Still Standing After All These Years

By Gary Norris Gray
Updated: October 18, 2008

CALIFORNIA — As America watched the American and National League playoffs this month, a very strange and unprecedented thing occurred as four of the five oldest baseball parks donned their red, white, and blue bunting for the playoffs.

Only Oakland’s McAfee Stadium did not participate in this years playoffs. What an amazing phenomenon. This may never happen again. With the Yankees and Mets set to move into their new homes (stadiums) in 2009, baseball will have only five older parks left.

The Boston Red Sox defeated the Anaheim Angels three games to one in the ALDS while the Los Angeles Dodgers swept the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS. All four of these teams belong to the older ballpark club.

It has been rumored that the Oakland A’s might be leaving this prestigious club in the near future. The new owners plan on moving the team to the southern Bay Area.

After the 2008 baseball season, the five oldest parks in American will be:

Fenway Park

Fenway Park opened on April 12, 1912. This is where I witnessed my first professional baseball game in 1962. There was a big green tall wall staring me in the face. On that night, Boston beat the Chicago White Sox 11-3. Boston has its unmistakable Green Monster and Pesky’s Pole.

This park is nestled in the middle of a neighborhood as if it were part of the family. Boston once again was a host the ALCS. It has been host to many historic epic battles with the hated New York Yankees as well as Thursday’s seven-run comeback against Tampa.

The turn of the past two decades saw many teams returning to this style of baseball stadiums. San Francisco’s AT&T Park, Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Houston’s Minute Maid Park, Cincinnati’s Great American Park., Seattle’s Safeco Field, Milwaukee’s Miller Park, Detroit’s Comerica Park, and Pittsburgh’s PNC Park are among this lot.

In 1901, the Red Sox were called the Boston Pilgrims and played in the Huntington Avenue Grounds, which is now part of Northeastern University. The Sox would use the home of the Boston Braves for their really big games because Fenway Park was small. After the Braves moved to Milwaukee because they could no longer use League Park.

Fenway Park had two major fires that changed the left field area forever. In 1933, new owner Tom Yawkey built a 37-foot metal wall which became the Green Monster.

In the 1940′s the Red Sox put their bullpen in right field just 25 feet closer to home plate. This was a great advantage to their new superstar Ted Williams. This section of the ball park became known as “Williamsville” because many of Williams’ home runs landed in the Red Sox bull pen.

The Red Sox have exorcised the ghosts of the past by winning the pennant twice at the turn of this century and by beating the Yankees twice for the American League crown. Boston also has one of the original manual scoreboards.

However, some of Boston fans can be cold and heartless. This was the case in 1986 when first baseman, Bill Buckner missed a play in the game six of the World Series that led to the New York Mets winning the series.

The Sox fans ran Buckner out of Boston. Some fans are still mad. Buckner did not return to Fenway until 2006. When Buckner finally returned he received a standing ovation which he deserved after playing so many years for the Boston Red Sox.

To name a few of the Boston Red Sox superstars, Frank Malzone, Rico Petrocelli, Tony Conigliaro, Luis Tiant, Dwight Evans, Fred Lynn, Bernie Carbo, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Mike Greenwell, Wade Boggs, Josh Beckett, “Dice-K” Matzusaka, Tim Wakefield, Mo Vaughn, Nomar Garciaparra, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski, David Ortiz, and of course, the recently traded Manny (being Manny) Ramirez.

Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field is the second oldest park in Major League Baseball. It opened in 1914. The Cubs were known as the Federals until 1914. They played in the Federal League until it folded the same year. Weeghman Field is now known as Wrigley, is the home of the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs won the National League Pennant and World Series in 1908. They have not won the World Series since then, but they have come close many times. Many thought that they would win this year would but the Dodgers continued their 100-year nightmare with an L.A. sweep.

Wrigley Field was one of the first stadiums to maintain its manual scoreboard, which still stands in center field today. It was also the last of the old ballparks to put light standards around their stadium. Lights were installed in 1988.

Many avid Cubs fans are still protesting. They loved day baseball games and wanted it to be a Chicago trademark. Major League Baseball wanted the Chicago Cubs organization to move into the future and the world of technology via night television telecast.

I never understood the reason why former owner Bill Veeck installed the ivy that covers the brick outfield wall. Outfielders would slam or crash into the wall hurting themselves while trying to catch fly balls.

In 1978, they installed the basket that surrounded the bleachers so that players would back off if they were under the cage.

The two greatest African American Chicago Cub players were Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, both members of Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Both players were ambassadors of the game.

Ernie Banks with his bright smile would say “Lets play two” meaning a double header. Everyone remembers that 1969 Cub team, led by third baseman Ron Santo and the epic battle with the New York Mets.

Wrigley Field has an interesting old tradition. There is a white flag with the blue W for a Cub victory that would fly on the top of Wrigley Field scoreboard until the next game. A blue flag with the letter L was not good news for Cub fans because it signaled a Chicago loss.

Another tradition was started by the late Harry Caray and his seventh inning stretch song “Take me out to the ball game”; Caray was a HOMER before anyone knew what a homer was, rooting for the Cubs through thick and thin. At the end of the game if the Cubs had a victory, you would here him say, gleefully, “THE CUBS WIN, THE CUBS WIN” .

It was nice to finally see this beautiful park in 1996. The Cubs were playing the New York Mets soon after a horrific heat wave struck the city. Forty people died of heat stroke that week.

My longtime college sweetheart and her children visited the “Friendly Confines”, of Wrigley Field. The Mets beat the Cubs 10-3 that afternoon making my visit to Chicago a happy hot one. This is the way baseball should be played in the daytime in a small park with rabid fans.

Being a New York Met fan for most of my life, there is a love hate-relationship with this team. I still remember those hot summer days in central New Jersey watching the Mets play the Cubs in the late afternoons on television.

Many baseball fans remember the great NL Eastern Division race in 1969. One had to dislike the Chicago Cubs because the Mets were becoming the little darlings of the league.

The Cubs had an eight game lead in the newly created division on the first of August, but the Mets caught Chicago and passed them for their first National League pennant and World Series Victory.

In 2005, they expanded the “Bleacher Bum” section of Wrigley Field with additional seating in the outfield. This baseball stadium had little or no foul territory at third and first base.

This park is right in the middle of the city of Chicago. The Cubs are Chicago’s team no-matter they do or what the White Sox achieve. Just like New York City is a Yankees town nomatter what the Mets accomplish.

They would never capture the City. As in Los Angeles, the Dodgers rule in Southern California town no-matter how great the Angels may be.

Chicago Cubs superstars are Ferguson Jenkins, Glenn Beckert, Randy Hundley, Johnny Callison, Rick Monday, Don Kessinger, Bill Buckner, Rick Reuschel, Steve Ontiveros, Dave Kingman, Ryne Sandburg, Gary Matthews, Shawon Dunston, Andre “Hawk” Dawson, Mark Grace, and Rick Sutcliffe.

In 1990, the Cubs made Wrigley Field wheelchair-friendly after a protracted legal struggle by disabled Cub Fans. The work continues to make the field accessible. Some ramps are still too steep for many disabled individuals that use wheelchairs to traverse this stadium alone.

Dodger Stadium

Dodger Stadium opened in April 1962. The Dodgers, along with their New York brothers the Giants, moved to the West Coast, maintaining that close National League rivalry. The Brooklyn, now Los Angeles Dodgers would play two years in the vast Los Angeles Coliseum before moving to Chavez Ravine.

This was the beginning of the big bowl stadium era. There were vast foul territories behind the home plate and on the first and third base lines. The Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres, California Angels would follow the Dodgers in their stadium design.

Dodger Stadium is one of the most well kept parks that I have ever visited the blue pavilion, blue walls, and blue seats with the Stadium trimmed in Dodger Blue. One has to bleed Dodger Blue if you enter this park.

This park also has a very unique feature it sets atop Chavez Ravine and it appears to be on top of a mountain but it really is not. The Dodgers have won five World Series, nine National League Pennants, and 10 NL Western Division titles.

At the turn of the century seats were added at the lower level of the stadium which reduced the foul territories in the park. It is interesting that the fans who sit in the first three rows can lean over and pick up baseballs from the playing field.

Many other parks have followed this design, making it fun for fans in the first three rows. It also gives those same fans a chance to get thrown out of a game for interference.

The Dodgers were called the Little Blue Bicycle in the late 60′s and 70′s going up against their Western Division rivals, the Big Red Machine of Cincinnati. Both teams dominated the National League Western Division.

One year both teams had the complete starting lineup for the National League All Star Game. Major League Baseball took voting away from the fans 10 years because (MLB) Major League Baseball wanted every team to be represented in the Summer All Star Classic.

Another tradition of this stadium is the now famous Dodger Dog (hot dog). Every fan must have one of these delicacies at a Dodger game no matter what your team colors maybe.

Yet another tradition is arriving at a game late or leaving the game early. It can be very difficult driving to Chavez Ravine. Lest we forget the many Hollywood stars that visit the park when the Dodgers are in a pennant race.

Many players have worn the Los Angeles Dodger Blue including Wally Moon, Maury Wills, Dusty Baker, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, Johnny Roseboro, Davey Lopes, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Claude Osteen, Mike Piazza, Darryl Strawberry, Gary Sheffield, Nomar Garciaparra, Eric Karros, and Orel Hershiser.

The greatest catcher of all time never played a game in a Los Angeles Dodger uniform, as Roy Campanella became my hero. He became disabled after being injured in a car accident during the 1957 offseason before the Dodgers set sail to Southern California.

In the 1988 World Series, we shared the same box seat in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. It was fun to watch the classic World Series battles of 1977 and 1978 against the New York Yankees. It reminded many baseball fans of the old rivalry between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees.

This season, the Dodgers celebrated their 50th year in sunny Southern California with another National League Western Division crown. They played for a chance at another World Series crown before falling to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS, losing in five games.

Dodger Stadium is one of the first West Coast ballparks to become wheelchair accessible.

Angel Stadium of Anaheim

Anaheim Stadium now called Angel Stadium of Anaheim opened in 1966 with a giant red “A” outside of left field. Thus acquiring its nickname, The Big A. Gene Autry the singing cowboy and actor owned this club in the early years.

Autry wanted to name the team the Angels since Los Angeles means the angels in Spanish. Autry had to pay Walter O’Malley, who owned a Pacific Coast League team named the Angels, $300,000 for the rights to the name.

The Angels were among the last of the first AL expansion teams.

The first tradition was established to be when the Angels hit a home run the Big “A” in left field would light up. This was the second team to do so. From 1961-1966 while Anaheim Stadium was being built the Angels played in the California’s Wrigley Field, not to be confused with Chicago’s famous ball park, and Dodger Stadium

The Angels’ first famous pitcher was Bo Belinski. He would date Hollywood superstars like Marilyn Monroe and created a stir in the sports world. Bo was Joe Namath before there was a Broadway Joe Namath.

Other famous players Angels in red were John Lackey, Jim Abbott, Tim Salmon, Chuck Finley, Wally Joyner, Brian Downing, Clyde Wright, Nolan Ryan, Bobby Grich, Fred Lynn, Garret Anderson, Mike Witt, Frank Tanana, Reggie Jackson, Andy Messersmith, Bob Oliver, Don Baylor, Jim Fregosi, Rod Carew, and Vladimir Guerrero.

Adversity struck the Angels in significant instances before the 2002 season. All Star Outfielder Lyman Bostock was shot to death in 1978. Pitcher Donnie Moore committed suicide after the Angels lost to the Boston Red Sox in 1986. Moore gave up the winning home run to Boston Red Sox outfielder Dave Henderson. Moore never forgave himself for letting his teammates down.

The Angels were the first team to be named after a state. In 1990, they changed owners and the name to the Anaheim Angels. The Minnesota Twins was the second team and the Texas Rangers are the third to be named after states.

In 2004, the team became the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the park was renamed Angel Stadium of Los Angeles. Just as there crosstown rival Dodger Blue this stadium was completely Angel Red.

In 1979 they enclosed the stadium and the fans could no longer see the Big A in left field. Seats were added in the enclosed part of the stadium this continued the big bowl stadium look that would come to an end in the 1980s. They moved the Giant red ‘A’ monster to the parking lot at the end of the stadium.

In 1997, the Disney Corporation bought the team and renovated the stadium again adding lower box seats. Disney also changed the logo and uniforms to reflect the cartoon Disney image.

The Angels missed the title numerous times before winning the 2002 World Series as a wild card team. It was the fourth wild card team in history to go to the World Series. The Angels have seven American League Western Division title.

It’s the only place where you will see a rally monkey; it can be seen on the scoreboard if the Angels are losing. This jumping monkey became famous after the 2001 season. The monkey was seen often when the Angels played the San Francisco Giants for their only title in 2002.

The Angels will have to wait another year to gain another World Series title after losing another ALDS to the Boston Red Sox in four games.

McAfee Coliseum

The Oakland A’s are the only team of this group not to make the playoffs this year and they maybe the first team to leave this historic group. The Athletics were born in the City of Brotherly Love Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1901.

The name was for the cities many athletic clubs of Philadelphia. The name Athletics was too long to pronounce or put in newspapers so it was shorted to A’s. They were also known as the White Elephants because of the cheap selling price of the team.

Then New York Giants Manager called them simply the elephants and the nickname stuck. The team put the white elephant logo on their sleeves and took it with them to Kansas City and Oakland.

The Kansas City Athletics moved into their new ball park in Oakland in April 17, 1968. Owner Charlie Finley was very unhappy with the administration in Kansas City.

The Cleveland Indians and the A’s were vying for a west coast home. Maverick owner Finley moved his team from Kansas City to Oakland. He also tried to change baseball with a designated runner, orange baseballs, and an all green stadium.

Opening day in 1970, Finley introduced gold bases, but the Rules Committee would not allow this. He also battled the commissioner about the escalating salaries of free agents. Finley told all of his employees to sell only Oakland Athletes sports products.

He would not let any other team logo into the stadium.

Finley was the first owner to dress his players in three different uniforms, Grey, white, and green. He also wanted his players to have nicknames and white shoes. The 1977-1982 Pittsburgh Pirates team would out dress Finley’s A’s with four different uniforms white, black, yellow, and pin-striped.

The Pirates would combine different forms of this uniform and if you went to a game each day the fans would guess which uniforms the Pirates would wear that day. This was thanks to Charlie Finley and the Oakland A’s 15 years earlier.

Now every team has an alternative third uniform.

Finley warned the baseball world about what exactly is happening in baseball today. In the early seventies, Finley tried to sell half of the team and the commissioner, then Bowie Kuhn, stopped him.

He did not want to pay his star players so he traded them. Finley traded them after their winning three straight World Series Championships (1972-74). In 1980 the Hass family bought the team and made it community friendly.

The Hass family created a program for disabled fans to enjoy the game. It was a joy to be a part of this program, a program the rest of Major League Baseball has followed since. It was a new direction for the Oakland Athletics.

The Hass family included other American League teams in their promotions. They also brought Bay Area homeboy Billy Martin (Berkeley) back to help with slumping attendance. The year before only 653 fans showed up at a Seattle Mariners game.

There were more employees then fans at the stadium.

This stadium features a unique underground design where the playing surface is actually below ground level (21 feet-6 meters below sea level). Consequently fans enter the and stadium find themselves walking on to the main concourse of the stadium at the top of the first level of seats.

This, combined with the hill that was built around the stadium to create the upper concourse, means that only the third deck is visible from outside the park. This gives the Coliseum the illusion of being a short stadium from the outside.

Working there for 10 years was a joy. It enabled me to see the rise of the Bash Brothers (Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire) and the 1989 World Series Championship. The A’s have won 14 AL Western Division titles, six American League Titles, and four World Series Championships.

The park has a beautiful scenic view of the Oakland hills from the inside and that was a unique feature of this ballpark. This is also the last park built in the 60′s The Coliseum or McAfee Coliseum would be a model for the seventies baseball parks.

For instance, Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, the second Busch Staduim in St. Louis, and the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

Here are some of the great ballplayers who have played on the colisuim floor Rickey Henderson, Dave Kingman, Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers, Dave Stewart,Vida Blue, Dave Henderson, Al Weis, Carney Lansford, Dennis Eckersley, Bert “Campy” Campaneris, Gene Tenace, Sal Bando, Jim “Catfish:” Hunter, John “Blue Moon” Odom, and Mike Norris.

In 1996 when the Oakland Raiders returned to the Bay Area, owner Al Davis would not put his team on the coliseum field unless they bulit a 25,000 seating section in the outfield of the staduim.

A’s fans have derisively nicknamed the structure Mount Davis in (dis)honor of Raiders owner Al Davis. This stucture was one of the most attractive baseball parks in the country. The builting of Mount Davis enclosed the staduim and made it baseball un-friendly.

The A’s have already made plans to move into their new park in Fremont which is in the suburbs and 30 miles south of Oakland. to a suburb called Fremont. Some consider this a very bad but understandable move.

Some of the reasons given were:

1. The A’s do not enjoy playing with the concrete monster Mount Davis behind their backs.

2. Mount Davis changed the wind current in the field thus the decrease in the number of homeruns hit.

3. Wanting to leave the cash strapped city of Oakland and move to where the money is: the South Bay near Silicon Valley, San Jose and Santa Clara Counties.

4. The A’s will miss the mass transit connection to the Coliseum Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and AC Transit Bus routes which are very accessible. In Fremont this transit access would be a work in progress.

When the Oakland Athletics move to Fremont the number of old baseball stadiums will be reduced to four and two will be in the same city, Los Angeles.