Baseball Judgments

Baseball Judgments |
The beginning of ballparks


By Roger Weber


As a business, baseball would need ways to ensure it was able to support itself. Baseball teams made money by selling tickets to their games. To ensure fans would buy those tickets teams needed to make sure fans' only way to watch the games came from buying a ticket, and that watching a game would be entertaining and comfortable enough for fans to spend their money.


Like most businesses, charging admission allowed teams to pay their players and employees, thus making the players professionals.


Most baseball fans know about the 1869 Cincinnati Reds, commonly known as the first professional team. But while the Red Stockings are known as the first team to pay its players, baseball began being treated as a business actually started seven years earlier.


In baseball's early years it was called the "New York game". Most early teams were started on the east coast and a large number in the New York area. Alexander Cartwright's team was in New York and many of baseball's early rules originated in New York. Box scores and scorecards were invented in New York and New York newspapers were the first to cover baseball. The Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown and New York's most famous team, the Yankees, have won three times as many World Series' as the team with the next most. So it is fitting that the first teams to charge admission to the ballpark were in New York. The 15-cent fee for attendance was used to pay the teams.


Charging admission was made easy when ballparks were enclosed. Union Grounds in Brooklyn, simple as it was with a seating capacity of just 1,500, may have been the first enclosed ballpark. It contained a shed with benches and several other buildings including locker rooms and a saloon, all within a six acre piece of land surrounded by a short fence.


The 15-cent fee was low, even for the 1800s, equivalent to about $2.90 today using the Consumer Price Index. Leagues like the International League would charge far more for entry into their games.


Of course, these nineteenth century parks didn’t have the luxuries of parks today. The park in Brooklyn was very large in overall size but had only limited covered seating. Many of these parks would make seating areas without actual seats or even real restraints, expecting fans to form a wall.


These were the first ballparks. They were simple, functional, lacking in beauty and comfort but vital to baseball's future as a profitable pastime. As baseball grew in popularity, though, ballparks faced changing obstacles and required new features to suit fans who were flocking to parks at tremendous numbers.


Although there were many leagues and fan bases were typically smaller, larger stadia were needed that were more comfortable, safer, more secure from crafty fans and worthy of higher ticket prices. The first era of ballpark construction, the small open makeshift ballpark, was passing. While the smallest and least permanent of all the phases in ballpark history, they were the first and thus one of the most important. But the second trend in ballpark construction was about to begin. The larger wooden ballparks were about to replace them and the next trend, ornate "palaces of the fans," were not far behind.


With quality, though, came expense. The new ballparks were expensive and led to owners being forced to borrow money to finance ballparks. Better financial planning was needed and baseball was becoming a serious business.


Ballparks at the end of the 1800s were very ornate, designed as palaces for fans to watch a game whose reputation as a rowdy sport was changing into that of America's favorite pastime. The Palace of the Fans in Cincinnati, South End Grounds in Boston and Polo Grounds III in New York exemplified the intricate and ornate designs being used in ballparks. Seating capacities were modest by today's standards but double decked stands, large roofs, ornate columns and turrets made these parks more closely resemble Churchill Downs than the stadia of today.


These palaces can be defined as the third of eleven major trends in ballpark construction. They were a major advance from the fairly makeshift ballparks of the mid-1800s and an improvement in many ways from the wooden parks of the mid to late nineteenth century.


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