Spite Fence

They can put up as many “samples” as they want. I’m still using the picture, out of “spite”.

One of the interesting aspects of building a ballpark in the middle of downtown is figuring out how to keep neighboring buildings from benefiting from your games. Buildings around the stadium tend to be taller than the stadium, and neighboring buildings can watch the games without paying admission. Teams obviously don’t like this because they lose ticket and concession revenues, but the fans still get to see the games. In response, teams build what are called “spite fences” in order to prevent people from being able to peer in and watch the game. The theory is that the people on the outside will then buy tickets. However, in almost every case, the “spite fence” doesn’t really work. It may cause an initial increase, but it almost always subsides. Why? Well, there’s a reason the people didn’t come in the first time. Usually, it’s just too expensive, and it also doesn’t win too many fans over by preventing them from watching their favorite team. Regardless, several stadiums throughout Major League Baseball history have built these.

Bennett Park
Opened in 1896, Bennett Park was home to the first night game in Detroit on September 24 of that same season, but it was also home to a short left field fence and no left field bleachers. People living nearby built “wildcat bleachers” on top of their homes and watched the games. In order to prevent this, the Tigers added bleachers in 1911, which increased the stadium’s capacity from 8,500 to 14,000. By the end of the ballpark, billboards were also added behind left field.

West Side Park
Also called West Side Grounds, West Side Park was built in 1893, and it would be the predecessor to legendary Wrigley Field. Unfortunately, it had the same problem that Wrigley does — limited bleachers in right field. Flat apartments sat out beyond right field on Taylor Avenue, and they built bleachers on top. Charles Murphy, an already hated owner, had let the stadium fall into disrepair, and in 1910, he erected an ugly billboard to block the view. Six years later, the Cubs moved to Weeghman Park, later called Wrigley Field.

Wrigley Field
Built in 1914 for the Federal League Chicago Whales, Wrigley Field was originally Weeghman Park and then Cubs Park. The surrounding buildings actually pre-dated the building, and the fences of the stadium weren’t very high. Once built, the buildings would have “cookouts” to have people up to watch the games, and the team quietly allowed this to happen. However, in the 1990’s, the apartment buildings became a bit bolder and started adding bleacher sections. After a quarrel, the Cubs and apartment complexes agreed to share the proceeds, and the apartment buildings still have people watching games. The only “spite fence” was a thick netting temporarily installed above the stands, but it has been removed.

Fenway Park
Probably the most famous “spite fence”, the Green Monster is “really” there to protect Lansdowne Street, which would otherwise be peppered by line drives considering how close it is to the field. However, it’s awfully convenient that it is that high and blocks the view of neighboring buildings. In 2003, seats were added to the Green Monster instead of the net that had been there.

Shibe Park
The story surrounding Shibe Park shows how bitter this situation can get. In the early 1930’s, the Philadelphia A’s were the team in baseball, and they frequently sold out games. The thing is that more people wanted to watch, and nearby buildings began selling tickets to their own bleachers. Connie Mack, not a man to be messed with over money (he would sell most of the players soon in order to avoid paying too much money during the Depression), was not pleased. Instead of negotiating, he sued in 1933. Mack lost the suit, but he was determined to win the war. He heightened the fence to 33 feet, and nearby building were then unable to see the games. The decision backfired. The neighborhood, feeling cut off, abandoned the team, and in a time where people didn’t want to spend money, this was the wrong time to make such a decision. Karmically-speaking, the A’s turned into a terrible team shortly after.

In today’s game, most stadiums are built outside of downtown, and therefore, they don’t really have this problem. In addition, building techniques and the desire for additional seating has caused teams to build stadiums that stretch fairly high, adding in multiple decks.


3 Responses to “Spite Fence”

  1. Ed Says:

    The Monster in Fenway’s left field was never there to ‘protect’ Lansdowne as much as it was built ro protect Fenway from the apartment buildings that were once across the street. These days there are nothing but bars and parking garages there, but Tom forbid a few fans had managed to get a view of the game from their bedrooms eighty years ago.

  2. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    Yeah, but it seems awfully philanthropic, doesn’t it? *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*

  3. Ed Says:

    I still like that any big home run over the wall winds up on the parking garage. Awfully convenient that the only open roof on the entire street is the one directly across from home plate. I wonder what the insurance claims on car windows have been over the years.

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