Neyer: Citi Field and the new paradigm of ballpark design

From SABR member Rob Neyer at Baseball Nation on July 18, 2013:

At the risk of seeming terribly reductionist, I would like to suggest that we have seen five eras of ballpark design in Major League Baseball.

In the Utilitarian Era (1876-1908), the goal was simply to lay out some grounds and throw up a grandstand quickly, and somewhere close to a center of population. With many franchises operating on a shoestring and just hoping to get through the season without missing the payroll, there was little money for infrastructure investments. You would build a wooden grandstand to seat a few thousand bugs, it would burn down after someone dropped a lit cigar in a bucketful of oily rags, and then you’d do it again.

In the Classic Era (1909-1960), owners took pride in their ballparks, which were seen as a reflection of the owners themselves. Ballparks were intended to inspire the customers and enhance their perceptions, in the same vein as art museums and Carnegie libraries and ornate banks. Simply by stepping inside such edifices, you would become a better human being. That was the idea, anyway. The era was inaugurated in 1909 by Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, the first steel-and-concrete ballpark.

In the Multipurpose Era (1964-1988), nobody cared one wit for anything but economy and efficiency. Gone were the terracotta flourishes of Shibe Park. Modern architecture abhorred ornamentation. Why build two stadiums when one might house your baseball team and your football team? Why mix up Neoclassical Architecture with Modern Professional Sports Profitmaking? Why play on something horses eat when Dow Chemical is perfectly happy to manufacture an outfield?

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Originally published: July 18, 2013. Last Updated: July 18, 2013.