Review by C.J. Bunce
Baseball writer Eric Enders has updated a popular look at the changing times in this week’s re-release of Ballparks Then and Now. It’s a visual tour from the first official baseball fields made of wood and prone to fire destruction to the current architectural marvels. It’s also a quick history of how and why ballparks have changed, of maximizing locations and tickets sales and mass marketing giant corporations by throwing their brands at you while you watch the game. Angels Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, the two Wrigley Fields, the old Fulton and Turner fields, Oriole Park, Memorial Stadium, South Side and Comiskey Park, Crosley Field, Municipal Stadium, Mile High Stadium, Mack Park and Tiger Stadium, the Astrodome, Kauffman, L.A. Coliseum, Miami Stadium, County Stadium and Miller Park, Metropolitan, Shea Stadium, Candlestick, Petco Park, Stars Park, the Kingdome–these and many more are described in detail, taking fans of baseball back to long-gone parks and forward to their team’s current home field.
The best feature is the collection of black and white photographs showing early ballparks from the middle of the 19th century into the 1960s. From the spires of the 1888 Grand Pavilion, home to the Boston Beaneaters, to the beautiful corner entrance to Ebbets Field, some built on grassy fields, others built on former landfills, one actually built on a cornfield, old parks with poles that blocked views of seats in grandstands, one with a tree planted on the field, another with a petting zoo in right field, images of fans driving horse-drawn carriages to the ballpark and later Model T Fords, and now all made of steel and concrete–baseball fans will find plenty images of interest here.
Ballparks Then and Now also includes pictures of old baseball signage, posters, postcards, vintage tickets, and scorecards, filling out the text and park coverage with some good nostalgia for the game. Enders throws in some interesting lore about the fields along the way, like a ball causing an explosion when it wedged into a steam pipe at an adjacent bean factory in one stadium. Another story in picture form shows fans feeling free to walk onto the field in droves to watch the players practice in advance of the very first World Series. And then there are the two ballplayers that saved 1,600 fans from a fire in Chicago at the West Side Grounds by hacking a wall with their bats.
Sometimes pictorials with fans in the crowd tell more about the field and its changes than anything else, and Enders reminds us how ticket prices alone have shifted crowds from locals and kids to more corporate and wealthy attendees complete with sky box seats and their own restaurants inside the stadiums. New seating options, Jumbotrons, concessions areas, restrooms, terraces, and lighting to allow for night games–ballparks have come a long way since baseball’s beginnings.
To some the downside of the book may be Enders’ commentary. Like any baseball chatter among fans, his not-so-subtle opinions should be taken in stride, others will want to call him out for his slightly skewed views on baseball, teams, ballparks, and anything else he can squeeze in about the cities that host the teams. The color imagery of modern ballparks takes up half the book and is not as enticing as the rest, and since the book doesn’t feature true before and after images of the same areas, modern takes could have been cut down. As you can imagine, the book isn’t really about the words, but the images. But if you’ve forgotten how many teams started on a field in one part of the country and changed coasts, and don’t realize all the teams that historically have updated their mascots, the text provides some useful information.
All in, Ballparks Then and Now is a good read for baseball fans, with only minor updates to earlier editions of the book added, since the meat of the book is about the distant past. We’re now in baseball’s third century, and Enders’ account reminds us all of how the game has been around a long time and along with the many changes in the game itself the setting looks very different now compared to back then.