The Ballpark

One sportswriter’s take on the best of the best, the top 10 places for baseball

Boston’s Fenway Park turned 100 recently, standing grander than ever. No place better combines history with technology, and the clam chowder’s awfully good too.

In honor of Fenway, here’s one guy’s take on baseball’s best-ever ballparks. The only caveat is I can’t rank ’em if I haven’t watched a game in them, which eliminates places like Forbes Field and the Polo Grounds.

1. Tiger Stadium, Detroit

Surprised? When romantics talk about the smell of Italian sausage on the grill at Fenway, they’re talking about the vendors outside the ballpark. Here, it was all in that tight, vertical square of real estate that opened in 1912 and closed in ’99. Loved the upper deck overhanging the warning track, the 125-foot flagpole in play in center field and the tiny dugouts, where Eddie Gaedel would have bumped his head.

Best memory there: Then-Tigers owner Tom Monaghan, who also owned Domino’s Pizza, ordering a helicopter to land in the infield to deliver pizza to reporters and others stuck in the stadium during the 1984 World Series riot.

Wish I had seen: Any game against the Yankees in 1923, with player-manager Ty Cobb leading the Tigers against Babe Ruth.

2. Fenway Park, Boston

The best park ever for a night game. When the lights shine at the Fens, you can feel a city’s heartbeat. It’s every bit as quirky as real life.

Best memory there: Ted Williams, when he was introduced as a member of Baseball’s All-Century team at the 1999 All-Star Game, getting surrounded by Tony Gwynn and others.

Wish I had seen: Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, when Carlton Fisk willed his high drive to stay fair.


3. Wrigley Field, Chicago

The best park for a day game. Lee Elia got it right when he called it “a playground.”

Best memory there: Pete Rose, wearing outrageously gaudy gold sunglasses, holding court before and after games in his final road stop before breaking Cobb’s hits record in Cincinnati late in the 1985 season.

Wish I had seen: Ruth’s called-shot homer in the 1932 World Series.

4. AT&T Park,
San Francisco

The best of the modern parks, an acreage-challenged beauty where a long homer to right carries into McCovey Cove. Architects got everything about this place right, including the ease to walk from the seats behind home plate to the plaza behind the left-field bleachers, where some of baseball’s best concession stands are located.

Best memory there: The joy San Francisco fans felt leaving after Game 5 of the 2002 World Series, not knowing what heartbreak was ahead in Anaheim.

Wish I had seen: The Jeff Kent-Barry Bonds dugout fight earlier in ’02.

5. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore

It’s in its third decade and still has the charm that made it such a revelation when it was dreamed up by Larry Lucchino, Janet Marie Smith and others with the Orioles. Life is simple and sweet here. Too bad fans have been turned off by 14 consecutive losing seasons.

Best memory there: Rick Sutcliffe’s five-hit shutout to open the park in 1992.

Wish I had seen: Cal Ripken Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak, then taking a victory lap to thank the fans.

6. Astrodome, Houston

Thanks to my parents and my grandfather, I was there in 1965, the year it opened and the Astros played games with the worst grass field in history. It’s hard to imagine now, but it did seem like the Eighth Wonder of the World, as Judge Roy Hofheinz tagged it.

Best memory there: The 16-inning Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS, when the Mets refused to lose.

Wish I had seen: The Lew Alcindor-Elvin Hayes “Game of the Century” in 1968 and the Lobber vs. Libber tennis match (Bobby Riggs-Billie Jean King) in 1973.

7. The new Yankee Stadium, New York

The original one, treasured by generations of New Yorkers, only developed a sense of warmth in its last few years; the new one had that immediately.

Best memory there: Alicia Keys and Jay-Z walking out to sing “Empire State of Mind” before Game 2 of the 2009 World Series, with Derek Jeter craning to see from the top step of the dugout.

Wish I had seen: Jeter hit a home run for his 3,000th hit last season.

8. SkyDome/Rogers Centre, Toronto

The first retractable-roof ballpark is a marvel in the same sense as the Astrodome and Camden Yards.

Best memory there: Joe Carter’s home run off Mitch Williams to win the 1993 World Series.

Wish I had seen: Madonna’s controversial Blond Ambition tour stop in 1990.

9. Coors Field, Denver

There’s nothing especially memorable about the ballpark, but the love affair between Rockies players and fans is still real. Another cool downtown location.

Best memory there: The Rockies rallying to beat the Padres in the one-game playoff in 2007.

Wish I had seen: The Yankees’ series in 2002, when they won games 10-5 and 20-10 and lost 14-11.

10. Comiskey Park, Chicago

Bill Veeck’s exploding scoreboard, a left-field roof that sluggers could hit balls onto and Nancy Faust’s organ music made for good times.

Best memory there: When the White Sox surprised a 30-year-old Harold Baines by retiring his No. 3 in August 1989, less than a month after they traded him. (Baines told me afterward he could “take it or leave it.”)

Wish I had seen: Any of Satchel Paige’s appearances in the East-West All-Star Game.


Posted by Tribune News Services

Leave a Reply