The book: “Lost Ballparks”
The author: Dennis Evanosky and Eric J. Kos
The vital statistics: Pavilion Books, 144 pages, $19.95, released April 1
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at the publishers’ website
The pitch: Imagine the Cubs’ Wrigley Field as the site of a “lost ballpark?”
Doubtful. Chicago wouldn’t allow it. America shouldn’t allow it.
Besides, the disappearance of the Wrigley Field in L.A. is one Wrigley too many.
What once was lost can still be found, but it’s often not as nice as you’d hope.
The Wrigley that once stood at Avalon Blvd. between 41st and 42nd Place is where the Kedren Community Mental Health Center and Gilbert Lindsay Skatepark, next to the Gilbert Lindsay Recreation Center full of soccer fields and the Wrigley Little League, just a few blocks east of the Harbor Freeway and MLK Blvd, as we once discovered for a story in 2009, 40 years after the wrecking ball finally finished it off.
Curiously, a publisher from London, using a printing facility in China, has produced this coffee-table sized publication that is helping author/editors Evanosky and Kos and 16 other contributors recall a brief history in stories and black-and-white and color photo of 58 ballparks. They are organized in order of their demise from 1911 (Palace of the Fans in Cincinnati) to 2015 (San Francisco’s Candlestick Park), and are wise to include L.A.’s Gilmore Field (1958), San Diego’s Lane Field (1958) and Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field (1960).
Most of the older, bigger cathedrals, we know about. There are books done separately on many of them (see below, Houston Astrodome). But it’s more about the places we never heard of that came and went that are worth a moment to pause and wonder – could they have been kept, and what led to their disappearance?
Ewing Field in San Francisco, on Masonic Street between Turk and Anza, lasted just one year as the Seals’ home field in 1914, a fire-proof park that burned down 1926 and now has many homes build on the street known as Ewing Terrace.
Ponce de Leon Park in Atlanta is one of them. Created from a drained lake in 1907 across the street from an amusement park, the home of the Atlanta Crackers (and oddly named Atlanta Black Crackers of the Negro League) had a large magnolia tree that was in play in deep center field, more than 460 feet away. In April, 1949, the Brooklyn Dodgers played a three-game exhibition series against the Crackers to introduce the locals to Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella – making it the first integrated pro baseball game ever in Atlanta, attracting an overflow crowd of 25,000 for a park that had 14,000 seats. When the Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta for the 1966 season, the park was gone – but the magnolia tree stayed and was included in a shopping mall that came up with the civic transformation. It’s the kind of thing that, next time you’re in Atlanta, you might be curious enough to find that tree, sit under it, and dream a little.
Several Dodger-related stories come up in this book as well:
Miami Stadium, demolished in 2001, opened in 1949 as the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league home of the Miami Sun Sox. The place hosted the first game ever played by the newly minted Los Angeles Dodgers on March 8, 1958. Now, it’s home to the Miami Stadium Apartment complex.
Korakuen Stadium in Tokyo, razed in 1988 and next to the current site of the Tokyo Dome, is also included for its importance as a place where many major-league teams from America came to play good-will exhibition tours. A photo is included of the Dodgers’ Campanella and teammates tossing baskets of baseballs into the crowd before a game in Oct., 1956.
And Roosevelt Stadium in New Jersey, razed in 1985, was where Jackie Robinson and the Montreal Royals played on April 18, 1946, a year before his MLB debut, the first time a pro baseball player was on an integrated team. It was also the Brooklyn Dodgers home field for 15 games in 1956 and ’57 as it tried to leverage the city of Brooklyn for a new facility (it had 10,000 parking spaces versus 700 at Ebbets Field) before they moved to L.A. (Another FYI: The rock group KISS played its first stadium concert at the place in 1976).
More poignant are stories told of the recent closing and demo of places like Perry/Bush Stadium in Indianapolis, Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, S.C., and even Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., home to the College Baseball World Series (did you know: The old place was converted into a zoo in 2012).
Then there’s Brookside Stadium in Cleveland, an amphitheater setting created as a way to help the city try to secure the 1912 Summer Olympics, once attracting some 115,000 to an amateur game in 1915 and. After it was converted to a parking lot for the nearby Cleveland Zoo, some local historians tried to convince the city to revive it, but it never happened. Instead, in 2007, it was repurposed as a construction site staging area and still remains a project for the Brookside Stadium Preservation Society. A significant photo taken at the field in 1914 with 100,000 fans watching an amateur championship game included across two pages on 118-119.
On a personal note:
We had a chance on a recent trip to Pittsburgh to peruse around the site of the old Forbes Field that was demolished in 1971, as the Pirates moved into Three Rivers Stadium (since imploded in 2001). The original home plate from Forbes Field is encased in glass in the University of Pittsburgh’s Posvar Hall (on Forbes Ave.), which occupies the site (but is not the exact location of the original home plate, despite what this book says). What is missing from the book is the notation that the original left-field wall is still in pretty much on its original location today, on Roberto Clemente Dr., not far from Forbes Ave. And right behind it is a rec baseball diamond appropriately named Mazerowski Field – just about the locale where his 1960 World Series game-winning homer landed.
But thanks to this book, the next trip will include a pursuit to see the site of Greenlee Field, in the Hill District, built by African-American gangster Gus Greenlee for his Pittsburgh Crawfords as well as the Homestead Grays of Negro League fame. It lasted from 1932-38 and is marked with a historical monument plaque. Thank you.
More to know:
= The authors credit websites such as www.deadbaseball.com, www.ballparks.com and www.digitalballparks.com for their preservation of baseball ballpark history. There is also the 1992 classic book by Philip Lowery: “Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebration of All 271 Major League and Negro League Ballparks Past and Present.”
= “Dome Sweet Dome: History and Highlights From 35 Years of the Houston Astrodome,” edited by Gregory H. Wolff and others for the Society of American Baseball Research, came out in Feb., 2017 (306 pages, $20).
It has detailed summaries of 70 important games in the stadium’s history as well as nine additional essays about its history, spearheaded by the Larry Dieker (Houston) Chapter of SABR. Dieker, the former Taft High of Woodland Hills star who debuted for the Astros on his 18th birthday in 1964, pitched 14 seasons for the franchise, worked as a radio and TV color man and then managed the team to four NL Central titles in five seasons from 1997-2001.