Thursday, September 01, 2011
My NL East ballparks: New York
A product of the National League’s first expansion of the twentieth century, the New York Mets are (can you believe it??) in their 50th year of existence. They began in 1962 as the punchline of a very bad joke, featuring antique manager Casey Stengel and a motley crew of retreads, has-beens, never-wases, and never-will-bes tottering to a legendarily-awful 40-120 inaugural season.
They quickly got better, riding a number of extremely good pitchers—Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Tug McGraw, and others—to a 100-62 record and a shocking five-game World Series upset of powerful Baltimore a mere seven years later. Oh yeah, future HOFer Nolan Ryan was a Miracle Met too, though he contributed little during his tenure in New York. They won the NL again, but lost the World Series, in 1973. At 82-79, that club was for many years the weakest Division-winner in history; they were eclipsed by San Diego in 2005 (82-80), though both would undoubtedly have been topped (bottomed?) by the AL West “victor” had the 1994 season been completed ... when the strike cut that season short, the 52-62 Texas Rangers had the least awful record in the American League West. Ugh!
Anyway, the Mets won another World Series in 1986. That’s the year of Bill Buckner’s error in Game 6, when the Boston Red Sox somehow failed to gain their fourth Series win after holding a two-run lead with two outs and nobody on base in the ninth inning. Since then, the Mets have played in only four postseasons, reaching the World Series once (falling to the Yankees in the 2000 Subway Series), and losing three times in the NLCS (1988, 1999, 2006). Between those occasional high points, in recent decades the Mets have been more a sideshow than a show—ownership controversies, star burnouts, free-agent busts, financial mismanagement, drug scandals, managerial failures.
While awaiting the construction of their new ballpark, the Mets played in the Polo Grounds for their first two years. Abandoned by the Giants when they left for San Francisco after the 1957 season, the ballpark below Coogan’s Bluff was a cavernous edifice with very short foul lines and very long dimensions everywhere else. I didn’t see any games in the Polo Grounds, nor will I ever; it was demolished in 1964, the same year that Shea Stadium opened in conjunction with the 1964 World’s Fair (and on pretty much the same Flushing Meadows footprint as the 1939 World’s Fair). Named for the NYC powerbroker who had coerced MLB into expansion, Shea was something of a prototype for the cookie-cutters of the next decade ... circular, symmetrical, and multipurpose. It had the advantage of not being completely enclosed by stands—as shown in the accompanying photo, few of Shea’s seats were in fair territory (the left field structure was identical, minus the big scoreboard). That’s why its capacity was “only” about 57,000, versus the 65-70K in most of the cookie-cutters. Unfortunately, the vista from the stands was of a nondescript Queens landscape rather than the majestic city skylines favored in most of the recent retro parks. The lower deck stands were moveable, and the NFL’s Jets played there for two decades. And of course, Shea Stadium was famously the New York venue for both The Beatles in 1965 and Pope John Paul II in 1979.
Although I lived a mere 90 miles away as a kid, and although my grandfather in Manhattan had reluctantly transferred his allegiance from the “Jints” to the Mets, I saw very few ballgames at Shea. It’s possible that I went there once or twice in the 1970s, but I can’t confirm that. In fact, my only certain games in Shea Stadium were on consecutive days, June 27 and 28, 1991. The SABR convention was in New York that summer, and I watched the Mets beat Montreal 4-3 on Thursday afternoon and then lose to the Phillies 6-2 on Friday night. Nothing particularly memorable in either game, and the stadium may have been even less memorable. Using the 1991 dates, Shea Stadium was #18 on my ballpark life list.
Uninspiring as it was when I visited, Shea must have been really rundown by 2008, its final season. Its reputation among ballpark devotees was quite low by the end. I haven’t yet been to a game at Citi Field, the home of the Mets since 2009. It too is located in Flushing Meadows; as in numerous other cities, the new place was built in the parking lots next to the old one, and the site of the demolished stadium eventually became a parking lot for its replacement. Citi Field on my to-do list, of course, but I have no immediate plans to add the new place to my life list. Hopefully, by the time I finally get there, some corporation other than the uber-vile Citibank will own the naming rights.
Because I’m running through each Division alphabetically by city name, the next club on my list are the Phillies, my lifelong favorite team (I was following them while the Dodgers and Giants were still in New York). With all that personal history, it promises to be a long post, replete with boxscores and who knows what else…
Saturday, August 06, 2011
My NL East ballparks: Florida
While the Braves are one of the very oldest franchises in the majors, only two clubs are newer than the Florida Marlins. The Marlins, along with Colorado, entered the National League in 1993, when it expanded from 12 to 14 teams. That expansion equalized the sizes of the two leagues; the AL had been larger than the NL for the previous 16 seasons.
In their 18 full seasons, the Marlins have never won the National League East title, coming in second three times. Two of those runner-up spots earned them the NL wild card, and both of those playoff appearances—1997 (just their fifth season) and 2003—ended with the Fish holding the World Series trophy. The club’s ownership over the years has been, well, let’s just say that it’s been quite businesslike. Businesslike, that is, in the sense of executives looting the company and leaving its festering shards to be swept up by the next guy. First came Wayne Huizenga, builder of (and profiteer from) Waste Management and Blockbuster. After Florida’s first WS win, he quickly sold off all their quality players, pocketed the cash, and dumped the club on (then) baseball neophyte John W. Henry. Within a couple of years, Commissioner Selig engineered a trade of owners, letting his despicable pal Jeffrey Loria drop what little was left from his destruction of the Montreal Expos and take over the Marlins. Henry, of course, got the real prize—he now owns the Red Sox.
- Joe Robbie Stadium (1993-1995)
- Pro Player Stadium (1996-2004)
- Dolphins Stadium (2005)
- Dolphin Stadium (2006-2008)
- Land Shark Stadium (2009)
- Sun Life Stadium (2010-2011)
To be completely honest, I have no memory of the game I attended there in conjunction with the 2000 SABR convention in West Palm Beach. The SABR website says it was a 6-1 Florida victory over the Cubbies on June 23, 2000, but that jogs no memories whatsoever. As for the ballpark, then called Pro Player Stadium, it was located in the North Miami hinterlands, far from the city’s population center (and also far from West Palm and Ft. Lauderdale). I do recall that I got a ride to the stadium with some pals who had rented a car, and ... well, that’s about all I can say about the experience. Truly an unmemorable place. My best guess is that it was 29th ballyard added to my life list.
Big changes are in the works for this club next year. They’re currently constructing a baseball-only park, with a Safeco Field-like retractable roof, much closer to downtown Miami. It will take up a portion of the former site of the Orange Bowl in Miami’s Little Havana. Moving from a 68,000-seat football stadium to a 37,000-seat ballpark may actually improve the Marlins’ woefully low attendance. Since the NL went to 16 teams, they’ve never been better than 13th in attendance, and they’ve been dead-last for the last five seasons. All those empty seats in the accompanying photo are typical of the way they (don’t) draw. The roof, they hope, will prevent rainouts without creating an atmosphere as dismal as the indoor atrocity in which the Tampa Bay Rays play. The jury is still out on whether any summer baseball will go over in the state of Florida.
To complete their break from the past, the team will drop its pretensions to statewide appeal and concurrently honor the city’s minor league past by rebranding itself as the Miami Marlins. All this probably won’t help much ... the only real clean break for the Marlins would be to somehow rid themselves of their pernicious owner.
Next stop on the tour ... The Big Apple (Queens, to be more precise).