SABR lecture


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The members of Maryland's Society for Baseball Research asked me to discuss my book: Capital Sporting Grounds: A History of Stadium Construction in Washington, DC.

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  • The angry and frustrated crowd denounced Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ plan to build a baseball stadium in their community. “The stadium will be a catalyst for economic development and a better life,” the Mayor Spokesman promised. “We need schools, jobs, and homes,” an old woman cried out to the man standing behind the podium. Seven hours of tense debate ended when the thirteen members emerged to vote on the Mayor’s plan. When the roll call finished, the vote broke 6 to 4 with three abstentions. The Mayor and Major League Baseball won, but for three of their allies on the Council, this was their last important vote; they lost their seats in the next election cycle. The rising costs, construction delays and legal wrangling promise to keep the stadium in the news. This opposition ought to have taken a page from the efforts of Alexandria’s Citizens against the Stadium (CATS) group from 1992.
  • Architect Ward Brown developed plans for a Lincoln Stadium in 1911. According to its advocates the stadium shall be a memorial to Lincoln and be a most magnificent structure like that in the Roman Empire. The proposed stadium would enable Washington to hold pageants and expositions. The structure was 650 feet long and 550 feet wide, elliptical in shape and had a height of 120 feet. While the seating capacity topped at 87,000, another 15,000 could watch from standing room. The small group of federal city representatives who advocated for the Lincoln Stadium combined the desire to memorialize the sixteenth President with practical concerns. They observed that the stadium would help generate the potential to host the Olympic Games. The stadium solved the problem of the location of the Army-Navy football game as well. The stadium would also provide an ideal place to host state expositions. For these advocates sports held a position in society that allowed for a stadium to serve as a memorial site for an assassinated President of the country. TR Stadium emerged after series of proposed monuments failed to gain approval of Commission of Fine Arts and most members of Congress. US Grant III as the Superintendent of Public Buildings and Public Parks and Executive Officer of the NCPPC, joined with the Washington Board of Trade and approached the Roosevelt Memorial Association with a plan for a $5 million stadium located in Washington. The plan called for the stadium to occupy about 75 acres in Anacostia Park. National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Park Service, and members of Congress interested in a new stadium in Anacostia Park near end of WWII as a memorial to veterans. Commission formed from House, Senate and local city that proposed a 200,000 person stadium at one point. Effort could not get through Senate due to other priorities, such as urban renewal of Southwest DC and also the projects association with Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi.
  • 1885 site “Capital Grounds” and erected a grandstand along C Street, NE at New Jersey Avenue that sat 3,500 people. Midseason, the Washington and Georgetown Railroad Company sold left field for $7,000. The purchaser, a Baltimore capitalist, planned to erect fine homes on these lots at First and B Streets, NE and the team was out of luck.
  • the city has a long, rich experience with questionable family owners of their professional teams. The Nationals’ officers issued 40 shares of stock at $500 each for capital and incorporated as the Washington National Base Ball Club “to develop and maintain a proper appreciation of athletic and other manly sports and amusements…” 5 Undeveloped tracts existed near the ballpark in the neighborhood known as Swampoodle. Overcrowded and violent, the tenements and ramshackle dwellings in Swampoodle housed many of the itinerant and poorest laborers in the city. One fan asserted that the team lost because their players were out-classed in the League. The reporter covering the team for the sports journal, Sporting Life agreed, noting ”The club is resting upon its oars watching the great grab game that is going on for young players … I can not understand for no club in the League has demonstrated its weakness more forcibly that the Washington Club.” Another reporter noted that the board of directors met but conducted no business. “If the press can arouse the directorate they will be doing a charitable act.” Management traded the .300 hitter Hines in exchange for an outfielder who would have only three at-bats with the team. . When the Detroit team visited Grover Cleveland at the White House in late June of 1888, the President commented on the poor showing of the Washington team. Walter Hewett demonstrated his limited baseball acumen when at season’s end he did not act to secure any of the best players from the bankrupt Detroit team despite Washington’s obvious weaknesses. He sold two pitchers and an infielder for $4,200 to the Columbus minor league team. Instead, Hewett sought a star and aimed at acquiring the New York Giants’ shortstop John Ward. He offered the future Hall-of-Famer a contract for $5,000, the largest amount ever offered to a player. Ward asked for $6,000 and when Hewett refused Ward opted to stay in New York for less than the $5,000 salary.
  • The AL group’s backup plans for a location came to fruition. In June, 1900, the Washington Brick Company went out of business because the nearby supply of the clay needed for their product disappeared. Ownership started a new company based in Virginia, but retained sixty acres of land between Florida Avenue, Bladensburg Road, Mount Olivet Road and Trinidad Avenue, NE. The AL leadership negotiated a lease on a portion of the grounds, at Fourteenth and H Streets, NE. The decision to build the stadium twenty-five minutes from downtown met with general approval. Local newspapers noted, “The luxury of two car systems would have to be dispensed with so the location near the terminus of a direct route is generally approved. The location is more difficult for the downtown but uptown enthusiasts can use the Columbia line.” The reporters for the national sports weeklies felt differently, referring to the location as “inaccessible and unattractive to nineteenths of the patrons of the national game in this city.” After bemoaning the thousands of dollars necessary to create a playing field, one reporter asserted that “…it would not tempt the local fans as a site in the northwestern or northern part of the city.” 12 The playing field, angled to keep the sun from the eyes of spectators and most of the players, had dimensions of 295 feet to the left field fence, 550 feet in center and 455 feet in right field. Both the grandstand and the fences would be against District’s rules for erecting wooden frame structures within fire limits. one-story grand stands occupied three sides of the stadium. The grandstands contained a front row of boxes accommodating 300 people and 2,200 folding chairs in the remainder of the space, a total capacity of 6,500. Female spectators also received the benefit of ladies maids in attendance.
  • The team recently purchased the grounds from the Totten estate and added to them, presumably anticipating the construction of a new stadium. However, in mid-March a plumber left a blow lamp exposed that set fire to papers that lay underneath the 50-cent seat pavilion in right field. The fire spread quickly, destroying nearly all the wood-frame stands. The team’s insurance covered $15,000 of the $20,000 losses. planned to build a steel and concrete structure with a seating capacity of 15,000 at a cost of $125,000. They hired the Osborne Construction Company of Cleveland to supervise construction and the Fuller Construction Company to build the stadium. While presumably not modeled after any particular park, the Senators new home resembled two of the newest stadiums, Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, a 20,000 capacity stadium completed for Opening Day in 1909 at a cost of $333,000 and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, a 25,000-seat stadium finished in July 1909 for a approximately $500,000. The firms worked in three, eight-hour shifts to complete the job in less than two months. prominent officers in both the Army and the Navy conferred with the President of the Washington Senators. These discussions seemed appropriate given that the superintendents of the two academies arranged for the 1913 game to occur at the Polo Grounds in New York City. The New York Giants had remodeled their ballpark to accommodate 40,000 spectators and to form a complete oval around the gridiron. The baseball club offered 1,250 seats to each of the academies. They also offered them the option for them to purchase several thousand more if they desired. President Minor believed that the Senators in association with local civic organizations could arrange to hold the game. They team could erect extra stands to the recently rebuilt baseball stadium discussed at the end of the last chapter to handle 40,000 people for the game. They team sought a three-year commitment from the two services. Unfortunately neither plan came to fruition.
  • After Clark Griffith made changes in early 1920 to include another deck along the foul lines.
  • Ever conscious of making money, several other American and National League teams also squared off against one another in a series. The Browns and the Cardinals played from the beginning of one weekend to the end of the next weekend to determine the top team in St. Louis. The teams from Cleveland and Cincinnati played for the championship of the state of Ohio. The Cubs topped the White Sox in the Chicago Series and the Athletics bested the Phillies for the Philadelphia championship. That first year the two New York teams did not play. Manager John McGraw refused to play the New York American League ball club. The next year featured another St. Louis series and Chicago series as well as a Boston series. The profitability of these contests can not be underestimated. After the close of the 1908 season, the owners tried to play Cleveland against Pittsburgh but the Cleveland players disbanded for their off-season homes too quickly for them to create the series. These series illuminate several interesting aspects about the sport of this era. Both the owners and players made significantly less money than they would even by the 1920s. Thus, the series proved viable as outlets for them to earn more gate receipts and more salary respectively. The existence of these series showed that the World Series was not played apart from other baseball games. The championship of baseball had not attained the status of exalted championship series that would come in later years. These other series featured two teams that battled for a city or state championship, thus showing the game’s local focus. These series allowed local fans of both teams to visit the ball parks and watch your team obtain the bragging rights of being the best in the community. The limited mass media of the era enhanced the local focus through not being able to easily broadcast the World Series to areas throughout the country. These city series showed the limitations that sport owners faced in Washington. The team did not participate in these city series. While perhaps not being a good ball club played a part in their not participating, the lack of a natural rival due to geography seemed much more likely to be the reason. As the only team in the southeastern Mid-Atlantic States, Washington not only had no intercity rival, it had no regional rival. The closest geographic rival had been in Baltimore. The AL shifted that franchise to New York City that year. Even if Baltimore team still existed, the experience of the bicycling racing in Washington showed that the potential rivalry between the two cities did not always generate interest amid the spectators of sport. The Washington baseball team’s lack of participation in these city or state series cost the owner’s the opportunity to improve their tenuous financial situation and community relations.
  • Twins: Public financing: $392 million from a 0.15 percent sales tax in Hennepin County Private financing: $152.4 million from the Twins
  • By 2007 attendance at RFK declined to 23,998 and in 2009, attendance at new park dropped to 22,435.
  • SABR lecture

    1. 2. Economic Development Rationale <ul><li>Nationals Park cost at least $650 million </li></ul><ul><li>Public Expenditure justified because Park to lead development of Southeast DC </li></ul><ul><li>75,000 sq feet undeveloped; developers disappeared: vacancy rate of over 15 percent </li></ul>
    2. 3. Monumental Aspirations <ul><li>Lincoln Stadium </li></ul><ul><li>Theodore Roosevelt Stadium </li></ul><ul><li>National Memorial Stadium </li></ul><ul><li>Olympic Games: </li></ul><ul><li>Public Building & Grounds 1916 Plan </li></ul><ul><li>National Park Service 1930s Plan </li></ul><ul><li>Chesapeake Region 2012 Coalition 2001 Plan </li></ul>
    3. 4. National Memorial Stadium, April 1945
    4. 5. East Potomac Park Plan
    5. 6. DC Early Baseball Stadiums <ul><li>1870s: Ellipse </li></ul><ul><li>1885: Senate Parking Grounds: NJ Ave and B St, NE </li></ul><ul><li>1886-1889: Capitol Park II </li></ul><ul><li>1891: Florida Ave and 7 th St, NW </li></ul><ul><li>1892-1899: National Park </li></ul><ul><li>1901-1903: American League Park I </li></ul>
    6. 7. Capitol Park II, 1888
    7. 8. Washington Nationals 1888
    8. 9. American League Park I
    9. 10. American League Park II
    10. 11. Post Fire
    11. 12. Post Season Play 1903-1910 <ul><li>World Series 1903, 1905-on </li></ul><ul><li>Interleague Series: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Battle for Ohio </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>St. Louis </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Chicago </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Boston </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Where’s Washington </li></ul></ul>
    12. 13. Nationals Park (2008)
    13. 14. Target Field (2010)
    14. 15. What’s A Stadium Worth? <ul><li>Ow ner commits to put winning team on field </li></ul><ul><li>Attendance and citizens support </li></ul><ul><li>2005 averaged 33,728 for total of 2.7 million </li></ul><ul><li>2008 averaged 29,005 for total of 2.3 million </li></ul><ul><li>2010 average 20,760 for #24 place </li></ul>