Ten long gone a very quirky baseball fields.
Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field—Major League Baseball’s oldest ballparks—are charming testaments from the sport’s early 20th century. Some of the peers of those ballparks had odd features, from weird dimensions to insanely high outfield walls. Here are 10 of the more unusual and quirky bygone ballparks in MLB history.
1. Baker Bowl in Philadelphia | 1904-1938
ODDITY: Towering right field wall.
The original wooden Baker Bowl, destroyed in an 1895 fire, was rebuilt with steel and brick. It was home of the Philadelphia Phillies and widely considered the first “modern” ballpark.
Because the right field corner was only 279 feet from home plate, a 40-foot-high wall was erected to prevent routine popups from turning into home runs. In 1937, the right field wall was increased to 60 feet, much higher than the famous, 37-foot “Green Monster” in left field at Boston’s Fenway Park—one of the odder features in a Major League Baseball stadium.
2. Forbes Field in Pittsburgh | 1909-1970
ODDITY: “Greenberg Gardens” and left-center field, which was 457 feet from home plate—one of the longer distances in MLB history.
Three large light towers were in play at Forbes, named after French and Indian War General John Forbes. Left field was strange indeed. After World War II, with the arrival of slugger Hank Greenberg, the Pirates moved the left field fence in 30 feet. The bullpens, previously located in foul territory, were moved into the area behind the leftfield fence. Sportswriters dubbed that area “Greenberg Gardens,” after the power hitter who had a penchant for homering to left field.
After hitting 25 home runs in 1947, his lone season in Pittsburgh, Greenberg retired. His “Gardens” were renamed “Kiner’s Korner,” in honor of young outfielder Ralph Kiner, who hit 40 home runs in 1948.
In Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski homered over the 406-foot sign in left-center field, giving Pittsburgh the World Series title over the New York Yankees.
3. Polo Grounds in New York | 1911-1963
ODDITY: Deep in center field (403 to 505 feet) but shallow and home run-friendly down the lines (276 feet in left and only 258 feet in right).
The original site of this hallowed New York ballpark was in a corner of Central Park. People played polo nearby, hence the name Polo Grounds. The name stuck even when a new Polo Grounds was built farther uptown, at Coogan’s Hollow.
Capacity was just 16,000 when the new ballpark opened, but by the 1950s, it was nearly 55,000 fans. The New York Giants played there until they moved to San Francisco in 1958. The Yankees moved into the Polo Grounds in 1913.
That arrangement worked fine until 1920, when the Yankees purchased Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox. The short right field played perfectly for the left-handed-hitting Ruth, and his popularity became an irritant to the Giants. In 1920, the Yankees drew 1,289,422 at the Polo Grounds, more than 300,000 more fans than the Giants. Pushed to move elsewhere by their in-city rivals, the Yankees moved into Yankee Statium in 1923.
The New York Mets played at the Polo Grounds from 1962-63.
4. Tiger Stadium in Detroit | 1912-1999
ODDITY: A right field seating area jutted 10 feet over the field and became the landing area for many home runs.
Tiger Stadium was a classic example of the way the local environs created challenges that were often solved with creative, but quirky, solutions by ballpark designers. The right field overhang was necessary because Trumbull Avenue made any expansion beyond the ballpark impossible.
Tiger Stadium had other quirks. A tall flagpole in center field, a few feet from the outfield wall, was in fair territory and a constant challenge for outfielders. Pillars holding up the upper deck obstructed the view of fans from many outfield seats.
5. Braves Field in Boston | 1915-1953
ODDITY: The center field wall, 550 feet straightaway from home plate, was lined with trees to hide the smoke from a railyard beyond the fence.
The deep center field made this stadium a hotbed for inside-the-park home runs. But the trees, which didn’t obscure the smoke, were an all-time oddity. Babe Ruth, who began his big-league career with the Red Sox at Fenway Park nearby, played his final season with the Boston Braves, in 1935.
6. Municipal Stadium in Cleveland | 1932-1993
ODDITY: The stadium, known as “The Mistake by the Lake,” was too vast for baseball but was needed for that purpose by the Indians for 60 years.
Until the baseball dimensions were changed in the football-friendly stadium, center field was 470 feet from home plate and the left and right field corners were 463 feet—distances no home run hitter would ever love.
When Bill Veeck owned the Indians, he installed fences that were shallower than the original walls and moved depending on what depth would benefit the Indians. MLB outlawed that practice.
Because of Municipal Stadium’s 78,000-seat capacity, which made regular baseball crowds look miniscule, the Indians played only weekend and holiday games in the park near Lake Erie from 1934-46. Weekday games were played at League Park, which had its own eccentricities. Situated in a rectangle defined by city streets, the park had a shallow (290 feet) left field. To mitigate the lack of depth, the fence in left field was 40 feet high, three feet higher than Fenway Park’s “Green Monster.”
7. Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles | 1958-1961
ODDITY: Built to host the 1932 Summer Olympics, its 90,000-seat capacity was the largest in MLB history.
To wedge a baseball field into the Coliseum, the left field fence was just 250 feet from home plate, a distance some recreation league softball hitters could reach today. A tall screen was added to make it more challenging for hitters to clear.
On October 4, 1959, the Dodgers hosted Game 3 of the World Series against the Chicago White Sox—the first postseason game in MLB history played in California. The team moved into Dodgers Stadium in 1962.
8. Candlestick Park in San Francisco | 1960-1999
ODDITY: Excessive wind, fog and unseasonably cold weather in the park near San Francisco Bay.
At the 1961 MLB All-Star Game, San Francisco Giants pitcher Stu Miller was blown off the mound by a gust of wind. That was an awful flaw of the otherwise pretty orange ballpark between downtown San Francisco and the city’s airport. There was talk of building a dome over the park in the mid-1980s, but that idea never took root.
In 1989, the ‘Stick was rocked by the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake shortly before Game 3 of the Giants-Oakland A’s World Series, which was postponed and resumed 10 days later.
9. Colt Stadium in Houston | 1962-1964
ODDITY: The heat was as unbearable as the mosquitoes.
Colt Stadium was the reason the city of Houston built the Astrodome to house its expansion Colt 45’s—soon renamed the Astros. The ballpark was nicknamed “Mosquito Heaven” because of the swarming bloodsuckers who feasted on anyone there. But the park was tough enough even before the mosquitoes got there.
Then-Houston Colt Rusty Staub summed it up: “I don’t care what ballpark they ever talk about as being the hottest place on the face of the Earth, Colt Stadium was it.” The stadium eventually was disassembled and relocated in Torreon, Mexico. Presumably, it wasn’t any cooler there.
10. Astrodome in Houston | 1965-1999
ODDITY: Weird ground rules—a ball hitting the roof or speaker above the playing field was in play.
The Astrodome, the first indoor stadium in MLB history, produced a domino effect of unanticipated problems. The stadium’s nearly 5,000 translucent panels allowed natural light, but that also meant the sun poured in from certain angles and blinded players, particularly outfielders.
The solution, painting many of the panels, solved one problem but created another. The stadium’s natural grass, expected to thrive in natural light, died once the panels were painted. The solution to that—artificial grass named AstroTurf—also created problems for players, most of whom hated the newfangled surface because playing on it often caused injuries.
Some parts of the dome were beyond easy repair. In a 1974 game, Philadelphia Phillies slugger Mike Schmidt’s towering fly ball hit a speaker suspended from the ceiling, 117 feet high and 300 feet from home plate. In any other ballpark, Schmidt’s blast probably would have been a home run. But his hit plopped into the outfield, and he was awarded a single.
In 1965, New York Mets broadcaster Lindsey Nelson called a game from a gondola suspended 208 feet above second base. Nobody hit Nelson with a fly ball.