- Baker Bowl
stadium_name = Baker Bowl
nickname = The Cigar Box, The Band Box
April 30, 1887
June 30, 1938
demolished = 1950
surface = Grass
construction_cost = $80,000 USD
former_names = Philadelphia Base Ball Grounds (1887-1895)
National League Park (1895-1913, officially thereafter)
Philadelphia Phillies(NL) (1887–1938)
Philadelphia Eagles(NFL) (1933–1935)
seating_capacity = 18,000 (1895) • 20,000 (1929) • 18,800 (1930)
dimensions = Left Field - convert|341|ft|m|abbr=on
Center Field - convert|408|ft|m|abbr=on
Right-Center - convert|300|ft|m|abbr=on
Right Field - convert|280|ft|m|abbr=on
Baker Bowl is the best-known popular name of a
baseballpark that formerly stood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Its formal name, painted on its outer wall, was National League Park. It was also initially known as Philadelphia Park or Philadelphia Base Ball Grounds.
It was on a small city block bounded by N. Broad St., W. Huntingdon St., 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 a while, as it was a side street running behind the first base line that intersected 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 Citywas 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 used derisively, suggesting non-existent luxuriousness.
*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. After the demise of the Baker Bowl, the terms "cigar box" and "bandbox" were subsequently applied to any "intimate" ballpark (like Boston's
Fenway Parkor Detroit's Tiger Stadium) whose configurations were conducive to players hitting home runs.
The ballpark was initially built in 1887. At that time the media praised it as state-of-the-art. In that
dead-ball era, the outfield was enclosed by a relatively low wall all around. Center field 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 convert|60|ft|m|sing=on fence.
The ballpark's second incarnation opened in 1895. Its upper deck was notable for having the first cantilevered design in a sports stadium and was the first ballpark to be constructed primarily from steel and brick. It also took the rule book literally, as the sweeping curve behind the plate was about convert|60|ft|m, and instead of angling back toward the foul lines, the convert|60|ft|m|sing=on wide foul ground extended all the way to the wall in right, and well down the left field line also. The spacious foul ground, while not fan-friendly, would have resulted in more foul-fly outs than in most parks, and thus was probably the park's one saving grace in the minds of otherwise-frustrated pitchers.
The Baker Wall
The most notable and talked-about feature of Baker Bowl was the right field wall, which was only some 280 feet (85 m) from home plate, with right-center only 300 feet (91.5 m) away, and with a wall-and-screen barrier that in its final form was 60 feet (18 m) high. By comparison, the
Green Monsterat Fenway Parkis 37 feet (11 m) tall and 310 feet (94 m) away. The Baker wall was a rather difficult task to surmount. The wall was an amalgam of different materials. It was originally a relatively normal-height masonry structure. When it became clear that it was too soft a home-run touch, the barrier was extended upward using more masonry, wood, and a metal pipe-and-wire screen. The masonry in the lower part of the wall was extremely rough (Benson termed it "the sort of surface that efficiently removes an outfielder's skin upon contact") and eventually a layer of tin was laid over the entire structure except for the upper part of the screen. The wall dominated the stadium in much the same way as the Green Monster does, only some convert|30|ft|m closer to the diamond; and because of its material, it made a distinctive sound when balls ricocheted off it, as happened frequently.
Hosting the Phillies
The fact that the Phillies rarely fielded competitive teams did not help either. During the 51 1/2 seasons the Phillies spent there, they only managed one pennant (1915). While they were occasionally at least respectable in the dead-ball era, once the lively ball was introduced the Phils nearly always finished in last place, getting a healthy share toward the 10,000-loss "milestone" they reached on
July 15, 2007. During its last two decades, the ballpark became heaven for batters (both home and visiting), whereas having to play half their games there every year became hell for the Phillies' pitching staff. For a number of 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 appended "... and they still stink!" A widespread legend has it that a graffiti artist sneaked into Baker Bowl one night and actually wrote that phrase on the Lifebuoy ad. Conventional wisdom ties their failures to Baker Bowl, but they remained cellar-dwellers in their new home as well, suggesting that Baker Bowl was only part of their problem.
For fans of hitting, the park was homer heaven, as well as witnessing a great many extra-base hits off the high wall in right.
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 Parkfrom 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 center field clubhouse served as a piano bar for a while 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 - coincidentally, the year of the Phils first pennant since 1915 - and the site now features a gas station/convenience store where the center field clubhouse once stood, along with garages and a car wash.
During its tenure, the park also hosted
Negro Leaguegames, including those of the Hilldale Daisiesand Negro League World Series games from 1924-1926. The first two games of the 1924 Colored World Seriesbetween the Kansas City Monarchsand the local Hilldale Clubwere hosted at Baker Bowl on October 3and October 4, owing to its larger capacity.
It was during a 1929 exhibition with a Negro League team that
Babe Ruthhit two home runs that landed about halfway into the rail yards across the street in right. (Per game participant Judy Johnson, cited in "The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs", by Bill Jenkinson, 2006.)
Ruth also played his last major league baseball game in Baker Bowl, on
May 30, 1935. Coincidentally, Ruth had made his first World Series appearance in Baker Bowl, in 1915, playing for the Boston Red Sox.
Baker Bowl was also the home of the
Philadelphia Eaglesfor three years, becoming one of the first multi-sport stadiums. Rodeos were occasionally held at Baker Bowl in order to raise additional revenue. That activity and mindset fit with the reported use of sheep to graze on the field during Phillies road trips, in lieu of buying lawn mowers, until sometime in the 1920s.
Fire destroyed the grand stand and bleachers of the original stadium on
August 6, 1894. The loss of $80,000 in damages was covered fully by insurance. The fire also spread to the other adjoining properties, causing an additional $20,000 of damage. [Citation
title = Another Baseball Park Fire
newspaper = The Christian Recorder
date = August 9, 1894
url = ]
Temporary stands were built in time for a game on
August 18. It was then fully rebuilt in fireproof materials with a cantilevered upper deck. It also contained a banked bicycle track for a while, 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.
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 a while while repairs were being made to the old structure.
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. The many futile attempts to keep it going, for a dozen years after its abandonment, only added to the ridicule due to the park's "lingering death".
The later Phillies' ballparks,
Shibe Parkand Veterans Stadium, would similarly undergo the cycle of praise upon opening and disdain upon closure, and Shibe also underwent a lingering death. The Vet was imploded, mercifully in a matter of moments.
*"Green Cathedrals", by Phil Lowry
*"Ballparks of North America", by Michael Benson
*"Lost Ballparks", by Lawrence Ritter
*"Philadelphia's Old Ballparks", by Rich Westcott
*Contemporary baseball annuals
*Baker Bowl at [http://www.ballparks.com/baseball/national/bakerb.htm Ballparks.com]
* [http://www.andrewclem.com/Baseball/BakerBowl.html Stadium diagram] (Clem's Baseball)
* [http://www.philadelphiaathletics.org/history/baker.html History of the Baker Bowl]
* [http://www.forsythnews.com/news/stories/20070704/localsports/182867.shtml "Forsyth County News" (suburban Atlanta) article which mentions graffiti artist]
* [http://www.philly.com/inquirer/sports/20070701_Losses_Hard_to_Swallow.html "Philadelphia Inquirer" article which mentions graffiti artist]
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