Stadiums: Shibe Park

I told you it looked like a giant square.

While Forbes Field was being built, another famous stadium was being built across the state. This one was Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Its predecessor was Columbia Park, a decent-sized park at 13,500, but fans repeatedly had to stand outside because the ballpark was full. The new method of building skyscrapers with concrete and steel allowed baseball parks to be built bigger and better. Columbia Park lasted eight years, from 1901 to 1909, but Shibe Park lasted 61.

Philadelphia was a town with two baseball teams — the Phillies and the A’s. The Phillies stadium, the Baker Bowl, had shown its weakness when a balcony collapsed a few years before. Athletics owner Benjamin Shibe bought several abandoned lots downtown, and he began building the $315,000 stadium in 1908. The capacity of Shibe Park was a robust 23,000, but it could also withstand 10,000 other standing patrons. By the end, the park could hold 35,000 sitting fans.

Shibe Park, like Forbes Field, was a palace compared to other stadiums at the time (it makes you wonder how the New Yankee Stadium will eventually be dwarfed). Again, it was technically the first concrete and steel stadium because it opened about two months before Forbes Field. Other than the actual structure, it had several new features. The park had rusticated bases, composite columns, arched windows, vaultings, and a huge French Renaissance tower that housed the offices of the vice president and owner.

The stadium’s dimensions were quite large. In left and right, they weren’t much bigger than stadiums today at 334 feet and 331 feet, respectively. However, center field was a long way away from home plate at 447 feet. It looked like a giant square. The fences weren’t too shabby either, ranging from 12 feet in left to 60 feet in center to 40 feet in right. The fences were raised a few times (they weren’t always so large) because Connie Mack was upset that adjacent buildings were being used to watch games, much like Wrigley Field today. After attempting to sue and failing, he just raised the fences.

Although originally built for the A’s, the Phillies would come in during the 1938 season after a series of unfortunate events at the Baker Bowl in which the stadium continued to errode. The two teams continued to share the stadium for the next 16 years, even playing a doubleheader against each other once. In 1953, Connie Mack renamed the stadium Connie Mack Stadium (Mack bought the team from Shibe a few years after they moved into the stadium). A year later, the A’s went off to Kansas City, and the Phillies were the sole owners of Shibe Park. Well, the Philadelphia Eagels also played there in the 1940’s and 1950’s, but they were the only baseball team left there and the only team period by 1958. Twelve years later, the park would close down after years of disrepair. Instead of killing it quickly and painlessly, the park sat around for another 6 years, suffering fire and vandalism. In fact, the only reason it was razed was because it was the bicentennial celebration, and the city didn’t want the eyesore around for the parades and the All-Star Game.

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