Jewel Box ballparks
The ballparks built or rebuilt of concrete and steel (albeit with wooden seats) after the days of the wooden ballpark are now known as the Jewel Box ballparks or classic parks. These parks are said by many to embody the golden age of baseball. They are known for their green seats, large roofs, intimate feel, and major use of exposed steel, brick, and stone. The first of these was Shibe Park, which opened in 1909 in Philadelphia. Another Philadelphia ballpark, the Baker Bowl, which opened in 1895, used steel and brick instead of wood as the primary construction materials, and is considered the forerunner of the Jewel Box parks.
Two-tiered grandstands became much more prevalent in this era. These decks were typically held up by steel pillars which obstructed view from some seats in the lower level. However, because of these supports, the upper decks could come very close to the field, giving the ballpark a more intimate feel. Two tiers was the standard for decades, until the New York Yankees built Yankee Stadium. To accommodate the large crowds Babe Ruth would draw, Yankee Stadium was the largest ballpark in baseball, and was built with three tiers. This would become the new standard until some recently built parks reverted to two.
One other characteristic of these parks came about almost by accident. Most of them were built to fit the constraints of actual city blocks, resulting in asymmetrical outfield dimensions. The exceptions were Shibe Park and Comiskey Park, which were built on rectangular city blocks that were large enough to accommodate left/right field symmetry.
Although other sports, such as soccer and football were often played at these sites (the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium were purposely designed to accommodate football also), the focus was on baseball. In contrast to the later multi-purpose parks, the seats were generally angled in a configuration suitable for baseball. The "retro" ballparks built in the 1990s and beyond are an attempt to capture the feel of the Jewel Box Parks.
The only Jewel Boxes still in use for major league baseball are Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.
From the 1960s to the ascension of retro parks in the 1990s, baseball was dominated by multi-purpose ballparks. Also derisively known as "concrete donuts", "cookie-cutters", or "giant ashtrays", they were usually tall and circular or square structures made entirely of, usually bare, reinforced concrete. The parks were built to hold baseball as well as football, soccer, and other sports. Cleveland Stadium, which featured an oval grandstand that was more friendly to goal-centered sports like football, is considered the ancestor to this type of design. A park built to suit all sports well, which was co-owned by the teams or the city, seemed advantageous to all. Some parks that were originally built for one sport were renovated to accommodate multiple sports.
The shape of the parks generally depended on the original use. Baseball parks that were renovated to accommodate football, like Candlestick Park and Anaheim Stadium, were usually of an odd non-geometric state. Football stadiums that were renovated to accommodate baseball, like Sun Life Stadium and Mile High Stadium, were usually of a rectangular shape. Parks that were built to serve both were usually circular and completely enclosed on all sides. These were the parks that gained multi-purpose parks the reputation as bland cookie-cutter structures. The first of these parks was RFK Stadium in the District of Columbia. RFK is unique in that it hosted two different baseball teams, and that it was the first to originally be intended for multiple sports. It is currently in use for only Major League Soccer's D.C. United and the EagleBank Bowl, an annual college football bowl game.
A notable variance among the cookie-cutter stadia was Shea Stadium. One of the first parks designed and built for baseball and football, it did not feature an exterior of bare concrete, but was clad in steel. This steel was later painted blue, making Shea the only multi-purpose park to have an exterior that was not either gray or white. Also, the grandstand only extended just past the foul poles, and did not completely enclose the field. Plans were that the grandstand would be enclosed and a dome built on top, but it was discovered that the structure could not handle it. Thus the stadium simply remained with the area behind the outfield fence open.
One major innovation of the multi-purpose parks was the cantilevered upper deck. In earlier ballparks, the columns used to support the upper decks obstructed the view from some seats in the lower deck. The upper decks were extended upwards and the columns removed. However, even though the extension counterbalanced some of the weight, the upper decks could no longer extend as close to the field and had to be moved back. Also, the roofs could no longer be as large, and often only covered the top 15 or so rows. This exposed fans to the elements.
Besides the drawbacks of the cantilever design, there were other issues with these parks. With few exceptions, seating was angled to face the center of the field of play, rather than home plate. Luxury boxes, which were a part of football culture, were now introduced to baseball, and were usually placed below the upper decks, pushing upper deck seating farther from the field. The capacities of these stadiums were staggeringly large, due to football's smaller schedule drawing a larger crowd per game. Because of this, even crowds of 40,000, a fair amount for baseball, seemed sparse. Often the only times they looked full were on opening day and playoff games. Due to the rectangular shape needed for football or soccer, outfield dimensions were generally symmetrical, and even seats at field level down the lines could be far from the action. Despite being cost-effective, these problems eventually caused the parks to become unfashionable.
In fact, only two of the 14 purely multi-purpose parks are still in use by baseball today: the Oakland Coliseum and Sun Life Stadium. The Marlins are planning on moving out of Sun Life Stadium and into a new baseball-only stadium in 2012.
*A baseball-only ballpark converted to a multi-purpose stadium.
**A football-only stadium converted to a multi-purpose stadium.
While Cleveland Stadium is the ancestor to the multi-purpose ballpark, the ancestor of the modern ballpark is Milwaukee County Stadium. It was the first to feature a symmetrical, round outfield fence. It also featured the rounded V-shaped grandstand and colorful seats that are common among all modern parks. Coincidentally, it was also to be one of the earlier examples of a converted park as well. It was supposed to replace a minor league facility, and serve as home of the minor league team until a major league franchise could be lured to the city. However, the Braves came to Milwaukee earlier than expected, and the minor league team never played in the stadium.
The first two truly modern ballparks were built by the two New York teams who moved to California, the Giants and the Dodgers. Candlestick Park was created first, but was converted to a multi-purpose park to accommodate the 49ers. Dodger Stadium has been upgraded a number of times, but remains baseball-only and its original design is still largely intact.
Anaheim Stadium, which was initially modeled closely on Dodger Stadium, was expanded for football as was Candlestick, but once the Rams departed, most of the extra outfield seating was peeled back, returning the structure to more like its original design.
The original Yankee Stadium is an exceptional case. Yankee Stadium was a Jewel Box park, albeit a very large one. It was showing its age in the 70's, and the stadium was extensively renovated during 1973-75, converting it into more of a modern style ballpark. Many of the characteristics that defined it as a classical Jewel Box were also retained, so the remodeled Stadium straddled both categories.
U.S. Cellular Field was the last modern ballpark to be built. A series of renovations have been made to make it appear more like a retro-classic ballpark.
Temporary and converted ballparks
With the 1960s came the first expansion teams. While some teams expanded in cities where there were established teams with facilities that could be shared, not all were as fortunate. This led to the emergence of two distinct subsets of parks in the major leagues: temporary ballparks and converted ballparks.
In some cases, there are plans to build a new ballpark for the expansion team, but it will not be completed until a few years after the team is established. This may be for a few reasons, such as delays or a desire to hold off until the deal is settled. In this case, an established building is used as a temporary home, often a minor league park. The first temporary ballparks were not actually used by expansion teams but by established franchises. When the Dodgers and Giants moved to California from New York, they played in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Seals Stadium respectively while Dodger Stadium and Candlestick Park were being built.
The other case is when, rather than building a new park, the city renovates an existing minor league or college facility, expanding it to fit a major league team. These converted ballparks are different from football stadia that were converted to facilitate baseball in that converted ballparks were originally built to be baseball only, albeit for a non-major league level. Early converted ballparks were Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Municipal Stadium in Kansas City, and Metropolitan Stadium in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. All three were expanded minor league facilities, although Baltimore and the Met were constructed with the idea of expanding to major league level in mind. Kansas City was a true established minor league park that was substantially expanded to accommodate major league size crowds.
These two types of ballpark are distinct because of their use, not their design. Because of this, a temporary or converted ballpark can also be any of the other types: Jewel Box, modern, multi-purpose, etc.
A park of note is Olympic Stadium in Montreal. The park was designed with a large tower that loomed over top. Cables came down from the top of the tower to connect to the large oval center of the roof. This oval center was supposed to be lifted by the cables, opening the park up if the weather was pleasant. However, the mechanism never worked correctly, and what was supposed to be a retractable roof was initially never used and then later became permanently fixed, making the stadium a strictly indoor facility.
Indoor parks faced many of the same problems of the multi-purpose parks, which was compounded with the added problem of playing an outdoors sport indoors. Thus, indoor parks are also a dying breed. Tropicana Field is the only indoor park left hosting a Major League Baseball team, and may be replaced in the near future.
However, while indoor parks are considered outdated in North America, this is not the case elsewhere. In Japan, half of the Nippon Professional Baseball teams play in domes, with no plans to vacate to a more "appealing" home. The most well-known example is likely the Tokyo Dome.
The first retractable roof park built is Rogers Centre. It managed to succeed where Montreal's Olympic Stadium failed, building a multi-section roof that folded upon itself, retracting over the hotel in center field.
Retractable-roof parks can vary greatly, from the utilitarian and unadorned, such as Rogers Centre and Chase Field, to those infused with retro elements, such as Safeco Field and Minute Maid Park.
The retro parks were built with all the luxuries of the newer parks, such as luxury boxes and more restrooms and concession areas, along with new additions, such as indoor concourses that are open to the field, allowing fans to always have a view of the game. However, the aesthetics shifted back to Jewel Box conventions, which included the use of green seats, bricks, stone, and green-painted exposed steel.
A major divergence from the Jewel Boxes was the layout of the grandstand. The focus was now on everyone in the park having a good view. Columns were missing as with the modern parks, but the upper deck was drawn back and shrunk, while the middle tiers grew in size, causing a stepped effect. The cantilevered upper deck was no longer a large necessity. However, since these new upper decks were drawn back, the shape of the inclined seating was clearly expressed on the exterior, a feature that is a hallmark of modern parks.
Like the Jewel Box parks, the outfield fences were angled rather than the gradual curve or the newer parks, and often had quirky dimensions. The requirements for minimum distance to the outfield fences were rarely enforced during this time.
Teams with multi-purpose and indoor parks longed for this beautiful and classic look, and began systematically demolishing them and moving to either retro-classic, retractable roof, or retro-modern parks. Since Camden Yards opened, 2/3rds of all major league teams have opened new ballparks, each of which contain unique features. The most important feature was that all of them were baseball-only.
U.S. Cellular Field has an unfortunate place in history. It was the last modern park built, built a year before Camden Yards. Just missing the retro movement, it was now viewed as obsolete only a year into its life. The White Sox responded with a series of renovations to give the park more retro charm. This included the changing from a cantilever upper deck to a flat roof with columns, and the change from a symmetrical fence to a more unique-shaped asymmetrical fence.
Jacobs Field was built two years after Camden Yards, and featured the angular, asymmetrical fences of varying heights, a smaller upper deck, and stepped tiers. While the interior has all the hallmarks of a retro park, the exterior did not feature the look of the Jewel Box parks. It could not truly be called a retro-classic park.
There have been a few parks that followed in this style. Rather than brick, the exteriors heavily feature white or gray-painted steel and glass. If there is any masonry, it is sandstone or limestone.
Angel Stadium has seen many changes throughout the years. It was originally a modern park, similar to the Angels' previous home, Dodger Stadium. When the NFL's Rams left the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and set up shop in what was then Anaheim Stadium, the first round of renovations began. The grandstand was expanded to completely enclose the stadium, turning it into a classic multi-purpose park. The Rams left in 1994, leaving the Angels alone in the large, 65,000 seat stadium. After a two-year renovation, the steel was painted green, and what concrete remained was painted sandstone, including the sweeping curve of the entrance plaza. The seating configuration was significantly altered, most notably by tearing out most of the outfield seating except for parts of the lower decks in left and right fields, to more closely resemble the original design from the park's first 15 years. The finished product was a retro-modern ballpark.
Current Major League ballparks
*Sun Life Stadium is expandable to 68,000. **Oakland Coliseum is expandable to 60,000. ***Tropicana Field is expandable to 45,000. ****Fenway Park is 39,512 during day games.
Actual distance to center field is 400 ft (122 m); the 395-foot (120 m) markings are to the left and right of dead center.
At Fenway Park, straightaway center is 390 feet, but there is a corner in the fence just right of center that juts out to 420 feet.
Unique features and quirks of current major league parks