Collectors have flocked to buy memorabilia from historic ballparks in recent years. Stadium seats, lockers from the clubhouse, signs from the concourses and virtually anything else was put up for auction or sale at Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, Tiger Stadium and Busch Stadium, among others. And there were plenty of buyers.
Historic ballparks have a special place in the hearts and minds of baseball fans. They remember going there as kids. Happy memories shared with parents, family and friends. They remember great games and great moments. The smell. The sights. The sounds. Making a list of which ballparks are the best of all-time is subjective, of course, based on your own memories. A Milwaukee baseball fan may put County Stadium on the list. Yankee fans are insulted to think anything else compares. Detroit fans wept when the club left Tiger Stadium. In fact, it took the city years to figure out what to do with it and not offend sensibilities. To a Cubs fan, Wrigley Field has them all beat.
Old stadiums from pro baseball are more personal than virtually any other sports arena. Football has a few long-time favorites, but overall, nothing evokes passion like an old historic ballpark. They’re so beloved, people make them the focus of art. Calendars are made with old photographs. Books are written about them.
There are some old ballparks that do stand above the rest, though. They’re the ones idolized in ‘man caves’ and rec rooms. The ones for which fans make special trips—just to see and experience them.
- Yankee Stadium: The House That Ruth Built was a glamorous sight when it rose from the ground to house the great Yankee teams of the 1920s. It was a huge palace, fitting for a franchise that became baseball’s gold standard. From the Gehrig-Ruth era, on to DiMaggio, into the Mantle-Maris years and forward to the modern era of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, the Stadium was center stage. It was a beautiful oasis in a forest of concrete; a place that let city kids know there was more to life than skyscrapers and that mere grass was beautiful when it was freshly cut, properly maintained and patrolled by Joe D. It was baseball’s own Broadway. Passionate fans, pinstripes and a wealth of history make Yankee Stadium the best of all-time. Memories are all that is left now.
- Wrigley Field: One of the two oldest ballparks still in use, Wrigley Field’s charm extends in a number of directions. There’s the ivy-covered outfield wall, of course, planted by Bill Veeck decades ago. It’s the only place where a ball can truly get lost in foliage while in play. There are the bleachers themselves, where fans park themselves to soak up sunshine and suds. Waveland Avenue running just behind the left field wall, where ballhawks chase home run balls. The rooftop seats across the street. Harry Caray’s connection with fans. The wind blowing out. There is nothing sterile about Wrigley Field. Where else would fans put up with 100+ years without a World Series title?
- Fenway Park: The other old lady still in use, Fenway Park has been home to Babe Ruth and Manny Ramirez. Carl Yastrzemski. Carlton Fisk’s 1975 World Series homer. Bucky Dent’s 1978 playoff homer that still hurts. Fenway’s left field wall, the fabulous Green Monster is among the most unique features of any ballpark in history. The place is intimate, built for a time when 30,000 fans was a big crowd. Fenway still looks much the same as it did decades ago and so do the Red Sox uniforms, intertwined images through so many summers in New England. Cubs fans have Wrigley. Red Sox fans have Fenway Park.
- Ebbets Field: It wasn’t a great ballpark, really. It doesn’t exist anymore because Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley couldn’t figure out a way to turn it into a big money maker. Still, Ebbets Field is thought of as the Lambeau Field of baseball. A little park hosting the little team that could. The 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers finally beat the mighty cross-town rival Yankees and won the World Series. It was a neighborhood stadium, where fans were literally neighbors with many of the players. Anyone who grew up in Brooklyn during the 1950s—or any baseball fan who has studied the era—can’t argue about the impact Ebbets Field had on baseball.
- Tiger Stadium: Gritty. Tough. Dependable. Tiger Stadium reflected the qualities of its city. Detroit loved Tiger Stadium, but in the end it was too old. The history has made it difficult to tear down. Ty Cobb played there, for goodness sake. The right field upper deck overhang was an inviting target for hitters and made Tiger Stadium instantly recognizable to fans watching on TV. The Stadium changed names over the years, but it was Tiger Stadium at the end. Ernie Harwell’s silky voice was the music of summer in that part of the country and his loyal listeners were treated to decades of history at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.