Munsey on Ballparks
Old time ballparks
by Paul Munsey (archive)
January 29, 2005
When ever I go to a city with a long baseball history, I like to visit the sites of old time ballparks. As you can imagine, some are more rewarding than others. I'd like to share some thoughts and experiences on this subject.
The first thing you should know is that these sites will be, more often than not, in economically challenged neighborhoods. I would advise a visit on a Sunday morning instead of a Friday night, as there is no need to go looking for trouble. You might want to leave the kids at home in some cases.
It appears that I will be spending a few months in Boston this spring. I'm looking forward to living there, as I was raised in the area, and want to experience it again as a resident, rather than as the visitor I have been several times over the last twenty five years. I will be exploring the sites of the Huntington Avenue Grounds (Red Sox) and South End Grounds (Braves). These two ballparks were just across the railroad tracks from each other and served their teams around the turn of the century. I understand the South End has become quite trendy, so personal safety shouldn't be an issue1.
Of course, Fenway Park is still in use and commands the highest ticket prices of any ballpark in history. I hope to attend some games there if it's not too expensive. Kenmore Square, where the Green Line (subway) drops off Fenway-bound passengers, is just a couple of blocks away. If you proceed west from Kenmore Square on Commonwealth Avenue2 for about a mile and turn right on Harry Agganis Way, you will find the site of Braves Field. It's used by Boston University for their soccer program. They replaced the old grandstand with three dormitory towers. However, there is more left of this old ballpark than any of the other former ballparks mentioned in this column.
In New York City, there are five sites worth mentioning. Hilltop Park (Yankees) and the Polo Grounds (Giants, Yankees & Mets) are close enough to each other and Yankee Stadium that you could visit them on your way to a Yankees game. At one time, northern Manhattan, Harlem and the South Bronx were very dangerous places to go. However, most of the area has been gentrified and I would feel safe walking to and exploring all of these ballparks.
Perhaps the most interesting old ballpark sites to visit are those of Ebbets Field (Dodgers) and Washington Park (Dodgers). That is because Brooklyn is such a strange and fascinating place. I was there about five years ago, and accidentally exited the freeway too early. We drove through miles and miles of local streets in Brooklyn. I highly recommend doing this, if you have a few hours to spare, because you will see things you won't see anywhere else in this country. Just remember that it is a big city and not every neighborhood is safe. Some research on the subject would serve you well.
The sites of two of Philadelphia's old ballparks are about a half-mile apart in the northern part of the city. It's not the best neighborhood and I would restrict my visits to the daylight hours. There is a sign acknowledging Shibe Park (Athletics & Phillies), and the row houses that were located beyond right field are still there. Unfortunately, there isn't anything marking the site of the Baker Bowl3 (Phillies), although several of the large buildings visible in old pictures of the ballpark are still there. Columbia Park was also located in the northern part of town, but there's nothing there to indicate that it ever existed.
Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium (Orioles) was torn down a few years ago. I thought it looked out of place where it was located. I think they're building apartment buildings there and I'm guessing that it won't be long before there is no trace of the old stadium.
Howard University occupies the site of Griffith Stadium (Senators) in Washington, DC. The old ballpark didn't border a major street, so finding its exact location can be tricky. The Society for American Baseball Research was able to place a plaque there a few years ago.
I always enjoy visiting the site of Forbes Field (Pirates). The site is now part of the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. Part of the outfield wall is still there and the location of the rest of the wall is traced with bricks along the nearby road and sidewalks. Home plate is encased in glass in the floor of the main hallway of Posvar Hall. Go inside and check it out. It's a wonderful area in what may be the most underrated city in the country.
Cleveland's Municipal Stadium (Indians) was replaced by a new stadium for the Cleveland Browns several years ago. Remnants of League Park (Indians), however, can be found at the original site. The ticket office, part of the grandstand and field are still there. I understand that this neighborhood is undergoing gentrification, but I was there six years ago and would still recommend caution.
In Cincinnati, Crosley Field (Reds) and its surroundings were replaced by an office park back in the 1970s. There's a plaque commemorating the old ballpark and a few old buildings that might look familiar are still there. The old Union Station is just down the street. It has been renovated as a museum and is worth checking out, even if it's just to look around. The area is commercial, but safe.
I don't have much that is good to say about Detroit. If Tiger Stadium (Tigers) was located in New York, Boston or Chicago, it would still be going strong. Unfortunately, it's just sitting in a bombed out part of Detroit, waiting for the day when the politicians think it's politically safe to demolish it. If you've never been to Detroit, I recommend driving through just to see how far a once-great city can fall. It looks like a gigantic set for a sci-fi movie about the holocaust.
In Chicago, Wrigley Field (Cubs) is still going strong. It is probably my favorite place to see a game. Comiskey Park (White Sox) was demolished and serves as a parking lot for its replacement across the street. Painted baselines show where the old ballpark once stood. The site of South Side Park (White Sox) is just down the street. The site of West Side Park (Cubs) is occupied by buildings belonging to the University of Illinois. All of these areas are safe by big-city standards.
The site of Sportsman's Park (Cardinals & Browns) in St. Louis now belongs to Herbert Hoover Boys' Club. Most of the block is an open park, with a baseball diamond on the same spot where the Cardinals played. You probably wouldn't want to be caught in the neighborhood at night, but there is an abundance of 19th century architecture in that part of town. I would like to spend some more time looking around the area when I get a chance.
Of course, there are many more old ballparks that I didn't mention. I tried to stick to those built before World War II. If you think I got my facts wrong or may have missed something, just drop me a line.
Paul Munsey is the editor of Ballparks.com.
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1 I have been informed that the South End isn't as safe as I indicated.
Munsey on Ballparks © 2005 by Paul Munsey.
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