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April 13, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

The Masses Rejoice!

by Jim Baker

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Today we're presenting the results of the sports venue architecture poll that was introduced in my column of March 16. I asked would-be participants to rank--from an architectural standpoint--their favorite existing sports venues (not just baseball), their favorite defunct or no-longer-extant venues, as well as their least favorite. For the favorite poll, points were given on a 7-5-3-2-1 basis. For the other two, it was 5-3-1. The point totals are in parentheses after the venue's name. Thanks to all of you who took the time to fill out a ballot.

The favorites

Fenway Park; Boston, Massachusetts (201): In the American Institute of Architects (AIA) poll that inspired this undertaking, Fenway (ranked 113th) finished way behind Wrigley Field (31st) and Yankee Stadium (84th). Not so here, where it was named on 48 percent of the ballots, and was first or second on 30 percent. Considering that 110 different venues were named on your ballots, that's pretty impressive. And to think that we almost lost Fenway a few years ago. It was looking a little dicey back in 2000, when it really seemed as though Fenway would be replaced by no later than 2005. Fortunately, that crisis passed, and it's now a lock to be standing for its centennial in 2012.

Wrigley Field; Chicago, Illinois (189): The highest-ranking sports facility in the AIA poll didn't quite get there among BP voters. Wrigley's architecture is now a bit of a hodgepodge (the renovations to the exterior fašade by the main entrance are pretty horrific), but what it lacks in continuity it makes up for in atmosphere. Yes, creating an atmosphere counts in architecture, whether it is by design or--more likely in this case--by circumstance. It is possibly the most successful structure in all of sports, in that it draws fans regardless of the quality of the product contained therein. Its amenities for players are antiquated, of course. One solution to that problem would be for the Cubs to purchase a building across Waveland Avenue and turn it into the clubhouses. The players could then enter the from the outfield, simply by crossing the street. Remember: today's crazy idea is tomorrow's charming tradition.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards; Baltimore, Maryland (156): Camden Yards was the fifth-highest sports venue in the AIA poll, finishing 122nd behind Paul Brown Stadium (101st), a facility that received no mention in our poll. OPatCY is that greatest of oxymorons, the retro-trendsetter. By copying bits of the past, it has become the most copied stadium in baseball.

PNC Park; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (108): The lesson here for you aspiring stadium architects is that if you don't have a good team, aim for a good view. Taking advantage of location is certainly a factor that enhances the mere designing of structures (something voter Greg Gottlieb noted in his vote for Dodger Stadium). Given PNC's showing here, can we assume that it will become a destination ballpark much like Fenway and Wrigley are? Will the Pirates soon find themselves in the same enviable position the Cubs occupy, that is, playing in a building people want to visit regardless of the product on the field?

AT&T Park; San Francisco, California (93): The Giants' home was mentioned on over a third of the ballots and, with just one or two exceptions, jokes were made about the ambiguity of its name. "Phone Company Park," "Place Where The Giants Play," "Whatever They're Calling It These Days Park," "Make Up Your Minds Park," "Corporate Sponsor of the Day Park"--nearly everyone felt the need to make a joke at the ever-changing nomenclature of this facility. So, a great venue has been created, one that has quickly risen to the top of the stadium pantheon, but it suffers the indignity of having its name changed seemingly every season. The fact that nobody in the poll calls AT&T by its actual name gives pause to the efficacy of the practice, doesn't it? Well, maybe not. One ballot I received listed these five, in order, as favorite venues: Qwest, Safeco, Reliant, Qualcomm, and Invesco. Man, those are evocative names, aren't they? Seeing them juxtaposed like that just makes it seem all that much more pointless.

The rest of the top 10 were as follows:

Rose Bowl Stadium; Pasadena, California (66)
Safeco Field; Seattle, Washington (42)
Yankee Stadium; Bronx, New York (41)
Dodger Stadium; Los Angeles, California (41)
Churchill Downs; Louisville, Kentucky (35)

Yankee Stadium received votes in all three categories. The old version got votes in the defunct poll, the new version got votes in the least-favorite poll, and it finished tied for eighth here, a much worse showing than in the AIA poll. Safeco finished seventh here, and among sports facilities in AIA. The Rose Bowl led the way for non-baseball venues, followed by Churchill Downs. The rest of the non-baseball top 10 were Qwest Field in Seattle, Los Angeles Coliseum (which did host baseball briefly 50 years ago), Harvard Stadium, the Palestra in Philadelphia, Soldier Field, Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, and Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Rounding out the baseball-only top 10 were Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas. As voter Sean Holland points out, Kauffman was, for its time, an iconoclastic facility. "When others were creating bland, soulless concrete monstrosities, Kansas City comes up with two gorgeous structures right next to one another," he wrote. Kauffman was highly lauded at the time for any of the reasons that Sean states: "No other park has the foresight, the aesthetics, and the appreciation of line and form." The interesting thing to me is that Kauffman was not widely copied. This is probably owed to the fact that its debut in 1973 was not followed by a great wave of stadium building. Rangers Ballpark has a design that makes it look like it would be at home on a city block in an industrial city in the upper Midwest or northeast. Instead, it sits alone on a grassy plain between Dallas and Fort Worth. Somehow, it still works.

Favorite defunct/non-extant

Tiger Stadium; Detroit, Michigan (103)
Polo Grounds; New York, New York (95)
Ebbets Field; Brooklyn, New York (87)
Comiskey Park; Chicago, Illinois (60)
Boston Garden; Boston Massachusetts (42)

Tiger Stadium illustrates Baker's Ninth Axiom quite well. Wait, you've never heard Baker's Ninth Axiom? It goes like this: the bigger something is, the harder it is to preserve. That's why battleships are such a pain to keep around. What could be done with that magnificent structure once the Tigers moved to Comerica? (A ballpark I like personally but which only appeared on three ballots in the favorites poll.)

The Polo Grounds' showing surprised me, in that I am assuming that most of the readership never got to go there (the Mets played the last game there in 1963) or even see it on television, other than in newsreel footage as the locale of Willie Mays' famous catch and Bobby Thomson's shot heard 'round the world. It's funny, but the people I've talked to who actually went to games there felt it wasn't the best place to see a game--home plate was a mile away from the box seats, and being an oval-shaped structure, it was much more suitable for football. Given old Comiskey's showing here and new Comiskey's (US Cellular's) showing in the least-favorites poll, then we must assume that the decision not to renovate in this case was an especially misguided one.

Rounding out the top 10 were: Shibe Park (Philadelphia), Forbes Field (Pittsburgh), pre-renovation Yankee Stadium, the Astrodome (Houston), and pre-renovation Soldier Field. In all, 55 different venues received votes here, including some from antiquity, such as the Coliseum in Rome. I've always thought they should build a replica of it outside of the city and stage events there. By the way, don't you love that the Coliseum is still standing, yet your local sports owner wants you to build him a new stadium even though his old one is only 30 years old?

The least favorite

Veteran's Stadium; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (77)
Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome; Minneapolis, Minnesota (76)
Kingdome; Seattle, Washington (57)
Shea Stadium; Queens, New York (47)
Olympic Stadium; Montreal, Quebec (35)

You mentioned 80 different despicable venues on your ballots, but by a clear majority, it's pretty obvious what people don't like: symmetry, indoorsiness and towering heights. (For instance, the Al Davis Mountain at the Oakland Coliseum was cited by a number of you as a big turnoff). Four of these five venues also have/had artificial turf, a sure-fire way to lose favor with the voting public. A number of you showed your disdain for the so-called "cookie cutter"-era ballparks by splitting your vote equally between Three Rivers, Riverfront, and Veteran's Stadiums. The rest of the bottom 10 are: Tropicana in St. Petersburg, Florida, new Comiskey (US Cellular Field), Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, the Oakland Coliseum (McAfee Coliseum), and Riverfront/Cinergy Field in Cincinnati.

The good news is that, for the most part, these are errors that are not likely to be repeated in the future, although a spectacular miscalculation is never out of the realm of possibility.

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