Paul Goldberger Explains Ballparks to Us
The Pulitzer-Prize-winning architecture expert, writing about ballparks, past and present?
What a way to start the season.
An advance copy of Paul Goldberger's book, “Ballpark: Baseball in the American City,” to be published by Knopf in May, kept me sane through certain other events in the past week. I learned about ballparks I had never seen, and I learned about ballparks I have loved, or not loved.
Ballparks are quirky, just like ballgames. Each one – at least now that the Cookie-Cutter Era is over – has its own human follies, like the alternating Sun Deck/Moon Deck at the funky (and vastly under-rated, Goldberger tells us) Crosley Field in Cincinnati.
Goldberger, who has graced The New York Times and the New Yorker with his perceptions, says David Remnick, the sports maven who runs The New Yorker, encouraged him to write about the two very different new ballparks in New York in 2009.
This forthcoming book follows the new Yankee Stadium in the “theme park” category and the erratic jumble of references and conceits of the Mets’ ball park, known to me as New Shea.
He manages to give us a primer on urban architecture – how baseball thrived in the 19th Century when new urban dwellers appreciated the rus in urbe of a green spot in a smoky city.
This is not your normal baseball book, not with Goldberger praising urban planners like Andrew Jackson Downing, Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted – my wife’s master’s degree paper -- who dedicated Central Park to leisure and beauty rather than sports. (The softball fields sneaked in later.)
Goldberger follows the urban ballparks that grew bigger, moved from wood to stone and steel, some even having a clue about architecture.
My greatest takeaway from this book is praise for the beauty of Ebbets Field, created by an architect, Clarence Randall Van Buskirk, who had to hide the blueprints in his jacket to keep Brooklynites from sussing out the land grab in a hilly section known as Pigtown.
We Dodger fans had a boisterous inferiority complex, and we compensated with weirdos who played musical instruments wretchedly and spoke in a language called Brooklynese.
Turns out, Goldberger said, Ebbets Field featured “arches and pilasters and large, Federal-style double-hung windows with multiple square panes. There were concrete gargoyles and bas-relief medallions of baseballs, showing a degree of wit…”
He adds that “if Van Buskirk’s well-crafted, carefully wrought façade resembled anything, it was a cross between a civic building and a handsome, turn-of-the-century factory building. In this factory, the ornamental detail made it clear that the product was baseball.”
Who knew? We thought it was a lovable dump.
Goldberger also praises the rather majestic and urbane Shibe Park, later Connie Mack Stadium, in North Philadelphia. I must have covered 100 games there, and never noticed. Goldberger loves the funkiness of Cincinnati, with its 4-foot-high hill in left field, and spacious Forbes Field amidst the museums and campuses of the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. He has good things to say about Tiger Stadium (which I never noticed) and praises the two icons, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, with all the hexes of the teams and the fans. He speaks of a “golden age” of stadiums.
He is not as complimentary of the next stage – utilitarian, lookalike stadiums designed for the incompatible baseball and American football -- but praises the following stage, epitomized by Baltimore’s Camden Yards, with the factory behind right field.
Goldberger sounds downright dubious about the current trend, the Disneyfied faux urban gestures in downtown St. Louis and the new Braves complex, somewhere out there in the white ‘burbs, beyond the minimal Marta train system. Action. Reaction. Just like life, and history.
I was already killing time 'til the opening of the season, and now Goldberger’s book has raised my appreciation for (some of) the ballparks of North America. I haven’t found reason lately to visit the pretentious Yankeeland in the Bronx but I have made a few forays, admittedly closer to home, to the food courts and open spaces behind center field, with fish sandwiches and sausages—even if you can’t see the center fielder making a catch against the wall. Nothing’s perfect, and certainly not the Mets.
I’m looking forward to ballgames – plus paying more attention to ballparks, thanks to the master architecture critic, Paul Goldberger. Play ball.
Do you have a favorite ballpark, or one you couldn't stand, whether past or present?
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About the book:
Here are two pieces I wrote for the excellent NYC real-estate site:
3/25/2019 09:56:02 pm
3/26/2019 09:11:17 am
Bruce, next time I'll make it "snuck." Goldberger observes the trend outward to the exurbs and then the return to city centers. I loved walking to the new places in Cincinnati (one of my favorite cities), taking the light rail or walking to the St. Louis parks, the Mariners' dome and now Safeco, plus Fenway, plus, of course, the dome in Toronto. And Goldberger notes that the Mets and Yankees are in "outer boroughs," far from central Manhattan. GV
3/26/2019 09:30:45 am
Altenir J. Silva
3/26/2019 08:14:50 am
Dear George: thanks for sharing this book. I always say to my wife that there are two wonderful places in the world where we were amazingly well treated for all: Disneyland Park (Orlando, FL) and Yankee Stadium.
3/26/2019 09:19:24 am
Altenir, I remember the photos. All it takes is a sample of one to make an impression. I think the new Yankee Stadium is geared, in many ways, to creature comfort, including little ones, as Neo was back then. So many variables for that epic visit -- kabuki in Tokyo, a church in central Moscow, the mosques of Istanbul, or my first visit to S. Paolo stadium in Napoli (Maradona and Careca in tandem, the ultras firing wadded up paper towels, like Bob Gibson dusters.) you always remember....GV
Altenir J. Silva
3/26/2019 01:17:28 pm
We did have a great time there. Now, when we come back to NY, I would like to visit Citi Field. It seems a nice place as well.
3/26/2019 01:53:02 pm
Room for Neo to run.
Altenir J. Silva
3/27/2019 06:40:02 am
Wow! I think it will be great! Next stop: the house of Mr. Met.
3/26/2019 05:08:53 pm
Municipal Field, Cleveland. Pathetic.
3/26/2019 08:59:18 pm
Dear Beretbabe: Goldberger writes: "isolated, bleak structure remembered more for its harsh winds...." And worse. The book also has a great quote from Babe Ruth about playing RF there. You will enjoy this section...and the rest. GV
3/27/2019 03:05:00 pm
Dear Mr. Vescey, I was delighted to see your byline and read your piece in the NYT today. Great to remember Hodges and Seaver. About a decade younger than you and out of the NY Metro area since 1973 - your work always brings back my boyhood love of NY baseball. My two best neighborhood friends growing up in Demarest NJ were Giants and Dodger fans respectively. We read the papers every day and went to games at the Polo Grounds and the Stadium. I was NY Yankees and started going to games with my Dad when I was 5 years old. He was a WWII Marine battle vet as were three of my Uncles. Baseball was so much a part of our lives. It was - I think - part of the relief of post depression, post war for the adults in our families and it was a shared interest for all ages in the extended family. One of my Aunts, Dodgers like you, listened to every single Dodgers game every season on the radio. When the team left Brooklyn she was truly bereft. Over the years we have lived in Italy and England and repatriated a decade ago to Boston. Good baseball, but not my team - Yankees forever even during the worst of the 'Boss' era. Even living abroad I went to at least 1 game a year until they took down the old Stadium. I take my grandsons to Sox games, a real ball park and Cora may be a great coach, love Mookie. Last season I saw Voit play his first MLB game here and love this kid - Sevy, Judge, Hicks and Gardy too. My grandsons are Mets, Red Sox, Knicks, Rangers and soccer fans. They play hockey and soccer and I have great joy in watching them and learning more about those games. But there will never be a sport better than baseball for me, I am still in some ways the little league catcher wearing number 8 !
3/28/2019 08:31:18 am
Dear Bill Wilson: Thank you for the great note. Enjoy grandsons and Boston, love that town, plus Fenway. Yankee fans got to live, too. I've appreciated them since Bernie, Posada, etc. Play ball!!! GV
3/27/2019 04:25:00 pm
Kudos to George on today's Mets article in the NY Times. Once a great writer - always a great write. Love those cameos!
3/28/2019 06:57:48 am
3/28/2019 08:34:22 am
To Michael in PA and Randy in VA: thanks to you both. This section works best if held in hands, enjoy the photos. My pals Jill Agostino and Jay Schreiber put out this special section -- one of the many innovations of contemporary NYT. GV
3/28/2019 06:07:10 pm
4/9/2019 12:58:40 pm
Great piece about Paul Goldberger's new book on baseball ballparks. When there were only 16 major league teams I had hoped to see a game in all of the ballparks. As a native of Manhattan, I had Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field right in my backyard.
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.