, if any, were still in existence.  I suspected that only a small handful have survived through the years.  That turned out to be an accurate assessment.  Here’s some information about the last three Negro League ballparks, either still in use or at least having escaped the wrecking ball, in which Negro League players used to regularly ply their trade.

To be clear, if you search online you will find several other venues that once hosted Negro League players or teams at one time or another.  I chose not to list several of them because they were merely locations where Negro League teams simply barnstormed through on the circuit, or they have been so modified that almost none of the original field exists (Ammon Field, now Josh Gibson Field in Pittsburgh, comes to mind), or at best sketchy evidence that Negro League teams played there at all (West Field in Munhall, PA.)  Having said that, if you come across credible information that I’ve missed a significant Negro League home ballpark which still stands, by all means let me know.

1)  Hamtramck Stadium:  3201 Dan St.  Hamtramck, MI (a part of the Detroit metro area.)  Built by Detroit Stars owner John Roesink in 1930.  A brick, steel and concrete structure, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Most famous player who called this park home:  Hall of Famer Turkey Stearnes.  Hosted the 1930 Negro National League Championship Series, which Detroit lost to the St. Louis Stars.  Other Negro Leaguers who played here include Mule Suttles, Josh Gibson, Willie Wells and Cool Papa Bell.

Though a short 315 feet down the left-field line to the wall, it was a very deep 415 feet to right-field, and a cavernous 515 feet to center.  The park originally held between 8,000-9,000 customers.  The original metal grandstand still stands.  The park was used by local Little League teams in the 1950’s, and later by teams from the local Catholic high schools.  Once those schools closed, the park was left abandoned.  It hasn’t been used at all for the past few years, though structurally, it is still sound.  The pitcher’s mound and the original flagpole are also still there.

 

 

2)  Rickwood Field:  1137 2nd Avenue West, Birmingham, Alabama.  Opened its doors in 1910 (making it older than either Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.)  First pitch, first game:  August 18, 1910, 3:30 p.m.  Named for team owner Harvey “Rick” Woodward.  Seating capacity:  10,800.  Deepest part of the park:  399 to left-center.  Outfield fence has twice been destroyed by tornadoes.  Originally the home of the Birmingham Black Barons.

USA's oldest surviving baseball park here in B...

USA’s oldest surviving baseball park here in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A’s owner Charlie Finley leased the park from 1967-75 for the Double-A minor league Birmingham A’s.  Hall of Famers Satchel Paige and Willie Mays each played at one time in their careers for the Black Barons.  The Black Barons played their final game in 1963.

Until 1987, the Chicago White Sox Double-A affiliate, the Barons, called Rickwood home before eventually moving out to the suburbs.

It is 90 feet from home-plate to the backstop at Rickwood Field.  Thus passed balls and wild pitches could be exceptionally dangerous.

The first legally integrated game at Rickwood for both players and fans took place on April 17, 1964.  A representative of the Ku Klux Klan promised that his boys would not make any trouble that day.

Interestingly, Rickwood Field actually has a blog on WordPress.com.  Here’s the link:

http://rickwood.wordpress.com/contact-information/

Today, Rickwood Field is maintained by the Friends of Rickwood who continue to work on restoring this facility which hosts exhibition games for local amateur and semipro teams.  Some scenes from the 2012 film, “42” were filmed in this park.

 

English: I took this photo myself in the winte...

The remains of the oval-shaped Hinchliffe Stadium in Patterson, New Jersey.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3)  Hinchliffe Stadium:  Patterson, New Jersey.  As with the previous two stadiums, this one is also on the National Register of Historic Places.  Hinchliffe Stadium first opened in 1932.  It was the home of both the New York Black Yankees and the New York Cubans.

In its prime, Hinchliffe held up to 10,000 fans, though sometimes even more crammed the place for special events.   Hinchliffe was also used for football, boxing and even auto racing.

An oval-shaped park similar to the L.A. Coliseum or New York’s old Polo Grounds, the distance to straightaway center-field was 460 feet from home-plate.  One member of the Black Yankees, George Crowe, was called up to play for the Major League Boston Braves in 1952.

In 1957, playing in place of the injured Ted Kluszewski, Crowe slugged 31 homers and drove in 92 runs in 133 games, at age 36.  Many other fine Negro League stars played at Hinchliffe as well, though official records are generally incomplete.

The Black Yankees left in 1948, an ironic victim of desegregation in Major League Baseball.

Today Hinchliffe Stadium is the property of the Patterson, N.J. school system, though no games have been played on this field since 1997.  The Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium continue to try to raise funds to renovate the park for potential future uses, and to preserve this historic place for posterity.

There are many more excellent photos of Hinchliffe Stadium at this link:

http://www.northjersey.com/photo-galleries/photos-historic-hinchliffe-stadium-in-paterson-1.617628?photo=1&c=y

If you would like to donate to the Friends of Hinchliffe, here’s a link to their website:

http://www.hinchliffestadium.org/

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Major League Ballparks: Largest to Smallest

Sometimes you look at a stadium filled to capacity, and you wonder why they didn’t build it just a bit larger so it could accommodate more people.  On the other hand, you could go to a Mets game at Citi Field in August, and wonder why they didn’t build it half as large, so it wouldn’t look quite so empty.

Here, then, is a complete list (largest to smallest) of each MLB stadium, along with their officially listed seating capacity:

1)  Dodger Stadium – 56,000

2)  Coors Field –  50,480

3)  Yankee Stadium – 50,291

4)  Turner Field – 49,586

5)  Rogers Centre – 49,282

6)  Chase Field – 48,633

7)  Rangers Ballpark – 48,114

8)  Safeco Field – 47,476

9)  Camden Yards – 45,971

10) Angel Stadium – 45,483

11) Busch Stadium – 43,975

12) Citizens Bank Park – 43,651

13) Petco Park – 42,524

14) Great American Ballpark – 42,319

15) Progressive Field – 42,241

16) Minute Maid Park – 42,060

17) Citi Field – 41,922

18) AT&T Park – 41,915

19) Miller Park – 41,900

20) Nationals Park – 41,418

21) Comerica Park – 41,255

22) Wrigley Field – 41,019

23) U.S. Cellular Field – 40,615

24) Target Field – 39,021

25) PNC Park – 38,362

26) Kauffman Stadium – 37,903

27) Fenway Park – 37,499

28) Marlins Park – 36,742

29) O.co Coliseum – 35,067

30) Tropicana Field – 34,078

You can also call this list, the Incredible Shrinking Ballpark.  Ballpark construction certainly is headed down as far as seating capacity is concerned.  During the last boom of construction in the 1960’s and ’70’s, stadiums regularly topped 50,000 seats.  For many years, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park were normally the two “coziest” parks in baseball.  Now, about half the parks seat 42,000 or fewer folks, while 23% of MLB parks now seat fewer than 40,000 fans.

 

Major League Ballparks, Oldest to Newest

Lately I’ve been thinking about how nice it would be to go on a cross-country tour of each of the Major League ballparks in North America.  I’ve been to four MLB parks in my life, only one of which, Fenway Park, still exists (RIP:  Seattle Kingdome, Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium, and New York’s Shea Stadium.)

Then I got to thinking about how many new stadiums have been built over the past 15 years or so, and that led me to consider ranking every MLB park from oldest to newest.  What would that list look like?

Well, here it is:

1)  Fenway Park, Boston – 1912

2)  Wrigley Field, Chicago – 1914

3)  Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles – 1962

4)  Angel Stadium of Anaheim, California – 1966

4)  The Coliseum, Oakland – 1966

6)  Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, MO – 1973

7)  Rogers Centre, Toronto, Ontario – 1989

8)  Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg – 1990

9)  U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago (South Side) – 1991

10) Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore – 1992

11) Progressive Field, Cleveland – 1994

11) Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Arlington, TX – 1994

13) Coors Field, Denver – 1995

14) Turner Field, Atlanta – 1996

15) Chase Field, Phoenix, AZ – 1998

16) Safeco Field, Seattle, WA – 1999

17) AT&T Park, San Francisco – 2000

17) Comerica Park, Detroit – 2000

17) Minute Maid Park, Houston – 2000

20) Miller Park, Milwaukee – 2001

20) PNC Park, Pittsburgh – 2001

22) Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati – 2003

23) Citizen’s Bank Park, Philadelphia – 2004

23) Petco Park, San Diego, 2004

25) Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO – 2006

26) Nationals Park, Washington, D.C. – 2008

27) Citi Field, (Queens) New York – 2009

27) Yankee Stadium, (Bronx) New York – 2009

29) Target Field, Minneapolis, MN – 2010

30) Marlins Park, Miami, FL – 2012

Only two stadiums, the Rogers Centre in Toronto and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg (which, as you’ll notice, were built just a year apart, and are each in the A.L. East), still use artificial turf.

Fourteen ballparks, representing 47% of all the parks in MLB, have been built since the year 2000.

Camden Yards in Baltimore, at one time the showpiece of the return to the “retro” ballparks, is now the tenth oldest park in America.

No ballparks built in the 1920’s, ’30’s, 40’s, or ’50’s are still in existence, and only one each from the ’70’s and ’80’s are still in use today.

Since 1999, the only teams to have won a World Series after moving into a new stadium are the Giants and the Cardinals (twice each), the Phillies (won in 2008), and the Yankees (won in 2009.)  It’s interesting to note that the Cardinals and the Yankees each won the World Series in their first year in their new parks.  Also, the Tigers have been to two World Series since 2000, but lost them both.

Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles is capable of holding the most fans (56,000.)

Tropicana Field can hold the fewest (34,000.)  There are currently seven ballparks that are designed to seat fewer than 40,000 people, including three that have been built since the year 2000.

If you are currently at least 50 years old, all but two of the ballparks currently in use have been built in your lifetime.

I guess I need to do some traveling.  Which parks have you been to?  Which ones do you like the most?  Which ones would you like to finally see for the first time?

Always happy to hear from you.

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