Things change. In Brooklyn, Walter O'Malley dreams of a ball park with a dome over it just as Larry MacPhail had a vision of the game under lights long before it became a major league reality 21 years ago. In St. Louis, the Cardinals redesigned their uniforms, moving their famous redbird from the chest to the sleeve and putting a bat in his wings. In Cincinnati, the Redlegs turn the outer shirt into a sort of vest and switch from traditional flannel to nylon. At Comiskey Park in Chicago, it is announced that in addition to hot dogs, hamburgers and onions and fish (on Fridays) will be served this season.
Baseball people are forever fussing around. Lengthening or shortening a foul line, putting up a screen or taking one down to cheapen or boost the price of the home run ball. The up-to-the minute styles in uniforms and ball park dimensions may be studied on the pages following. But it should be remembered that the things that have changed around a ball park and down on the field are just the trimmings and the trappings. The basic things, like the color of umpires' suits, never change and never will.
For instance, there's the magic of the ball park that makes a small boy break into a run when he comes within sight of it. It doesn't matter if it's three hours before game time. When that old ball park looms into view, suddenly there's not a moment, not a second to be wasted. A boy has just got to run.
But other things do change. In the case of uniforms, there have been all sorts of experiments since a Cincinnati dressmaker sewed together the first modern-type uniform back in 1868. Ballplayers have worn high collars and neckties and every color in the rainbow. But it wasn't until 1929 that the American League clubs broke down and put numbers on the uniforms. Different uniforms for home and road go all the way back to 1911. Today, every club has at least three sets for home and three for road. Somehow, the Yankees manage to look better tailored than any other team. Maybe because they slide less. Speaking of sliding, the slidingest team ever was the St. Louis Cardinals back in the day of Pepper Martin, Dizzy Dean, Leo Durocher and Frankie Frisch. They would come into New York so messed up and disreputable looking that somebody was reminded of a dirty-faced gang from down by the gas house.
SCREENS UP AND DOWN
This business of putting up and taking down screens in a ball park can work out in strange ways. Last year, the Cards tried to help Stan Musial by taking down a screen in right field. It backfired. It didn't help the Cardinals and it embarrassed Musial when some fans concluded (erroneously) that The Man had asked for the favor.
In Pittsburgh, the creation of Greenberg Gardens was a fiasco. With hitters like Hank Greenberg and Ralph Kiner, it hardly seemed necessary. A big hassle came in the middle of the 1953 season when Kiner was sold to the Chicago Cubs and Branch Rickey immediately proposed to remove the Gardens and lengthen the foul line again. Ford Frick, the high commissioner, stepped in and said there would be no changes allowed until the season was over. One screen that Ford Frick has never objected to is at Fenway Park in Boston. It was put up just to keep the windows of a restaurant across the street from being broken all the time.
Nobody can point to a single ball park and call it the best. The best ball park is where the best things are happening and that might be little old Ebbets Field one day and the 80,000-odd-capacity Municipal Stadium in Cleveland the next day. But the game aside, the finest plant is generally agreed to be Briggs Stadium in Detroit. Yankee Stadium fans wouldn't admit that. Steve O'Neill has called Connie Mack Stadium the worst anywhere.
Two ball parks appear to be doomed. Ebbets Field is just too small for the Dodgers (they are playing seven games in Jersey City to emphasize that fact) and the Giants are considering a part-time lease on Yankee Stadium. Three ball parks are comparatively new to the majors: Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, County Stadium in Milwaukee, Municipal Stadium in Kansas City.
For all the tampering with the trimmings and the trappings, baseball is still a game of great players and mighty deeds. Put a dome over the field in Brooklyn, switch from flannels to nylon in Cincinnati, serve your hamburgers at Comiskey Park in Chicago, bring in your cameras and televise the whole shebang in color and three dimensions. The drama on the diamond is eternal and unchanging. Three strikes are out, four balls and you take your base and the very sight of a ball park is enough to make anybody break into a run—or wish he could.