Imagine if the ghostly players from the classic baseball film Field of Dreams were transported through time not to an Iowa cornfield, but to one of the modern billion-dollar palaces in baseball. Today’s players and fans can’t imagine the primitive design and bizarre features of the earliest fields in big-league baseball. One early stadium featured a 60-foot wall (!) down a 280-foot right-field line. Another stadium routinely flooded; in one game, water in deep centerfield was chest high — yet play continued. Most longtime baseball fans are familiar with the classic, extinct major-league parks such as New York’s Polo Grounds, Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field and Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. Here’s a look at some of the primitive fields that predated even those historic fields, along with a couple of other unusual fields from the past.
10. West Side Park, Chicago
It seems as if the Cubs have been playing in Wrigley Field since the beginning of time, but they had several earlier homes. West Side Park — actually the team’s second field by that name — served as the club’s home from 1893 through 1915, when they moved into Weeghman Park (later reamed Wrigley Field). The Cubs enjoyed their greatest years in West Side Park, winning four NL pennants and two World Series between 1906 and 1910. The park was razed in 1920 and is now the site of the University of Illinois Medical Center.
9. Baker Bowl, Philadelphia
Originally opened in 1887, an improved Baker Bowl opened in 1895, with reporters hailing it as the greatest baseball facility in America. It boasted the first cantilevered upper deck seen in a sports stadium, and was the first park to use steel, brick and concrete for its construction. Because the park’s right-field wall stood only 280 feet away, the club erected an enormous wall that eventually reached 60 feet in height (Fenway Park’s Green Monster is 37 feet high). The Phils fled the Baker Bowl in midseason in 1938 to play in the more modern Shibe Park.
8. Swampoodle Grounds, Washington
Gotta love the name, in honor of the Irish neighborhood by the same name. The old Washington Nationals played here from 1886-1889. Union Station now sits on the site of the old stadium.
7. Sick’s Stadium, Seattle
Quick, name Seattle’s first Major League Baseball stadium. If you answered the Kingdome, good guess. The correct answer: Sick’s Stadium, which served as home of the Seattle Pilots for one season in 1969 before they relocated to Milwaukee to become the Brewers. Opened in 1938, Sick’s Stadium served as the longtime home of the minor-league Seattle Rainiers, and was named after team owner Emil Sick. But it was woefully inadequate for major-league ball, even by the lower standards of that era. The Indians considered moving to Seattle in the early 1960s but balked at the dilapidated park. Ditto for the Kansas City Athletics, who considered Seattle before moving to Oakland. The stadium made a favorable impression on at least one person — Elvis Presley held an outdoor concert there in 1957, captivating a young Seattle guitar player named Jimi Hendrix, who watched from a nearby hill.
6. Palace of the Fans, Cincinnati
For almost 100 years, from 1884 to 1970, Cincinnati’s baseball team played at the intersection of Findlay Street and Western Avenue. The second field to occupy the site, the Palace of the Fans, served as home of the Reds from 1902 through 1911. While the Greco-Roman architecture was a nod to the past, this park was far ahead of its time in another respect. Its “fashion boxes” along the front railing of the grandstand were a forerunner of the luxury suites in today’s stadiums. The stadium was demolished in 1911, as the Reds moved into the facility that would eventually be renamed Crosley Field, their home until 1970.
5. Braves Field, Boston
The earliest pro baseball parks in America were made of wood, which had one good quality (they were cheap to build) and one terrible drawback (they were fire hazards). Many wooden ballparks burned to the ground through the years, including some used by major-league teams in the early days. But by the first years of the 20th century, most new parks were being built of brick and steel. These so-called “jewel-box” ballparks shared many common features, including an intimate feel, large roofs, and two-tiered grandstands. Two of these parks, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, are still in use today. Another jewel-box park, Braves Field, served as home of the Boston Braves from 1915 through 1952. After the Braves moved to Milwaukee, most of the old facility was demolished, although portions of it were incorporated into Boston University’s baseball field.
4. League Park, Cleveland
Opened in 1891, League Park originally hosted the Cleveland Spiders of the National League. But in 1901, the Cleveland Indians of the new American League moved in, and the club would play there off and on through the 1946 season. For most of 1932 and 1933, the Indians moved out and played exclusively at the larger Municipal Stadium, and they continued to split time between the two fields. By 1940, the Indians were playing most games at Municipal. Although most of the park was demolished in 1951, part of the brick façade and ticket office still stand as the Baseball Heritage museum and an outdoor baseball facility.
3. Huntington Avenue Grounds, Boston
Two things you probably didn’t know about the Boston Red Sox: American League officials originally awarded the franchise to Buffalo in 1901, before deciding they needed a team in Boston to compete with the National League’s Braves. And the team began play in a strange stadium, Huntington Avenue Grounds, with features unseen anywhere else. Like the patches of sand in the outfield and the tool shed in deep center field, which was actually in play. The Red Sox, known as the Boston Americans in their early years, played there until moving into Fenway Park in 1912. So Huntington Avenue Grounds hosted the first World Series game in history in 1903.
2. Exposition Park III, Pittsburgh
The first two Exposition Parks in Pittsburgh opened in the 1880s. A fire and flooding doomed those two locations. Exposition Park III, however, lasted a bit longer. Built in 1890 about two blocks west of where PNC Park stands today, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (now known as the Pirates) moved into a park that had its share of problems. Flooding from the nearby Allegheny River sometimes left inches of standing water in the outfield; in one 1902 doubleheader against Brooklyn, water in the outfield reached thigh level, and players dove underwater for balls. Despite the issues, the park hosted games during the first World Series in history, the 1903 matchup between the host Pirates and Red Sox. The Pirates moved to Forbes Field in mid-1909.
1. Hilltop Park, New York City
Before officially adopting “Yankees” as its nickname in 1913, New York’s American League club was known as the Highlanders. That’s because they played their games from 1903 through 1912 in Hilltop Park, built on an elevated site in Northern Manhattan. After the Highlanders left for the Polo Grounds in 1913, the park was demolished a year later. Columbia University Medical Center now occupies the site where the old park stood.