BioProject: Writing a SABR Ballpark Biography
“You should enter a ballpark the way you enter a church.” — Bill Lee
At the SABR Baseball Ballparks Project, we love ballparks, and feel that each one deserves its own biography. Ballparks have a life of their own. Your job, as the ballpark’s biographer, is to cover that life in detail, from birth to death. Bear in mind that our ballpark biographies are meant to be well-researched and encyclopedic in content and scope. They are not meant to be personal memoirs or reminiscences. In other words, avoid stuff like, “I remember my first game at Shibe Park,” or “The Seattle Kingdome was the BEST baseball stadium EVER…”
Regarding proper style and word usage in your biography, the Baseball Ballpark Project will adhere to the same guidelines set forth in the Baseball Biography Project’s “SABR Style Guide”. In addition, you should carefully read the “BioProject Formatting Rules and Source Note Description.” This will help you to format your piece, and to properly list sources and endnotes.
What ballpark can you write about? Any major league, minor league, or Negro League ballpark is okay. Baseball stadiums in other countries are also fair game. The list should not be restricted to former parks; stadiums currently in use may also be considered. However, if you choose to write about a current stadium, please remember that it may be necessary for the biography to be updated every five or ten years. The only requirement is that the ballpark be at least twenty years old.
How long should your ballpark biography be? This may depend on the ballpark itself. For obscure ballparks about which relatively little is known, 1,500 words is probably a good length (maybe even less in some cases). For most ballparks, however, 3,000 words is an ideal limit to shoot for. Then there are those select few parks that are steeped in history, the true classics (such as the Polo Grounds, the original Yankee Stadium, Ebbets Field, Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, and Tiger Stadium) which are deserving of a longer biography, ideally no more than 5,000 words.
As you write your biography, here are some things that you may want to think about including. This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it required that you cover each of these points, as some of them may not be applicable to your particular ballpark. Take it mostly as a guide to generating ideas on what to write about.
- What was the land used for before the ballpark was built?
- Describe the ballpark’s architecture. Was it a wooden ballpark, susceptible to fires? Was it brick? Was it a concrete donut? Was it a grass field, or artificial turf? Talk about any expansions or renovations that the park may have undergone. What was the seating capacity, and did it ever change? What features helped to make the park memorable? The Polo Grounds had its horseshoe shape. Yankee Stadium had its copper façade. Shibe Park had its famous tower and cupola at the entrance. Camden Yards has the B&O Warehouse.
- How was the ballpark perceived when it opened? Was it praised? Was it vilified? How did that perception change over time?
- What about the neighborhood around the ballpark? Was it bordered by residential streets? Was it an urban or a suburban park? Was it surrounded by a parking lot? How did the neighborhood evolve through the years?
- As the researcher and writer, you are encouraged to devote space in your biography to a ballpark’s great (or awful) teams, famous players, and memorable games. Just remember to stay focused on the main task at hand, which is the ballpark itself. If you are writing about a major-league stadium, was it formerly a minor-league park? Did any Negro League teams ever call it home? Did any college teams play there as well?
- What about other sports? Football teams? If your stadium served as the home of an NFL franchise for a number of years, be sure to give mention to it. Were there ever any boxing matches? Tennis games? Soccer tournaments?
- What about famous non-sporting events, such as concerts or papal visits?
- What were the dimensions of the field? Did those dimensions change through the years?
- Don’t forget the element of the fan. In many ballparks, the fans helped to give flavor to the overall game time experience. Wrigley Field has its Bleacher Bums. Ebbetts Field had the Sym-phony Band and Hilda Chester, who rang her cowbell. Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium had Wild Bill Hagy, who directed cheers. What about your ballpark?
- What about radio and television broadcasting? When did they first occur at your ballpark? Were there any especially famous broadcasts? And don’t forget announcers. In some cases, they were as much a part of the ballpark experience as the team itself. Harry Caray would sing the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field. At Dodger Stadium, the voice of Vin Scully might be heard coming out of the transistor radio of someone sitting three rows behind you.
- Was the ballpark ever used as a backdrop for a movie?
- When were lights installed at the ballpark?
- Were any All-Star Games or World Series ever played at the park?
- Did the elements play a part in how the game was played on the field? Did it affect the fan experience? Candlestick Park, for example, had its freezing, windy night games. Coors Field has its thin air, resulting in high-scoring games. Colt Stadium in Houston was notorious for swarms of mosquitoes at night. Wrigley Field could be a hitter’s park or a pitcher’s park, depending on if the wind was blowing in or out on any given day.
- Some ballparks have signature food items. Dodger Stadium has Dodger Dogs. Camden Yards has Boog’s Barbecue. San Diego has the fish taco. Depending on whom you believe, concessionaire Harry Stevens invented the hot dog at the Polo Grounds near the turn of the century.
- What became of the ballpark after it was abandoned? After it was demolished, what was the site used for?
- Finally, does the ballpark have any lasting legacy? How did it influence ballparks that were to come after it?