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Baker Bowl

By Wikipedia

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.

At a glance...
BAKER BOWL
Facility statistics
Location Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Broke ground 1894
Opened April, 1895
Closed June 30, 1938
Demolished 1950
Replaced original Philadelphia Base
Ball Grounds
(1887-94)
Replaced by Shibe Park
Owner Philadelphia Phillies
Surface Grass
Construction cost $800K
Architect Al Reach (Phillies owner)
Tenants
Philadelphia Phillies (MLB, 1895-1938)
Seating capacity
18,000 (1895)
20,000 (1929)
18,800 (1930)
Dimensions
Left 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 years.

  • 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 derisive.
  • 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.
Fly 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.

Baker Bowl!

A very early view of the Baker Bowl.

Courtesy of LCPC

 

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 spacious Shibe 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 1950.

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 predecessors had.

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.

Related books on the Baker Bowl:
Philadelphia's Old Ballparks by Rich Westcott.

Related Books on Ballparks
The Ballpark Book: A Journey Through the Fields of Baseball Magic by Ron Smith and Kevin Belford.
Ballpark: The Story of America's Baseball Fields by Lynn Curlee
Ballparks: A Panoramic History by Marc Sandalow and Jim Sutton.
Ballparks by Robert Von Goeben and Red Howard.
Ballparks: Then & Now by Eric Enders.
Baseball Vacations: Great Family Trips to Minor League and Classic Major League Ballbarks Across America by Bruce Adams and Margaret Engel.
Blue Skies, Green Fields: A Celebration of 50 Major League Baseball Stadiums by Ira Rosen.
Diamonds: The Evolution of the Ballpark by Michael Gershman.
Fields of Dreams: A Guide to Visiting and Enjoying All 30 Major League Ballparks by Jay Ahuja
Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebration of All Major League and Negro League Ballparks by Philip J. Lowry.
Joe Mock's Ballpark Guide by Joe Mock.
Lost Ballparks: A Celebration of Baseball's Legendary Fields by Lawrence S. Ritter.
Roadside Baseball: A Guide to Baseball Shrines Across America by Chris Epting.
Take Me Out to the Ballpark: An Illustrated Tour of Baseball Parks Past and Present by Josh Leventhal and Jessica Macmurray.
The Ultimate Baseball Road-Trip: A Fan's Guide to Major League Stadiums by Joshua Pahigian and Kevin O'Connell.
Video: Story of America's Classic Ballparks
Video: Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns

Economics of Stadiums
:
City Baseball Magic: Plain Talk and Uncommon Sense about Cities and Baseball Parks by Philip Bess.
Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit by Joanna Cagan and Neil deMause.
Public Dollars, Private Stadiums: The Battle over Building Sports Stadiums by Kevin J. Delaney and Rick Eckstein.
Sports, Jobs, and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums by Roger G. Noll and Andrew Zimbalist.

General Stadium Reference:
Sports Staff of USA Today. The Complete 4 Sport Stadium Guide. Fodor's, 1996.

Stadium Design and Financing References:
Philip Bess. City Baseball Magic: Plain Talk and Uncommon Sense about Cities and Baseball Parks. Knothole Press, 1999.
Joanna Cagan and Neil deMause. Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit. Common Courage Press, 1998.
Mark S. Rosentraub. Major League Losers: The Real Cost of Sports and Who's Paying for It. HarperCollins, 1997.
Kevin J. Delaney, Rick Eckstein. Public Dollars, Private Stadiums: The Battle over Building Sports Stadiums. Rutgers University Press, 2004.
Roger G. Noll and Andrew Zimbalist. Sports, Jobs, and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums. Brookings Institution, 1997.
Dean V. Baim. The Sports Stadium as a Municipal Investment. Greenwood Publishing, 1994.
Stadia: A Design and Development Guide by Geraint John and Rod Sheard. Architectural Press, 2000.
Michelle Provoost, Matthjis Bouw and Camiel Van Winkel. The Stadium: Architecture of Mass Sport. NAI Publishers, 2000.


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BAKER BOWL

NARA Photo

Year by Year statistics: for Baker Bowl


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