May/June 1999 | Volume 50, Issue 3
Ebbets Field, Brooklyn. There is perhaps no more misunderstood symbol of the so-called golden age of baseball, no stadium so disproportionately eulogized, than Brooklyn’s old Ebbets Field. All the candles being held for it don’t shed verymuch light. The park did have its charms, to he sure: Abe Stark’s “Hit Sign Win Suit” posted in right field, bleacherite Hilda Chester and her cowbell, the roaming Dodgers Symphony Band. As for the players—dem Bums—from Pee Wee Reesc to Jackie Robinson to Duke Snider they were indeed talented and colorful, and together they annually won pennants before celebrating them by losing to the hated Yankees in the World Series. When the Dodgers defected to Los Angeles after the 1957 season and their park was demolished three years later, Brooklyn’s sense of betrayal was so strong that the memory of Ebbets Field soon became the tombstone for baseball before the franchise movement, before free agency, before the incentive clause. But how great a ballpark was it, truthfully? First opened in 1913, it lasted just fifty-four years before it was deemed unhabitable—by both the team and its fans. Attendance dropped 43 percent during the Dodgers’ last dozen years there. The park is remembered fondly from the Boys of Summer 1950s, yet few people were so moved at the time as to actually go watch a game. The baseball historian Robert Creamer recalls that not only were the stands dirty and redolent of stale beer, but also “the playing field was cramped. The dugouts were inadequate. The home team clubhouse was so small that the players were crowded against each other amid a jumble of equipment trunks. The visiting team clubhouse was worse.” Then again, the park hadn’t exactly gotten off to a rousing start. On the day it opened, bleacherites were forced to wait outside the gates because someone misplaced the key, and the flagraising ceremony was delayed because somebody—whoops-forgot to bring the flag.
We cast the past into what we need from it, and few American icons have benefited from this reincarnation more than Ebbets Field. Fans cherish its memory as they would the frayed photo of a high school sweetheart —a reminder of simpler, more youthful days, her buckteeth invisible to the teary eye.
Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City. Almost every baseball park these days fits into one of three categories: the old, hallowed guard (Yankee Stadium, Boston’s Fenway Park, and Detroit’s Tiger Stadium), most of which will probably meet the wrecking ball within the next ten years; the hideous cookiecutter parks from the late sixties and early seventies (Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium, Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium, and Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium), dual-purpose football facilities that have the ambience of a hospital ward; and the new breed of “retro” ballparks (Denver’s Coors Field, Arizona’s Bank One Ballpark, and about a half-dozen more in the next four years), which while evoking baseball’s simpier past nonetheless pulse with so much rock music and so many theme-park interactive games for the kiddies that fans couldn’t possibly be bothered with some baseball game going on.
Enough of the majesty and mayhem. Want a great place to watch a ball game? Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City beats them all. Its 322-foot-wide fountain and two tiers of waterfalls beyond the outfield fence are the park’s most distinguishing feature, but it’s the air of civility wafting through Kauffman Stadium that makes it unique. Get this, Yankee and Red Sox fans: People are ejected for yelling obscenities. The former Royals pitcher Mark Davis once compared the impeccably clean park to Disneyland because “if someone drops a piece of paper, someone else picks it up.” Opened in 1973 as Royals Stadium and renamed after the death of the long-time owner Ewing Kauffman six years ago, the facility now houses one of the worst teams in the game, one that because of its smallmarket status is barely major league anymore. Yet its park remains in a league of its own.