February 19, 2019

THE BALLPARK CHRONICLES

February 7, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Soon a new version of the classic ballpark book “Green Cathedrals” will be issued by SABR (Society for American Baseball Research). After having researched over 400 specific Blackball parks for the updated book, here are a few interesting ballpark facts I discovered.

Philadelphia Mysteries
Pencoyd Park was the home of the 1928 Philadelphia Tigers of the Eastern Colored League. The Tigers had been an independent team for a few years. In 1928, the Eastern Colored League was in turmoil, with teams deciding to pull out of the league, and others threatening to do so. When the Hilldale Club decided against continuing in the league, joining the Brooklyn Royal Giants and Harrisburg Giants as independent operators, the Philadelphia Tigers were invited as a replacement team, and accepted. Unfortunately, by June the Lincoln Giants and Cuban Stars (of Havana) had left the league, effectively killing the ECL. The Tigers were only able to play a few league games in their home park, so not much information was ever available in newspapers about the park and its location.

Pencoyd Park was the company team field for the Pencoyd Iron Works. Based on that we can be somewhat confident the park was somewhere in the Bala Cynwyd area of Philadelphia. Recently, the local historical society found a photo of the park, confirming that it was located on Ridge Ave, near Lincoln Dr.

Pencoyd Park, Philadelphia

Chessline Park was supposedly also used by the 1928 Philadelphia Tigers, according to the original “Green Cathedrals” book version. However, not only could I not find any evidence the Tigers played there, I couldn’t find any evidence this park ever existed anywhere in the Philadelphia area. And I mean NO evidence. Every Google search, every Newspaper Archive search, and all other online newspaper and book and map and photo searches didn’t even turn up a clue that the park ever existed. Green Cathedrals had only “South Philadelphia” as a location clue. That seemed to indicate it couldn’t just be another name for Pencoyd Park, since that park was in NORTH Philadelphia. Certainly Green Cathedrals was missing some of the Negro League Park sites that were only used once or twice, and it had some parks listed that were not used for “league” blackball games, but even those parks can always be found to have existed.

Finally, in an obscure book about Philadelphia I came across a prominent 1920’s semi-pro team, the South Phillies, that played in a South Philadelphia park called SHETZline park (apparently named after 1882 American Association Baltimore Oriole Player John Shetzline, who was from the area). The South Phillies sometimes hosted major Negro League teams, including August 1st, 1924 when they hosted Hilldale. Hilldale then played an ECL game afterwards against the Brooklyn Royal Giants. Although it’s not 1928 and not the Philadelphia Tigers, it is in South Philly, we do have a sanctioned Negro League game being played at the park, and it certainly seems possible that if someone was being interviewed over the phone about playing sites and they said Shetzline, it could be heard as Chessline. I’m satisfied that the park (now a football field) at South 10th St, Bigler St, and the Schuykill Expy, directly north of parking lots for Citizens Bank Park, is the mystery field referenced in Green Cathedrals.

Chicago Mystery
Normal Park in Chicago was the home park for one of the first great blackball teams, the 1910 Chicago Leland Giants. Normal Park was also the home to the Chicago Cardinals football team in 1920 and 1921. It seems to be well established that the football Normal Park was at S. Throop St, W. 61st St, S. Racine Ave, and W. 62nd St. Green Cathedrals gives this same location for Normal Park but has the 1920-21 Chicago American Giants playing there. However, was this the same Normal Park that the Leland Giants used? Green Cathedrals has Leland Giants Park (no mention of the Normal name) at 6221 South Halsted, which would be the area bounded by S. Halsted St, W. 63rd St, and what would have back then been W. 61st St.

There was also a “Normal Park” at 72nd between S. Lowe Ave and S. Stewart Ave (Normal St is in between Lowe and Stewart) per a 1910 postcard. A city directory gives a Normal Park location at S. Normal Blvd and E. 69th St. An advertisement in the July 30, 1910 Indianapolis Freeman says “Leland Giants Base Ball Park, 69th and Halsted Sts.” This location is several blocks south of the Chicago Cardinal football Normal Park. A 1905 Spalding Chicago Amateur Baseball Guide notes a semi-pro team called the Normal Athletics playing at 69th St and Green St. Green St is the street directly west of Halsted.

With the two early sources both giving the Green St, 69th St, Halstead St area as a place for a Normal baseball park, this would seem to be the correct location. Easy to see how it could be confused with the Chicago Cardinals’ location, which was both more recent and better known.

Negro League Parks Still Around?
One question that often gets asked is “How many Negro League Parks are still in use?” It’s a good question, and the answer might surprise you. While many of these parks have had their original grandstands and bleachers removed or replaced, I’ve counted close to 60 parks that hosted blackball games between 1902 and 1950 that are still in use today as baseball diamonds. Here are a few of the oldest ones:

Bosse Field, Evansville. Built in 1915 at a cost of $100,000, it was the first municipally owned stadium in the history of organized baseball. The park was used in filming “A League of Their Own.” It hosted its first blackball game on June 21, 1917, which makes it the only park still in use to have hosted a major blackball game prior to 1923. It was used again for a Negro American League game on July 1, 1950 – over 33 years later. The Evansville Otters of the Frontier League now use the park.

Rickwood Field, Birmingham. Long-time home of the Birmingham Black Barons, who begin playing a major blackball schedule in 1923. Having been built in 1910, it pre-dates even Bosse Field in total age. Field is still used once per year for a minor league game.

Stars Park, St. Louis. Home park for St. Louis Stars from July, 1922 thru 1931. Now a practice field for Harris Stowe State University baseball team.

St. Louis Stars Park estimated location

Dwight Park, Gadsden, AL. Another Birmingham Black Barons venue. The team used this park from 1925 thru 1927 whenever Rickwood Field was unavailable due to Birmingham Baron games. Now used as a community ballpark.

Liberty Park, Sedalia, MO. The Kansas City Monarchs hosted the Indianapolis ABCS at this park on September 11, 1923. A nearby swimming pool has since been relocated, but the auditorium to the east of the park is also still standing.

Ghost Parks
This is my favorite category, although it’s a rather sad category. These parks are no longer in use as a baseball field, and have been abandoned, neglected and perhaps partially torn down or left to rot, but there are still traces of a baseball diamond, or grandstands, light stands, fences, or some combination of all those:

Walker Park, Blytheville, AR. The Negro American League (NAL) Memphis Red Sox hosted the Birmingham Barons here on September 4, 1948. Park was built in 1936 as a WPA project which included a race track, lake, swimming pool, exhibit building and walking paths. Park named after John B. Walker, who sold the land to the city. Lights were added shortly after park was built. The grandstand burned down between 1994 and 1998. Used as semi-pro and American Legion venue through early 21st century. Youth leagues moved around 2004 to the new Blytheville Sports Plex. The dugouts, light stands, and fences all still exist. The bleachers have been moved around to the outfield area to watch saddle club horse shows that are sometimes staged there.

Walker Park Location

Kanawha Park (later Watt Powell Park), Charleston, WV. Primarily used by the Homestead Grays as an alternate home between 1935 and 1949. The light towers and fence are still standing.

League Park (II), Cleveland. Famous as the home of the Cleveland Indians. Cleveland Buckeyes home from 1943 thru 1948 and again in 1950. The ticket house and bleacher wall have been restored plus the diamond has been reconstructed.

Andrews Field, Ft. Smith, AR. The NAL Memphis Red Sox played games here in 1947 and 1949. Andrews Field is a recent addition to the ghost park list, having been torn down in 2010, but the footprint is already gone, and just an empty field remains. The field was in the northwest corner of Tourists Park, in a residential area two blocks south of a large U.S. National Cemetery.

Andrews Field location

Hamtramck Stadium, Hamtramck, MI. Home for Detroit based Negro League teams from 1930 thru 1933 plus 1937. Although unused, the park is still standing, with the original infield still visible. Thanks to the efforts of former SABR Director Gary Gillette, the park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in August 2012.

Victory Field (I), aka Perry Stadium, Indianapolis. Used by various NAL teams starting in 1942, and home for the Indianapolis NAL teams in 1944 then 1946 thru 1950. “Eight Men Out” was filmed there. Replaced by Victory Field II in 1996. Turned into loft apartments, but the field is still marked in concrete, and the light towers and some of the outside structure still stands.

Foster Park, Kokomo, IN. The Indianapolis ABCs used the park for two alternate site home games in 1925. Some type of pavilion sits where home plate would have been, and bleachers have been moved out towards the pitcher mound. Although trees have been planted in the outfield, the infield, foul lines and the place where the outfield fence formerly stood can still be seen.

Foster Park location

Parkway Field, Louisville. Home for the 1931 NNL Louisville White Sox, the 1932 NSL Louisville Black Caps, the 1949 NAL Louisville Buckeyes, and also used by various teams for neutral site games starting in 1937. The field was still used by University of Louisville softball and intramural teams thru the late 1990s, and the left centerfield wall still stood with its 504 ft marker, but now the field is rapidly disappearing into history.

Buckwalter Stadium, Meridian, MS. The NAL Birmingham Black Barons hosted a game here in 1950. The grandstand is still standing, and there is what appears to be the right field foul pole. Trees line what formerly was the centerfield fence.

Buckwalter Stadium

Rosenblatt Stadium, Omaha. Built in 1948, this stadium hosted the College World Series tournament from 1950 thru 2010, and was home for Omaha’s minor league teams from 1949 thru 2010. On August 22, 2012 the stadium was dynamited, and workers began removing the rubble to make way for a zoo parking lot. A small diamond remains on the site as a tribute to the old stadium.

Hinchliffe Stadium, Paterson, NJ. NNL New York Black Yankees used the stadium as an alternate home site from 1939 thru 1948. The field was replaced by Astroturf, and the Patterson school district used the park thru 1977, but since that time it has been allowed to decay through neglect. There have been plans and potential funds for the school board and city to make some repairs, but little has happened so far. The city council has approved one million dollars in funds for stabilization work, but estimates are that fifteen million dollars are needed to renovate the stadium. The stadium has been added to the national landmark list.

McKenzie St Park, Petersburg, VA. This park dates back to at least 1915. The Baltimore Elite Giants and New York Cubans played here in 1950. At one time there was a twenty-four foot wide grandstand and bleacher section along the third base line (now a basketball court), and the dressing rooms were behind centerfield. A running track now sits in the middle of where the field originally was located.

McKenzie Park Footprint

Christian Brothers College Field, St. Louis. The St. Louis Giants struggled to find places to play in 1916. CBC Field was one of their home sites that year, as they played six games there in May. The site was still used for baseball up to the 21st century (with other diamonds added to the plot), but in recent years has been a football field. The original diamond outline can still be seen in the southwest corner.

Memorial Stadium, Terre Haute, IN. Built in 1925. Used occasionally by the Chicago American Giants and other NAL teams from 1941 thru 1950. Indiana State University built one of the first college football Astroturf stadiums on the site in the mid-1960’s, and normally a totally new structure would disqualify a site from the ‘ghost’ list. However, not only is the old baseball field entrance still there, in this case the baseball field centerfield wall, which was a monstrous 595 feet away from home plate, was not torn down, but is still standing.

Memorial Stadium today

Riley Park, Topeka, KS. The Kansas City Monarchs used Riley park as an alternate home site between 1938 and 1942. During that time the park could seat up to 4,000 fans. Today the third base side fence and a small part of the leftfield fence is still standing, and the outlines of the old diamond are still visible.

Trenton YMCA Field, Trenton, NJ. On September 14, 1903 (!) the Cuban X Giants and Philadelphia Giants played a game on the field of the Trenton YMCA. According to historical records, the YMCA field dates back to the turn of the century, located then at the corner of W. State St and Parkside Ave. Although a running track has come and gone, and a soccer field now exists on the site, there is still a backstop on the site, and aerial photos going to back 1931 indicate home plate was exactly in front of where the backstop is currently. With no evidence that the diamond was ever reoriented, we’re possibly looking at a field that has existed for over 110 years!

Alberta Park, Tuscaloosa, AL. The NAL Birmingham Black Barons used this park for three home games in the 1948-49 seasons. Although it’s now a soccer field, the outline of the first base fence line curving into right field can still be barely seen.

Blakely Field, Welch, WV. Both the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Cleveland Buckeyes played games in Welch between 1938 and 1949. If you weren’t looking for a park at the site today it would just look like a typical commercial building, but look closely to see that the entire park fence is still exactly where it was over 70 years ago.

Blakely Field property

West Baden Ballpark, aka Sprudel Park, West Baden, IN. Home park of the West Baden Sprudels from 1910 thru 1915. Also used as an alternate home site by the Indianapolis ABCs for two games versus the St. Louis Stars in 1924. This park actually was enclosed and had a second deck for bicycle racing. Although the magnificent resort hotel has been refurbished, the resort baseball field appears to be neglected. As recently as 2013 there was a backstop and outfield fence, but now those are gone and only a grassy spot between the trees and a creek remains.

West Baden Original

West Baden 2005

Idora Park, Youngstown, OH. The Cleveland Tate Stars hosted the Indianapolis ABCs at this park all the way back in 1921. The Homestead Grays and Cleveland Buckeyes used the park sporadically from 1936 to 1948. The park was part of an amusement park, built at the end of a trolley line by the trolley company so that people would use the trolley on weekends, paying the fare for the long ride southwest of the city. Just the green of the field and a few light standards are all that remain, although there is a bare spot just south of the park where the Jack Rabbit Rollercoaster stood, and there is still a large circular area of trees north of the park, west of Pearce Ave, where the swimming pool resided.

MLB/Blackball Venues
There were 33 parks used by Major League Baseball at one time that were used by major Blackball teams between 1902 and 1950. Below is the complete list along with comments on a few of the most significant ones:

Baltimore
Union Park, aka Oriole Park. AA/NL Baltimore Orioles park 1891-99. Used as a second home for the Cuban X Giants in 1906 and the Philadelphia Giants in 1909-10.

Terrapin Park, aka Federal League Park. Home of the FL Baltimore Terrapins 1914-15. Negro American League Baltimore Elite Giants used the park as their primary home in 1937, then again in 1939-41.

Memorial Stadium. Used by the AL Baltimore Orioles 1954-91. The Negro American League Baltimore Elite Giants played in the new Memorial Stadium for four home games in 1950, four years before it became an American League venue.

Brooklyn
Washington Park (III). Home of the NL Brooklyn team from 1898-1912. The Brooklyn Royal Giants used it as a home park in 1906-07. In 1912 the New York Lincoln Giants and the Brooklyn Royal Giants played a few home games at this park.

Ebbets Field. NL Brooklyn Dodgers home from 1913-57. In 1920-21 the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants arranged to use Ebbets as a secondary home site for games that would draw large crowds, such as against the New York Lincoln Giants and the Hilldale club of the east, and the Chicago American Giants and Indianapolis ABCs when those clubs would visit from the west. The Bacharach Giants’ normal home park, Inlet Park, was a city playground that the team rented, and even with expanded bleachers added in 1919 it could only accommodate small crowds. The Bacharach Giants would spend all of 1922 as a New York based team, playing most of their games on the road, until a new park, Bacharach Park, was built in Atlantic City for the 1923 season.

Ridgewood Grounds, aka Wallace’s Ridgewood Grounds. AA Brooklyn 1887-89 used the park on Sundays to avoid blue laws. Also AA Brooklyn 1890 home park. Used by various eastern blackball teams 1903-06 as a neutral site. Brooklyn Royal Giants primary home park from 1913-17. The park burned down in 1918.

Chicago
South Side Park (III), aka Schorling Park. Home for AL Chicago White Sox from 1901 thru June, 1910, but arguably more important as a blackball park. Used sporadically as a neutral site by Chicago based blackball teams in 1902, 1908 & 1909, but became home to the western flagship team Chicago American Giants in 1911 and continued as their home thru 1940 (except 1933 when it was used as a dog racing track).

Comiskey Park. AL Chicago White Sox home from July, 1910 thru 1990. The Chicago Leland Giants used the park for three games in 1910, and the Chicago American Giants used the park for one game in 1918. Park was also used for two 1926 Negro League World Series games, then the Chicago American Giants used the park as their primary home 1941-52. Used for the Negro League East-West All-star games 1933-60. May have hosted more blackball games than any other park.

Cincinnati
Crosley Field, aka Redland Field. NL Cincinnati Reds home from 1912 thru June, 1970. The Indianapolis ABCs and other blackball teams used the field for some games starting in 1916 thru 1920. In 1921 the Cuban Stars (of Havana) made Crosley Field their home away from home for that one season. The NAL Cincinnati Tigers used the park as their home in 1937. From 1942-45 the NAL Cincinnati teams used the park as their primary home.

Cleveland
League Park, aka Dunn Field. Home of AL Cleveland Indians from 1910 thru July, 1932, then home along with Cleveland Stadium from 1934 thru 1946. Negro American League Cleveland Buckeyes home 1943-48 and part of 1950.

Cleveland Stadium. Home of AL Cleveland Indians July, 1932 thru 1933, then selected games August, 1936 thru 1946, and finally all games 1947-93. NAL Cleveland Buckeyes played selected games there in 1944-47.

Columbus
Neil Park. Used by AL Detroit Tigers July 23-24, 1905. NNL Indianapolis ABCs used the park for a few games in 1920, then the NNL Columbus Buckeyes called Neil Park home in 1921. Also home park for 1932 Negro Southern League Columbus Surfs.

Detroit
Bennett Park. First home of the AL Detroit Tigers 1901-11. The Chicago Leland Giants and Philadelphia Giants played a three game series there in 1909.

Tiger Stadium, aka Navin Field. Long-time home for AL Detroit Tigers 1912-99. Used by Chicago American Giants and Indianapolis ABCs for various games 1917-19, and by the Detroit Stars for two home games in 1919.

Fort Wayne
Jailhouse Flats, aka League Park. Used by AL Cleveland Blues June 22 and August 31, 1902. Indianapolis ABCs used park for a few home games in 1921.

Harrison, NJ
Harrison Field, aka Federal League Park. Home of the FL Newark Peppers 1915. Atlantic City Bacharach Giants used the field for several games in 1921.

Indianapolis
Federal League Park, aka Greenlawn Park. FL Indianapolis Hoosiers built the park and occupied it in 1914. When the Hoosiers moved out of town the Indianapolis ABCs moved in for 1915-16 seasons.

Jersey City
Roosevelt Stadium. NL Brooklyn Dodgers played 15 games here in 1956-57 as they tried to get a new stadium built in Brooklyn. The Newark Eagles hosted a game here in 1947.

Kansas City
Municipal Stadium, aka Muehlebach Field. Home of AL Kansas City Athletics 1955-67 and Kansas City Royals 1969-72. Possibly more famous for being the home of the NNL/NAL Kansas City Monarchs from July, 1923 thru 1961. Likely surpassed only by Schorling Park in the number of major blackball games hosted.

Louisville
Eclipse Park. NL Louisville Colonels home 1893-99. Louisville White Sox hosted a game there July 12, 1915.

Milwaukee
Borchert Field. AA Milwaukee Brewers used the field for a half season in 1891. NNL Milwaukee Bears used Borchert as their home field in 1923.

New York
Polo Grounds (IV). PL/NL New York Giants played here 1890-April, 1911. The Brooklyn Royal Giants hosted the Philadelphia Giants here in a double-header on September 7, 1908.

Polo Grounds (V). Home of the NL New York Giants from June, 1911 thru 1957 season. The New York Lincoln Giants used the park for one game in 1912, then it was not used again by blackball teams until a four team doubleheader in 1936. The Newark Eagles used the Polo Grounds for one game in 1941, then starting in 1943 it became a regular venue for special games or double-headers played by various eastern teams thru 1950. In 1945-50 the New York Cubans used it as their primary home park.

Yankee Stadium. Famous home of the AL New York Yankees 1923-73 and then again 1976-2008. Once Yankee Stadium started hosting Negro League games in July, 1930, it became a major venue for neutral site, four team double-headers, and also served at the primary home of the New York Black Yankees in several 1940’s seasons.

Philadelphia
Baker Bowl. NL Philadelphia Phillies home park from 1895 thru June, 1938. The Philadelphia Giants used the park as a sometimes home site 1905-08. The Hilldale club used it for a big end of the season ‘interleague’ game against the Chicago American Giants in 1921, and then again for two Negro League World Series games in 1925. Finally the Philadelphia Stars used the Baker Bowl for three games in 1934.

Columbia Park.
Home of the AL Philadelphia Athletics 1901-08. It was a sometimes home for the Philadelphia Giants 1903-06. The park also hosted several blackball neutral site games in 1906.

Shibe Park. AL Philadelphia Athletics home park 1909-54. Used for a few blackball games 1919-23 then Hilldale hosted two 1924 Negro League World Series games there. Shibe continued to be a popular place for neutral site Negro League World Series games, hosting three games in 1926, one in 1942, one in 1945, and finally one in 1947.

Pittsburgh
Forbes Field. NL Pittsburgh Pirates home June, 1909 thru June, 1970. Frequently used by the Chicago American Giants on their Eastern trips 1917-19. Used as a neutral site in 1934, then the Homestead Grays started playing a few games there in 1936-38. Beginning in 1939 Forbes became a primary home of the Grays, along with Griffith Stadium, thru 1947.

St. Louis
Sportsman’s Park. Home for AL St. Louis Browns 1909-53 and the NL St. Louis Cardinals July, 1920 thru May, 1966. First blackball use was Kansas City Monarchs vs. Chicago American Giants on July 4, 1941. The Birmingham Black Barons used the park for one game in 1942 and one in 1945. From 1946 thru 1949 the park regularly hosted a few neutral site NAL games each year.

Handlan’s Park, aka Federal League Park. FL St. Louis Terriers home park 1914-15. In 1916 the St. Louis Giants moved in and made it their home park for a half season.

Staten Island, NY
St. George Cricket Grounds. AA New York Mets home for 1886-87 and NL New York Giants for a half-season in 1889. Used for one blackball neutral site game in 1908.

Washington
American League Park (II). Home for the AL Washington Senators 1904-10. Even though there were no Washington based blackball teams at the time, after hosting a single game in 1906, the park was used extensively in 1908 by the Philadelphia Giants and various other teams.

Griffith Stadium. Long-time home for the AL Washington Senators 1911-1960. First used as a blackball park in 1918, then a few games in 1920, followed by the ECL Washington Potomacs using it as their primary home park 1923-24. The ECL Baltimore Black Sox used the park as a secondary home in 1927. The NEWL Homestead Grays move to Griffith in 1932 but would later begin splitting their home games between Griffith Stadium and Forbes Field. The Baltimore Elite Giants used Griffith as their home park in 1937. In 1938 the Washington Black Senators called Griffith their home with the Elite Giants still playing selected games there.

If you found any of these park facts interesting, consider joining SABR. Membership entitles you to receive the updated Green Cathedrals version V when it is released.

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