Ryan Swanson is an Assistant Professor at the University of New Mexico. His first book, When Baseball Went White: Reconstruction, Reconciliation, and Dreams of a “National Pastime,” was published June 2014.
Looking back nearly 50 years after the ballpark’s demolition, Shibe Park—later renamed Connie Mack Stadium—is perhaps best understood as a tale of bipolar architectural decisions. Home of the Philadelphia Athletics, and later the Phillies, it was a case of the beauty and the beast. The good was astonishingly good. The park had friezes and facades. The words terra cotta must be used to describe the stadium’s exterior. A cupola was involved.
Since I’m writing about Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, the home of the Indians from 1931 until 1993, I could reach—rather lazily—for the low-hanging fruit. The easy targets. I could start with the nickname: “The Mistake by the Lake.” Take that Cleveland. I could trot out actress Bette Davis’s quote upon first entering the ballpark: “What a dump.” Further, I might mention that the cavernous stadium, with seating for more than 80,000 fans, opened as the Great Depression gripped the United States. Fans stayed away in droves.
For the historian searching through bygone baseball stadiums, Comiskey Park should be regarded as a holy grail. It’s a venue that has stories to tell. The South Side park served as the home of the Chicago White Sox from 1910 until 1990. With its whitewashed exterior, expansive playing field (penny-pinching owner Charles Comiskey favored defense and pitching), double-decker stands, and straight-away-center scoreboard, Comiskey Park set the standard for concrete and steel ballparks at the beginning of the twentieth century.
According to Brides.com, French Polynesia is “the world’s top honeymoon destination,” just in case you were wondering. Many newlyweds, of course, honeymoon in Cancun or Hawaii, basking in the sun and surf. Other couples bounce through continental Europe and see castles, sip expensive wines, and try to avoid appearing too American. When my wife and I got married, though, we couldn’t afford any of these options—not even close. Instead, we went to see an American treasure in its very last days.
Can we miss a ballpark that only hosted Major League Baseball for one season? What if that park shared its name with another, much more famous, baseball stadium? Suppose this ballpark never really fit with the architectural designs of its times; is that OK? And then there’s the fact that there are very few baseball fans alive today who remember visiting the facility. Can we still miss it?
Let’s say we can. Here’s why I say we should all miss the long-demolished, mostly forgotten Los Angeles Wrigley field.
The state of Michigan added Tiger Stadium to its list of historic sites in 1975. The National Park Service selected the old ballpark at Trumbull and Michigan Avenues for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. So it wasn’t as if the park was completely unappreciated during its own time. Tiger fans certainly filled the stadium annually. The white sheet metal façade that wrapped the outside of the ballpark made the stadium a landmark in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, located just west of downtown.
During the year that Theodore Roosevelt cruised to reelection as president of the United States, Peter Pan premiered on the London stage, and St. Louis hosted the Olympic Games (which included baseball exhibitions), pitching dominated the 1904 Major League Baseball season. Cy Young threw the first perfect game in MLB history. More than 50 hurlers had earned run averages below 3 at season’s end.
I know, I know . . . you should always read the book first. Everyone knows that movies based on books often disappoint the readers who loved those same books. Right? Or at the very least the movies distort their book-based stories. But sometimes the movies cannot be avoided first.