The Best of the Second-Best; Rating Ballparks Not With Us Anymore
I have covered Major League Baseball games in 51 different Major League parks.
I have covered Major League baseball played in 52 different parks.
If those two sentences seem to be at odds, it’s because the Oakland Athletics began the 1996 season with an entire home series played in Las Vegas’s Cashman Field, a ballpark that has given up baseball in favor of becoming a soccer pitch.
For a week, Cashman Field hosted Major League ball. In my mind that doesn’t make it a big-league park. If you have a different view, knock yourself out. I won’t argue the point; your opinion counts.
I don’t spout a big number like 51 to brag. I know for a fact that my fellow Sports Illustrated scribe Tracy Ringolsby (mavensports.io/insidetheseams) has seen baseball played in more parks than I have and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if another SI colleague, Tom Verducci, has been in at least as many.
Hey, we’ve been around a while, that’s all.
This week Sports Illustrated put some of its staff together to pick their favorite baseball parks. It’s a good thing to do when baseball parks are all but kryptonite, unusable by teams and unenterable by fans in the age of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Verducci, Stephanie Apstein, Emma Baccellieri, Connor Grossman, Matt Martell and Michael Shapiro all had a go at picking their best, and you should check it out.
I thought I’d go at it from a different angle. There are 30 MLB teams. At least 21 of them have moved into a new park since 1989. Some have moved more than once, the Braves and the Rangers, although Texas won’t have actually moved into its new digs until the 2020 season starts. Globe Life Field is ready to go, even if baseball isn’t. (The Rangers’ former home, Globe Life Park, has been retrofitted for football and soccer, but those sports aren’t being played, either).
What about the parks that immediately preceded the ones we know now? I guess I could opine about the Polo Grounds (New York) or Braves Field (Boston) or Sportsman’s Park (St. Louis) or Forbes Field (Pittsburgh), but since I never saw any of them in person, that would be sort of pointless.
I’m thinking about the 20-odd parks that aren’t part of the current lexicon but used to be. Here are my favorites among the fields that used to be:
5. Exhibition Stadium, Toronto. On the face of it, this is a weird pick, because this field wasn’t built for baseball, and it played like it. But I saw the light here. Exhibition Stadium wasn’t built on the usual north/south axis. Covering games here, you’d find that out quickly as the sun would set in your eyes. Seeing the first inning or two of a night game there with the sun beating blindingly into your eyes before it set was a challenge. But a memorable one.
4. The Kingdome, Seattle. Yeah, I can’t believe I’m putting the Kingdome in here, either. But I love Seattle as a city – I spent a decade just after Safeco Field was opened to replace the Kingdome covering the Mariners – so any chance to go there was a treat. And one of my favorite home runs was hit here. On June 24, 1997, Mark McGwire obliterated a Randy Johnson fastball, sending it almost to the back wall of the Kingdome in left-center. It was credited as being 538 feet, possibly and undercount. It was the only time I ever saw the ever-intense Big Unit laugh after giving up a bomb. McGwire and Johnson, who had been teammates at USC [McGwire was recruited as a pitcher, by the way], wouldn’t meet again in those same uniforms. Five weeks later, the A’s traded McGwire to St. Louis. And a year to the day after the McGwire trade, the Mariners dealt Johnson to the Astros.
3. Tiger Stadium, Detroit. There was a flagpole in center field. The upper deck in right field jutted over the field by more than 10 feet, occasionally turning routine fly high flies into home runs. You could see Mt. Everest from the press box the writers used, but the radio booths were so close to the field that radio voice Ernie Harwell had mesh netting put in front of the home booth to avoid being killed by incoming foul balls. Visiting radio types didn’t have that. Hey, home field advantage, right?
2. Candlestick Park, San Francisco. OK, I can hear the booing from here. But there is something to be said about the place you went to watch Major League baseball growing up. At the time it seemed like kind of a glorious place, not having anything to compare it to. Working there was no day at the beach, at least until they put in a new press box. I was in that box when the earthquake struck the 1989 World Series, and it was there I realized just how much of a Californian I was. Most everybody fled the press box when the quake hit. Not me. I’d grown up around earthquakes on the San Francisco Peninsula and later in the East Bay when I’d gone off to college at Berkeley, and I’d long since learned you can’t outrun earthquakes. And with all the problems The Stick had, it didn’t fall down in a 6.9 earthquake, waiting until the wrecker’s ball struck in 2015.
1. Yankee Stadium, New York. As a franchise, I never much liked the Yankees, which has made for some interesting conversations over the years with my wife, who is a Yankee fan to her core. But this is a place that I got to wander around and watch games where Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle use to hang out. That’s gotta count for something. When you came into the park, you didn’t have to go far to see the walkways into the stands, making it possible to see the field from the concourse, which I always liked.
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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