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June 2024
2min read

The Evolution of the Ballpark

by Michael Gershman, Houghton Mifflin, 300 pages, $39.95 . CODE: HMF-1

Baseball may no longer be the national pastime, but for the first two-thirds of this century its primacy among American sports was unchallenged. Much of its appeal during that golden age came from the physical environment in which it was played: a group of memorable ballparks with distinct personalities, some stately, some intimate, and all with characteristic quirks.

Three recent books celebrate the continuing fascination with baseball’s past in quite different ways. Green Cathedrals is, as its subtitle implies, an encyclopedic listing of every ballpark, past or present, that has ever hosted a major-league or Negro-league game. It includes such obscurities as Rocky Point Park in Warwick, Rhode Island, where the National League’s Boston club played a Sunday game on September 6, 1903. It also has rare photographs and drawings of places most readers will never have heard of (all in black and white) and much useful information. For example, we are told that Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium “was the second Major League park built in a cornfield. The first was Perry’s Park in Walte’s Pasture, home of the National Association Keokuk Westerns in Keokuk, Iowa in 1875.” The focus is on anecdotes and details; ballpark dimensions and seating capacity are given where available, including year-by-year changes. There is little sense of the overall feel or character of the parks listed, but the sheer completeness of Mr. Lowry’s compilation makes it baseball’s version of the Domesday Book.

Lost Ballparks avoids the exhaustive statistics and arcana of Green Cathedrals to concentrate its attention on a score of important stadiums—the old homes of twentieth-century National League and American League franchises, with a few minor-league parks thrown in. This smaller group is examined in depth, with lots of pictures (some in color), team histories, and lists of great moments to go along with the descriptions of the parks themselves. The author, Lawrence S. Ritter, is an economist who has written several outstanding books on baseball, including the classic The Glory of Their Times . His smoothly entertaining style, free of cliches, preaching, and sententiousness, is a welcome change from much modern baseball writing.

Michael Gershman’s Diamonds seeks to combine these two approaches. It’s a complete history of baseball parks, from the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, where the first recorded game was played in 1846, to Camden Yards in Baltimore and the new Comiskey Park in Chicago. It lucidly explains the progression from simple enclosed pastures to wooden stands to today’s concrete-and-steel behemoths, throwing in some surprising details along the way. The first luxury “sky boxes” were installed in Chicago’s Lakefront Park in 1883; several early ball yards had designated areas where the wealthy could park their carriages and watch the game from them, like a drive-in theater; and Washington’s Griffith Stadium, longtime home of the Senators, was built in three weeks for a twenty-thousand-dollar insurance settlement received when the previous stadium on the site burned down. The author manages to include a fairly complete history of the game itself by way of its architecture.

For the baseball fan interested in history, Green Cathedrals is a book to refer to often and to mine for fascinating trivia, Lost Ballparks is a book to sit down with, to read and savor, and Diamonds is an exhaustive but never dull survey that provides the most complete overview of the subject.

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