An exhilarating, splendidly illustrated, entirely new look at the history of baseball: told through the stories of the vibrant and ever-changing ballparks where the game was and is staged, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic.
From the earliest corrals of the mid-1800s (Union Grounds in Brooklyn was a "saloon in the open air"), to the much mourned parks of the early 1900s (Detroit''s Tiger Stadium, Cincinnati''s Palace of the Fans), to the stadiums we fill today, Paul Goldberger makes clear the inextricable bond between the American city and America''s favorite pastime. In the changing locations and architecture of our ballparks, Goldberger reveals the manifestations of a changing society: the earliest ballparks evoked the Victorian age in their accommodations--bleachers for the riffraff, grandstands for the middle-class; the "concrete donuts" of the 1950s and ''60s made plain television''s grip on the public''s attention; and more recent ballparks, like Baltimore''s Camden Yards, signal a new way forward for stadium design and for baseball''s role in urban development. Throughout, Goldberger shows us the way in which baseball''s history is concurrent with our cultural history: the rise of urban parks and public transportation; the development of new building materials and engineering and design skills. And how the site details and the requirements of the game--the diamond, the outfields, the walls, the grandstands--shaped our most beloved ballparks.
A fascinating, exuberant ode to the Edens at the heart of our cities--where dreams are as limitless as the outfields.
“I read this entire book! Baseball inspires a religious devotion for me and its many followers. This book by Paul Goldberger gives incredible new insights into the cathedrals at which we love to worship it. I am so grateful for it. Thank you, Paul.”
"As a Pulitzer Prize–winning architecture critic, Paul Goldberger brings scholarship and a discerning eye to these pages. He also brings a thoughtful fan’s appreciation of baseball’s unique appeal and romance. Qualities which are enhanced, or diminished, by ballpark design."
“Offers a concise history of major-league ballparks, from the earliest wooden structures to the present . . . Flip to the sections on your favorite parks and you’ll find surprising tidbits on nearly every page, [but] the book also mounts a sustained argument across its pages, which makes reading it end to end equally rewarding . . . Lushly illustrated.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Both a beautifully illustrated history of North American baseball stadiums and a defense of the simple but enduring idea of a ballpark that fits neatly into the hum and hive of a grid of city streets . . . Goldberger has an easy way with his descriptions, and his analyses of various ballparks are done with clarity and wit. The book is studded with insightful observations.” —
Michael Lindgren, The Washington Post
"There has never been a book on a sports subject that approaches a subject through the historical designs of its playing fields or, surely, does it as well. Through his architectural expertise and with compelling writing skills, Paul Goldberger in
Ballpark: Baseball in the American City takes the reader into arenas that embrace unique and pleasurable insights of what is commonly referred to as our national pastime."
“[An] entertaining, insightful account of the places that house the national pastime . . . One of the most engaging books to be written on either cities or baseball in the past decade . . . The emotional resonance of
Ballpark is a testament to Goldberger’s thoughtfulness.”
—Josh Stephens, Planetizen
“Excellent . . . thought-provoking . . . [with] sumptuous photos and illustrations.”
—Whitney Terrell, Literary Hub
“Highly informed and interesting . . . An invaluable book, with delicious stories and insights into both baseball and urban studies.
—Richard Horwich, The East Hampton Star
“For all of the writing about baseball, no one before has accomplished what the brilliant architecture critic Paul Goldberger does in
Ballpark. In illuminating detail, he shows how the places where the game is played say as much about the sport and the changing American aesthetic as wins and losses and managers and owners and players.”
—David Maraniss, Pulitzer prize–winning author of Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball''s Last Hero
“A well-illustrated and eminently readable history of this uniquely American structure . . . Enthusiasts of baseball, architecture, and urban history will all relish this fine book.”
—Andrew Shea, The New Criterion
“An engrossing read . . . A work of architectural history and criticism [that] can also be read as a history of baseball or of America and its cities.” —
Martin Pengelly, The Guardian
“Cheerfully approachable . . . [A] scorecard, you might say, of the stadiums, a record of their hits and errors . . . Many of the old ballparks receive their due here . . . [Goldberger] clearly loves the game. But the ballpark, he says, also reflects America’s history and culture, its demographic patterns.”
—David M. Shribman, The Wall Street Journal
“An in-depth peek into the history of the stadiums that we have come to know and love. From the first park to the modern stadiums that we enjoy now, Paul Goldberger does and amazing job of collecting and organizing the history of these stadiums in a beautiful way.”
—Danielle McManus, San Francisco Book Review
“Unlike any book ever written,
Ballpark captures the romance, the history, the architectural wonder, the neighborhoods, and the pure, unadulterated love of baseball that make up America’s major league baseball stadiums, both past and present.”
—Jerry Milani, NY Sports Day
“A fascinating read for baseball fans, architecture enthusiasts, and anyone with a taste for American history (or hot dogs).”
—Town & Country
“Goldberger draws an irrefutable link between the evolution of baseball park design and America’s shifting attitudes towards architecture and urbanism [and] expertly traces the architectural history of the American ballpark and its relationship to the pastoral imagination . . . With
Ballpark, Goldberger succeeds in assuring its reader that the building type is as worthy of design scholarship as any other.”
—Shane Reiner-Roth, Archinect
“The still evolving story of the park in the city is one that Paul Goldberger tells brilliantly in
Ballpark, a book about architecture and engineering and history, certainly, but profoundly about the soul of the game and our imperiled sense of community.”
—John Thorn, Official Historian, Major League Baseball
"If you love
anything about baseball, architecture or the history of modern American cities—just pick one of the three!—you will love
Ballpark. Paul Goldberger’s passion for how architecture is an integral part of our everyday lives, along with his elegant writing, makes this book an enchanting tour through time and space, and urban aspirations. I doubt I will ever again sit in a ballpark, or any stadium, without thinking of this book." —
sports historian and author of ESPN’s "The Diary of Myles Thomas"
“A deep-dive that explores how, with the ‘tension between the natural and the man-made,’ the game’s stadiums evoke the American city and reflect our relationship to our urban setting . . . Goldberger surveys a litany of parks . . . [
Ballpark] effects renewed appreciation for an institution that, year after year, commands our rapt attention.”
—Stephen Ostrowski, Modern Luxury
“An excellent book . . . Very well written and amply illustrated . . . I recommend the book very highly for any baseball fan.” —
Richard Weigel, Bowling Green Daily News
“Goldberger’s approach is fresh and intelligent . . . Readers should expect to dig into
Ballpark ready to think.” —
Jerry Milani, Sports Media Report
“Watching how Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium have evolved through these times makes far more sense, thanks to Goldberger’s set of intellectual blueprints.”
—Tom Hoffarth, Farther Off the Wall
“Attractive . . . Probing . . . Goldberger recognizes the baseball park’s singular power to harmonize the nostalgic rural symbolism of green outfields with the urban dynamism of the surrounding modern city . . . For him, Boston’s reverence-inspiring park—together with Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field and Chicago’s Wrigley Field—will forever define a golden era in the construction of American ballparks. But that shines as just one luminous chapter is this amply illustrated history, stretching from the nineteenth-century Union Grounds, on what had been a Brooklyn skating pond, to twenty-first century Oakland Ballpark, with plans for a landscaped roof when completed in 2023.”
—Bryce Christensen, Booklist (starred review)
“A tour de force that will appeal to devoted baseball fans, architecture devotees, and even casual readers . . . [Goldberger] discusses the evolving designs in terms of the quality of the viewing experience for fans, and he evaluates how each stadium shapes the city around it—and is simultaneously shaped by the characteristics of that particular city . . .The detail of the research, both its breadth and depth, is remarkable. . . . Includes more than 150 illuminating photos scattered throughout the text.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
PAUL GOLDBERGER, a contributing editor at
Vanity Fair, began his career at
The New York Times, where he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism for his writing on architecture. Later, and for fifteen years, he was architecture critic for
The New Yorker. He is the author of many books, most recently
Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry and
Why Architecture Matters. He teaches at the New School and lectures widely around the country on architecture, design, historic preservation, and cities. He and his wife live in New York City.
The first baseball games were played in open fields, but the first baseball park—the first place constructed specifically for the game, with places for paying spectators and surrounded by walls to keep non-payers out—was constructed in Brooklyn, New York, by a politically well-connected entrepreneur named William Cammeyer, who built it on land he owned, called Union Grounds, on Rutledge Street in the southern portion of Williamsburg. The year was 1862, a year after the start of the Civil War and more than half a century before another politically well-connected entrepreneur, Charles Ebbets, would open a far more famous baseball park in Brooklyn. Ebbets Field would last for forty-seven years and become the stuff of legend; Union Grounds survived for barely more than two decades, but its short life belied its influence: from Cammeyer’s enclosure the baseball park was born. Union Grounds marked the beginning of the idea that baseball, the game of infinite space, should be played in an urban structure of very finite space, fitted and sometimes contorted into the urban grid. Union Grounds, constructed on a site bordered by Marcy and Harrison Avenues and Rutland and Lynch Streets, was a green field of play, a thing apart from the city and at the same time intimately connected to it.
Cammeyer, whose resources came from a family-owned leather company, did not build his baseball park out of a love of the sport. He was a businessman, and known to travel in the social circle of William Magear Tweed, the notorious boss of Tammany Hall. Like Tweed he endeavored to present a respectable face to the world even as he was trying as hard as he could to fill his pockets. Cammeyer preferred to use Union Grounds for the more genteel activities of horseback riding in the summer and ice skating in the winter—the problem was that those activities weren’t making him enough money, and he could not afford to maintain Union Grounds as a losing investment. Williamsburg, a prosperous and tranquil enclave early in the nineteenth century, was, like many parts of Brooklyn and New York, already giving way to the dense, gritty city of the industrial age, and its population was increasingly made up of immigrants whose notions of summer recreation did not include horses. Cammeyer saw that baseball, which in the middle of the nineteenth century was a game played mainly by a collection of clubs that operated more like fraternal associations than professional teams, was becoming increasingly popular as a source of working-class entertainment, and was beginning to be an economic entity as well as a recreational one. It was moving toward professionalism in awkward fits and starts that included, among other things, players paid under the table and, in the case of a team that Tweed sponsored, players who were given no-show jobs on the city payroll. When the Fashion Race Course, a racetrack on Long Island, sponsored an all-star game in 1858 pitting players from various Brooklyn teams against their counterparts from New York, then a separate city, the track owners charged an admission fee of ten cents, probably the first time people were required to pay for the privilege of watching other people play baseball. There was potential in this, Cammeyer realized, especially if the game could be played in a place designed specifically for it rather than on a racetrack taken over for the occasion. Instead of charging the teams rent for the use of his field, he would charge the spectators.
Cammeyer caught the wave of baseball’s steady progress toward professionalism, and pushed it forward. In the years before the Civil War, the game, which had been played in various forms in the United States for several generations, was codified into something roughly like modern baseball, as differing sets of rules gave way to relatively consistent practices. For all that some historians of the game would embrace a mythology of its rural origins, baseball’s ultimate form would be established more on the streets of New York than in the meadows of New England. It was in the metropolitan sprawl of New York and neighboring Brooklyn that the greatest number of teams was located—according to historians Mike Wallace and Edwin G. Burrows, there were nearly one hundred of them by 1858—and it was through their mutual negotiations that the rules were established. The sport was largely self-governing. In the spring of 1854 the New York Knickerbockers, one of the earliest and most established teams—it was set up with a constitution, bylaws, and a set of playing rules in 1845—convened a meeting at Smith’s Hotel on Howard Street with the two other best-known teams in the city, the Gothams and the Eagles, to try and sort out inconsistencies in the manner of play, most particularly the standard distance between the bases. The meeting at Smith’s set the distance between the bases as “forty-two paces,” and from home to the pitcher as “not less than fifteen paces,” according to John Thorn, the baseball historian. The first team to score twenty-one “aces”—
runs in today’s parlance—was the winner.
Three years later, the Knickerbockers organized another gathering at Smith’s, which by then had moved to new quarters on Broome Street. At this second meeting the teams agreed to dispense with the rule of twenty-one aces and instead limit games to nine innings, with each team having three outs per inning. More relevant to the form of the ballpark, the teams agreed to establish the idea of foul territory, demarcating a line that extended from first base toward right field and third base toward left field to determine precisely where a batted ball had to go to remain in play.
New York had players, it had a clear set of rules, and it had fans. (It also had the major national sports journals, which by giving extensive coverage to the city’s baseball teams further institutionalized New York’s version of baseball’s rules as the standard.) What New York lacked was wide-open playing fields, since the years of baseball’s development coincided with the city’s own explosive growth, as blocks of tenements and brownstones and factories, not to mention railroad tracks, spread out over the grid of streets. They made most of New York a city in which the man-made all but squeezed out any presence of nature. It was not just Williamsburg that was changing; New Yorkers from all neighborhoods who wanted to play baseball had trouble finding flat, open space large enough to accommodate the game. Early games were often played in Madison Square, but games were technically illegal in city-owned open space, and while that law may have been enforced only sporadically, the pressures of urbanization, including the presence of nearby streetcars, brought an end to active baseball play at Madison Square by the mid-1840s. The favored locale of many of the region’s baseball teams, including Alexander Cartwright’s Knickerbockers, shifted to the other side of the Hudson River to one of the area’s most popular pleasure grounds, the Elysian Fields in Hoboken. Its owner, John Cox Stevens, began hosting organized baseball games in the 1840s, attracting New Yorkers not only with the allure of his pastoral setting but with the claim that Hoboken was free of the yellow fever that afflicted New York.
Stevens’s site was definitely free of the encroachments of the industrializing city. And, as A. Bartlett Giamatti would observe many years later, the very name Elysian Fields evoked classical aspirations to paradise, a metaphor that Giamatti would use frequently to describe baseball. Hoboken would have a decent run as the baseball capital. But it would not remain pastoral for long. Stevens, scion of an aristocratic family with a riverfront estate in Hoboken and a mansion in Manhattan, owned the ferries that transported visitors across the Hudson, and he wanted a larger crowd than baseball could provide. He positioned the Elysian Fields as an amusement park offering people of every stripe an escape from the pressures of the hectic city, and he gave them a merry-go-round, a racetrack, a bowling alley, and events staged by P. T. Barnum. Bars and hotels were built near the ball grounds, and Stevens was so convinced that he was providing New York with a necessary public amenity that he asked the city for a subsidy, even though Hoboken was outside the borders of New York City and, indeed, of New York State. With Stevens’s success at turning Elysian Fields into a proto–Coney Island, whatever wholesome appeal Hoboken’s natural setting might have had soon evaporated. It was a place that attracted the less respectable crowds, not to mention respectable folk hoping to pursue less respectable activities. George Templeton Strong, the lawyer and diarist, visited Hoboken from his home in Gramercy Park and reported, “I saw scarce anyone there but snobs and their strumpets.” It was, Strong observed in his diary, a “pity it’s haunted by such a gang as frequent it.”
Baseball was hardly the sport of the elite, but neither did the players nor their growing base of fans want to see the game played in the shadow of a raffish amusement park. With more and more teams in Brooklyn, Cammeyer saw that he could provide at Union Grounds a field both closer to home and free of competition from other forms of amusement. Brooklyn by the end of the 1850s had so many teams that “games [were] being played on every available plot within a ten-mile radius of the city,” according to
Porter’s Spirit of the Times, which called Brooklyn “the city of base ball clubs.” Many of the clubs were intimately connected to neighborhoods, sometimes even taking their names from local streets like Putnam Avenue and Atlantic Avenue, or local businesses like the Eckford and Webb shipyard. Brooklyn’s rapidly growing, heavily immigrant population—the borough had gone from a population of twenty-five thousand in 1835 to two hundred thousand in 1855, nearly half of whom were immigrants—sorted itself naturally into localized fan groups for each team. “More than any other American game, baseball was built on a geographical and psychological sense of localism—if we take localism to be simultaneously an attachment to one place and fear, antipathy or competitiveness toward other places,” Warren Goldstein has written. And Cammeyer realized that however bitter their neighborhood rivalries might be, the loyalists who rooted for the various clubs had one thing in common besides Brooklyn addresses: they could all become his customers.
The six-and-a-half-foot-high wooden fence that Cammeyer erected around Union Grounds was intended to keep non-paying customers out, not to create a dividing line between fly balls that could be caught and those that were out of play, the critical role that ballpark fences would come to play soon thereafter. Cammeyer saw his fence—which was more than five hundred feet away from home plate at the far point of center field, a distance no batted ball could reach—as a matter of capitalism, not ground rules. His motivations for presenting baseball inside a fenced enclosure were to attract a large crowd, make money, and yet retain some degree of decorum. The Union Grounds had a covered viewing section set aside for women and their gentlemen companions, a further statement of gentility intended to encourage the attendance of women, whose presence was thought to dampen the raucousness of men. “Wherever [the ladies’] presence enlivens the scene, there gentlemanly conduct will follow. Indecorous proceedings will cause the offenders to be instantly expelled from the grounds,” reported the
Brooklyn Eagle, in praise of Cammeyer’s decision to market the Union Grounds as a place of modesty and good manners, “where ladies can witness the game without being annoyed by the indecorous behavior of the rowdies who attend some of the first-class matches.”
Cammeyer knew better than to make the entire place into a demonstration of Victorian gentility. He saw, as Warren Goldstein wrote, that “the game appealed simultaneously to the culture of urban streets . . . and to the respectable and newly vigorous culture of middle class Victorian men.” And so there was another viewing section, distinctly separate from the one for ladies and couples, that was set aside for gambling. There, men could smoke, drink, and make bets on the game. Cammeyer had given them the equivalent of a saloon in the open air. He was prescient enough to realize that to market baseball to a broad audience he needed some degree of propriety, but not too much. He sought to position the Union Grounds as a place of mass entertainment, more respectable than the honky-tonk of Hoboken and yet lively enough to assure that no one would mistake it for a church. Not only was gambling encouraged, Cammeyer had a band playing throughout the ball game, keeping the crowds entertained.
When Cammeyer drained the skating pond and filled it in to create the playing field, he left intact a small, peaked-roof structure, something like a pagoda, that had stood at the far end of the pond. It was in what became the outfield, somewhat to the right of center field, about 350 feet from home plate, very much within the field of play. The outfield pagoda gave the Union Grounds the beginning of an architectural identity, and its very quirkiness, and the way in which its intrusive form made playing baseball on Cammeyer’s field different from playing anywhere else, established another pattern for early baseball parks: they were designed, as often as not, around obstacles, which made for certain eccentricities. There was no expectation that any field would look like any other, and if that meant that play was slightly different from one ballpark to another, that was all considered part of the nature of the game.