Baseball Judgments

Baseball Judgments |
The problem of crafty fans


By Roger Weber


What can often seem like a progressive growth from the late 1800s and peaked around the 19-teens was not so in all respects. As often happens in business, success leads to obstacles. For baseball, success meant increased attendance and increased revenues. But as fans had greater desire to come to the park, they also were more willing to find creative ways not to have to pay for admission.


Over the years crafty fans discovered ways to get around the admission fees whether it meant watching the game from a tree or climbing over a fence. At the original Polo Grounds fans figured out that from a hill behind the ballpark they could see most of the field and watch the game without entering the ballpark.


Philadelphia had its share of problems with ballparks in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In 1895 the team opened the Baker Bowl, an $18,000 seat ballpark that would eventually, through additions and renovations contain double decked stands from third base all the way down the right field line.

Like many of the early parks the Baker Bowl was shoehorned into an already crowded area of Philadelphia. This caused for the ballpark to be very small. The distance from home plate to the right field wall was just 279 feet, 46 feet shorter than MLB regulations say can be built in any modern park. The outfield fence was just 12 feet high which allowed residents living across the street a very clear view into the park and a view of home plate less than a football field away.


When fans started constructing makeshift bleachers at their homes and businesses and collected money for the ability to sit in them, the Phillies became annoyed. This problem of crafty fans was dealt with in a rather bold and uncompromising manner. A 40-foot tall fence was constructed which blocked the view from the buildings and as an added bonus reduced the number of home runs hit to right field.


This wall may be best known for a full height advertisement for "Lifeboy" that existed during the park's last 10 years of use.


Wrigley Field now experiences a similar phenomenon with businessmen at nearby buildings selling out bleachers on rooftops. The Cubs have managed to coexist with businesses through a series of compromises. And through 2005 the Cubs were selling out every game anyway. In fact the famous bleachers were expanded for the 2006 season giving Wrigley's outfield stands a taller but more modern design.


In modern days some technologically advanced fans have tried counterfeit tickets. But generally more fans complain about invasive ushers more than about other fans. It is common practice in ballparks for fans to sit in better seats than their tickets are worth. But that's just part of baseball. Sometimes there are fans that refuse to leave seats they don’t have tickets for and that can result in some humorous usher versus fan showdowns, especially humorous considering many major league ushers aren't of the classic security guard build.


Back in the nineteenth century, though, fans that snuck into the park were only one problem, and usually was a private affair between the team and the fan. Other obstacles were much more serious and provided teams with far greater challenges.


One fan not paying admission can cost a team a few dollars but losing an entire stadium and ticket revenue can kill a team.


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