Baker Bowl was the popular name of a baseball park that formerly
stood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Its formal name was National
League Park. It was also initially known as Philadelphia Park
or Philadelphia Base Ball Grounds.
Field - 341 ft
Left-Center - unknown
Center Field - 408 ft
Right-Center - 300 ft
Right Field - 280 ft
Backstop - 60 ft
It was on a small city block bounded by N. Broad St., W. Huntingdon
Ave., N. 15th St. and W. Lehigh Avenue. The ballpark, shoehorned as it was
into the Philadelphia city grid, acquired a number of nicknames over the
Huntingdon Street Grounds was a nickname for awhile, as it
was a side street that crossed Broad Street, a major thoroughfare.
Baker Bowl, also called Baker Field in the baseball
guides, referred to one-time Phillies owner William F. Baker. The use
of "Baker Field" was perhaps confusing, since Columbia
University's athletic facility in New York City was also called
"Baker Field". How it acquired the unique suffix
"Bowl" is subject to conjecture. It may have referred to the
banked bicycle track that was there for a time, or it may have been
The Hump referred to a hill in center field covering a
partially submerged railroad tunnel in the street beyond right field
that extended through into center field.
The Cigar Box and The Band Box referred to the tiny
size of the playing field.
Perhaps a few unprintable names bestowed by frustrated pitchers.
to the site of the Baker Bowl!
If you have Google
Earth installed, click here
to be "flown" to the site of the Baker Bowl. Of course the
stadium is no longer there, but you can see the old neighborhood.
(If you do not have it installed, get
it from Google. It allows you to view virtually anywhere on
Earth in 3D using satellite imagery.)
The most notable and talked-about feature of Baker Bowl was the right
field wall, which was only some 280 feet (85 meters) from home plate, with
right-center only 300 feet (91.5 meters) away, and with a wall-and-screen
barrier that in its final form was 60 feet (18 meters) high. By
comparison, The Green Monster at Fenway
Park is 37 feet (11 meters) tall and 310 feet (94 meters) away. The
Baker wall was a rather difficult task to surmount. The way The Monster
dominates Fenway's ambience today, suggests how much more Baker Bowl's
wall dominated its own ballfield.
In that dead-ball era, the outfield was enclosed by a relatively low
wall all around. Centerfield was fairly close, with the railroad tracks
running behind it. Later, the tracks were lowered and the field was
extended over top of them. Bleachers were built in left field, and over
time various extensions were added to the originally low right field wall,
resulting in the infamous 60 foot fence.
The Philadelphia Grounds were
initially built in on the site in 1887. The original stadium was destroyed
by fire in 1894. It was then rebuilt in fireproof materials with a
cantilevered upper deck becoming what we now call the Baker Bowl. It also
contained a banked bicycle track for awhile, exploiting the cycling craze
that caught the nation's fancy in the late 1800s. In terms of pure design,
the ballpark was well ahead of its time, but subsequent problems and the
thriftiness of the team's owners undermined any apparent positives, as the
ballpark soon became decrepit and unsafe.
During a game on August 8, 1903, some carrying-on in 15th Street caught
the attention of bleacher fans down the left field line. Many of them ran
to the top of the wooden seating area, and the added stress on that
section of the bleachers caused it to collapse into the street, killing 12
and injuring 232. This led to more renovation of the stadium and forced
the ownership to sell the team.
A very early view
of the Baker Bowl.
During a game on May 14, 1927, parts of two sections of the lower deck
extension along the right field line collapsed due to rotted shoring
timbers, again triggered by an oversized gathering of people, who were
seeking shelter from the rain. Miraculously, no one died during the
collapse, but one individual did die from heart failure in the subsequent
stampede that injured 50.
On both of those catastrophic occasions, the Phils rented from the A's
for awhile while repairs were being made to the old structure.
The fact that the Phillies rarely fielded competitive teams during the
early 20th century did not help either. For many years, a huge advertising
sign on the right field wall read "The Phillies Use Lifebuoy", a
popular brand of soap. This led to the oft-reported quip that "The
Phillies use Lifebuoy, and they still stink."
The ballpark was abandoned during the middle of the 1938 season, as the
Phillies chose to move 5 blocks west on Lehigh, to rent the newer and more
Park from the A's rather than remain at the Baker Bowl. Subsequently,
the upper deck was peeled off, and the stadium was used for sports ranging
from midget auto racing to ice skating. Its old centerfield clubhouse
served as a piano bar for awhile until it burned. By the late 1940s, all
that stood was the four outer walls and a field choked with weeds. What
remained of the ballpark was finally demolished in 1950, and a parking lot
now stands on the site.
The Philadelphia ballparks in general, and Baker Bowl in particular,
seem to be a good metaphor for the life cycle of structures, of the
influence of the fortunes and misfortunes of their occupants, and of
changes in public tastes and demographics:
When Baker Bowl was first opened, it was praised as the finest baseball
palace in America. By the time it was abandoned, it had been a joke for
years. The Chicago Tribune ran a series of articles on baseball parks
during the summer of 1937, and the article about Baker Bowl was merciless
in its ridicule of this park. Perhaps the writers would have been kinder
if the Phillies themselves were not such a joke, as per the Lifebuoy sign.
Similarly, when Shibe
Park opened, it was regarded as state-of-the-art, and was still a
lively and joyous place to watch ball games when the Phillies moved in.
But over time, both the neighborhood and the teams deteriorated, and the
joy went away. Like Baker Bowl, Shibe Park / Connie Mack Stadium was
increasingly criticized in the media for a variety of reasons. At the
close of its final game, there was a near-riot by the fans, who stole
anything they could get their hands on. After that, the park sat vacant
for five years, suffering various indignities including a devastating
fire, before the wreckers' ball finally sent it to baseball heaven in
And when Veterans
Stadium opened, it was a gleaming new structure. Indeed, all was well
while the teams were winning. But 30-plus years later, its occupants were
quoted in the media as being all too happy to be rid of it. At least it
went down in one big blast of TNT instead of lingering for years as its
Baker Bowl and its successors may serve as a cautionary note to
sociologists and sports fans alike. The consistent trend, as reported in
the media, is that all of these places were highly praised when they
opened, and had become laughingstocks by the time they closed. It remains
to be seen whether, in another generation or so, the writers, fans and
players will similarly turn on Citizens
Bank Park, the new home of the Phillies, and also on the other
currently highly-praised 1990s-early-2000s ballparks.
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