20th anniversary: Camden Yards’ first game

Today marks the 20th anniversary in one of the biggest turning points in the history of major league baseball stadiums. On April 6, 1992, the doors opened for the first major league game at the new Orioles Park: Camden Yards.

It was, simply put, a sensation, as many writers and fans hailed it as an instant classic. In fact, some went so far as to proclaim it the best stadium in major league baseball, surpassing previous standards such as Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.

Camden Yards was something new. It was a park deliberately designed to look like a retro-park; an old fashioned one like Fenway or Wrigley. However, unlike those old structures, Camden would have the amenities of a modern park. It was so successful that it kicked off a new wave of stadium building, all made on the Camden model. Even though it is only 20 years old, it’s one of the 10 oldest ballparks that will be used in 2012.

There have been three great waves of baseball park building. The first began with Philadelphia’s Shibe Park in 1909 and lasted a decade or so. These were the first modern parks of steel and concrete. The old flimsy grandstands were a thing of the past. Many of these lasted decades—Fenway and Wrigley are still around.

They were the most advanced parks of their time, but as the decades wore on, people became more aware of their shortcomings. They were often cramped. While they were built to last, they were often built rather quickly in the old days, and people came to want something with better amenities and fewer obstructed views.

In the 1950s franchises began relocating and in the 1960s expansion brought in new teams. This ushered in the second wave of stadiums. These stadiums prided themselves on being more modern and efficient. They would have more amenities, and more leg room. Dodger Stadium helped usher in stadiums that minimized the traditional problem of obstructed views that had so long plagued patrons in the back of the lower deck.

Oh, and going along with the modern theme, these stadiums were often built to house more than one sport. That’s a more efficient use of real estate. Some were even indoors and air conditioned with a field consisting of man-made grass. Say what you will of Astroturf, it’s clear a sign of modern technology.

By the early 1970s, many of the old stadiums used by pre-expansion teams that hadn’t moved came down. By the mid-1970s, only Comiskey Park, Tiger Stadium, Fenway and Wrigley survived.

Here’s a nice little secret for you. When they first went up, these places got really nice reviews. They did have more amenities. They did have fewer obstructed seats. They were much larger and could house more fans. They were an answer to all the problems people had with old stadiums.

That’s nice to point out because over the years the reputations of those places changed considerably. They were denounced as soulless storehouses. The artificial turf seemed like a fake intrusion upon the game. Yes, people liked the plentiful concessions and the like, but over time you could take those things for granted. People longed for the old stadiums, forgetting their downsides. As a kid, I often heard how Fenway and Wrigley were the best stadiums in baseball; not the newfangled ones.

That’s where Camden Yards came in. It self-consciously tried to replicate the charm of the older places with the amenities of the newer ones. So Camden had a manually operated scoreboard in center (like Wrigley) and had a bit of nearby real estate incorporated into the outfield view to give it more character and add to the experience. It won raves.

That’s a nice note to end the story on, but I’m not sure if that’s how the story ends. Please realize that all three generations of stadiums opened to rave reviews, including the later-maligned multi-purpose stadiums. No, Generation Camden will never be denounced the way those stadiums later were—it’s already been 20 years, after all. But part of the appeal of a place like Camden was the contrast it provided to what had come before. There is almost nothing like that left to contrast it with.

When I visited Camden three years ago during a SABR convention, I was struck by how non-striking I found the place. It wasn’t bad, but Camden couldn’t hold a candle to Safeco Field, I thought. It looked like just another stadium to me. I’ve spoken to several other SABR members and most felt the same way—Camden was a letdown.

In fact, the place it most closely reminded me of (and it was a very strong reminder at that) was the White Sox’s U. S. Cellular Field. That’s very ironic because The Cell was the last of the pre-Camden stadiums, and for years Chicagoans railed against it as the stadium build at the wrong time. Aye, but over the years The Cell has a post-facto retro-fication that made it look like Camden. At the same time, Camden Yards also got rid of some of its most distinctive features among modern parks, such as the hand-operated scoreboard.

Camden is the most important ballpark built in at least the last 50 years, maybe the last 100 years. It ushered in a new era, but some of its imitators, such as Safeco or Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, surpassed it.

Nevertheless, Camden Yards did usher in a revolution of stadium construction when it was built, and that revolution began on Opening Day 20 years ago, on April 6, 1992.

Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim the list.

Day-versaries

3,000 days since Houston signs free agent Roger Clemens.

4,000 days since the Dodgers sign free agent reliever Jesse Orosco.

5,000 days since the Cubs trade Jon Garland to the White Sox for Matt Karchner.

6,000 days since the Yankees announce that they’ve hired Joe Torre as their new manager.

8,000 days since Davey Johnson manages his 1,000th game. His record: 591-409.

8,000 days since Kirby Puckett belts his 100th home run.

9,000 days since Tim Raines, just three days after scoring five runs in a game in which had only five plate appearances, goes 5-for-5 at the plate for the only time in his career. He hits for the cycle with two doubles. This time, however, he scores “only” four runs.

9,000 days since Mike LaCoss becomes the last Giants pitcher to pitch 10 innings in one game.

15,000 days since the Angels purchase Jeff Torborg from the Dodgers.

30,000 days commissioner Judge Landis blocks a move by the Cardinals to place catcher Gus Mancuso on their International League team in Rochester.

Anniversaries

1889 Al Spalding’s world traveling ballplayers return to the U.S. after a five-month tour elsewhere.

1903 Mickey Cochrane, one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, is born.

1908 Ernie Lombardi, Hall of Fame catcher, is born.

1916 Cincinnati signs controversial first baseman Hal Chase for three years for $25,000.

1937 Phil Regan, reliever, is born.

1947 The Yankees sign amateur free agent Lew Burdette.

1951 Bert Blyleven, recently elected to the Hall of Fame, is born.

1951 Cleveland signs over-the-hill free agent pitcher Johnny Vander Meer.

1966 Cleveland trades Ralph Terry to the Kansas City A’s.

1969 Bret Boone is born.

1970 It’s debut day for the Cincinnati Reds. It’s Opening Day, and in the dugout for the first time is 36-year-old rookie manager Sparky Anderson. When he fills out the lineup card, his starting shortstop is Dave Concepcion, who is also making his big league debut.

1970 Washington releases Zoilo Versalles, a former AL MVP.

1971 The Cubs top the Cardinals 2-1 in 10 innings when Billy Williams hits a walk-off home run off Bob Gibson. Both Gibson and Chicago’s Fergie Jenkins go the distance in the game. Jenkins allows only three hits.

1971 Milwaukee releases Tom Kelly, who will later go on to fame as Twins manager.

1973 It begins. It’s Opening Day in the AL and that can only mean one thing in 1973—the era of the designated hitter is on. Ron Bloomberg is the first one to come to the plate in a major league game.

1973 Gorman Thomas, Brewers slugging center fielder, makes his big league debut.

1973 Carlton Fisk hits his first career grand slam. He hits another homer on the day, making it the first of 24 multi-home run games for him.

1973 In Philadelphia, Danny Ozark makes his managerial debut. With Kansas City, Jack McKeon manages his first big league game.

1973 Pittsburgh retires No. 21 for the recently demised Roberto Clemente.

1974 With Yankee Stadium undergoing renovation, the Yankees begin their tenure in Shea Stadium.

1974 Texas Ranger Fergie Jenkins sets a personal best with a Game Score of 94. His line on the day: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 10 K. Bert Campaneris singles off him in the fourth for the only hit Jenkins allows. Jenkins has another Game Score of 94 in his career, but he pitched 12 innings in that one.

1975 Atlanta sells Joe Niekro to Houston for $35,000.

1976 The Yankees release Tommy Davis.

1977 The Seattle Mariners play their first game. They lose 7-0 to the Angels.

1978 In the bottom of the seventh of the season opener, the Reds become the first team to strike out into a triple play. With Joe Morgan on third and George Foster on first, Dan Driessen strikes out. Houston catcher Joe Ferguson then throws out Foster at second. Finishing it off, Morgan is caught straying too far from third and is nailed in a rundown. The Reds win anyway, 11-5.

1978 Shane Rawley makes his big league debut.

1979 Earl Weaver wins his 1,000th game. His record: 1,000-686.

1984 Glenn Wright, terrific fielding shortstop from back in the day, dies.

1984 Two pitchers make their big league debut on this day: Jimmy Key and Mark Gubicza.

1985 San Francisco sign free agent Vida Blue.

1985 San Diego trades reliever/prospect Mitch Williams to Texas. The Rangers will make him a closer, then flip him to the Cubs for Rafael Palmeiro.

1987 Al Campanis makes his infamous appearance on “Nightline.”

1988 Todd Stottlemyre makes his big league debut.

1989 On Opening Day, Orel Hershiser gets the obvious nod to start for the Dodgers and in the first inning his scoreless streak, which was at 59 innings when the 1988 regular season ended, comes to an end.

1989 Kenny Rogers makes his big league debut.

1992 Jack Morris gets the start for the 13th consecutive Opening Day, which sets a record. Previously, Tom Seaver and Robin Roberts had 12.

1992 Two notable managers fill out their first big league lineup card today: Jim Riggleman (with the Padres) and Phil Garner (with the Brewers).

1992 On Opening Day, Baltimore’s Rick Sutcliffe tops his old team, the Indians. With this win, he becomes the ninth pitcher to have defeated all 26 teams. The other pitchers are: Rick Wise, Mike Torrez, Gaylord Perry, Doyle Alexander, Tommy John, Don Sutton, Nolan Ryan and Rich Gossage.

1993 Randy Johnson posts his 50th career win.

1993 On Opening Day, Dusty Baker debuts as the new Giants manager.

1993 Relief pitcher Trevor Hoffman makes his big league debut.

1995 Florida signs Terry Pendleton as a free agent..

1995 Kansas City trades David Cone to Toronto.

1996 Exactly three years after posting his 50th career victory, Randy Johnson has win No. 100.

1996 Chan Ho Park becomes the first Korean-born pitcher to win a major league game in North America when he leads the Dodgers to a 3-1 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

1997 One-time sabermetric darling Glendon Rusch makes his big league debut.

1999 Infielder Cristian Guzman makes his big league debut.

2001 Albert Pujols crunches his first career home run.

2001 The Phillies retire Jim Bunning’s number.

2001 Ichiro Suzuki hits his first home run on this side of the Pacific Ocean.

2005 Brad Wilkerson hits for the cycle for the second time in his career.

2006 Pedro Martinez sets a personal “best” by plunking three guys in one game.

2008 Frank Thomas connects for the 11th and last of his grand slams.

2009 Emilio Bonifacio hits the first Opening Day inside-the-park home run in 41 years, since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1968. His run helps the Marlins beat the Reds, 12-6.

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Comments

  1. Jim C said...

    I am from the DC area and attended dozens of games at Camden Yards in the 90’s and 2000’s and I do not believe there was ever a manually operated scoreboard there. The board in centerfield is huge, and all electric.

  2. Chris J. said...

    Jim – I had an email exchange with another Orioles fan who tells me the right-field scoreboard was hand-operated.

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