By In Stuff

Ranking the Stadiums


My pal Jon Hock, director of great sports documentaries like the 30 for 30 “The Best There Never Was” on Marcus Dupree and “Of Miracles and Men,” on the 1980 Soviet hockey team, took the above photo of gorgeous PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

And it reminded me that I have not ranked the stadiums in a while. I’ve been to 29 of the 30 — planning to see Atlanta soon. I don’t want to rank them 1-29 because the difference between some of them is so slight that it’s not worth mentioning. Instead, let’s put them in different categories.

The Historic Parks: Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles); Fenway Park (Boston); Wrigley Field (Chicago).

The historic parks are their own category; it’s not particularly useful to compare Fenway, for instance, with, say, AT&T Park in San Francisco. Fenway is cramped, difficult to get around, the bowels of the park are kind of scary, sort of a baseball version of Gotham City. But there’s nothing quite like being inside Fenway for a game because of the history, because of the Green Monster, because it’s the closest thing baseball has to a Cathedral.

Wrigley Field is similarly awesome only replace cathedral with Chicago bar where John Belushi serves Pepsi.

Dodger Stadium is decades newer than the other two, and I think it is the best park in baseball for combining the wonderful history of an old ballpark with a startlingly modern vibe. Plus: Dodger Dogs.

The Best Places to Watch a Game: AT&T Park (San Francisco); Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City); Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Baltimore); PNC Park (Pittsburgh); Petco Park (San Diego); Safeco Park (Seattle).

Four of these — San Francisco and Pittsburgh, San Diego and Seattle — are just georgeous in every conceivable way. Honestly, you don’t have to like baseball at all to enjoy just going to the parks and taking it all in. The beauty is particularly compelling in Pittsburgh, maybe because people don’t always appreciate how beautiful a city Pittsburgh is. My old friend, the late Skip Prosser, used to say that coming through the Fort Pitt tunnel and dumping into downtown Pittsburgh was the most beautiful site in the world.

“More beautiful than Paris?” I would ask him.

“Paris?” he said. “Give me a break.

Camden Yards remains a sort of magical place. From the day it opened — can you believe it was 25 years ago? — it has felt both ancient and new.

And I’m putting Kansas City on my list. The stadium is in the middle of nowhere. The background is a highway. It does not have the wonder of San Francisco by the bay, or San Diego squarely in downtown. But for watching baseball, purely watching baseball, you can’t beat it. You’ll notice it’s called a stadium, not a park. It is named after Kansas City’s beloved owner Ewing Kauffman and not a corporate sponsor. The fountains are perfect, the sightlines are perfect, this is all about baseball.

The Near Camden Experiences: Citizen’s Bank Park (Philadelphia); Coors Field (Colorado); Globe Life Park (Texas); Progressive Field (Cleveland), Target Field (Minnesota).

After Camden Yards was built, there was a rush to replicate it — or at least replicate the aforementioned magic — in many cities. Some did it better than others. I’m not exactly sure why it feels more right in Cleveland and Denver than it does in Milwaukee and Cincinnati, but for me it just does.

Underrated ballparks: Citi Field (Mets); Comerica Park (Detroit);  Angel Stadium of Anaheim (Angels).

I actually dont’ know if Citi Field is underrated — I suspect most people who have been there think it’s a pretty great place. But there’s something about the whole Mets persona that screams UNDERRATED … Citi Field is a fun place to watch a baseball game; it is easily the best ballpark in New York.

On most of these “Best Stadium” lists, you will see Comerica and Angel Stadium on the bottom of the pile. I think Comerica is particularly underrated; I have been there many times through the years and it constantly grows on me. During day games, there’s something marvelously bright and sunny about the place. And at night, with a Great City behind it, you feel like you are at the center of things.

Angel Stadium is quirky, a mishmash of a lot of things including a semi-bizarre reconfiguring, but I don’t know: I just kind of like it.

Almost parks: Busch Stadium III (St. Louis); Great American Ballpark (Cincinnati); Miller Park (Milwaukee); Nationals Park (Washington); Yankee Stadium III (Yankees)

Let me be clear: All five are good ballparks. But there is just something missing in them, something that just doesn’t quite spark. It’s hard to say what it is. Busch Stadium has all the qualities of a great ballpark — awesome downtown location, rabid fans, great baseball history. But somehow, it all feels kind of antiseptic. Weirdly, Busch Stadium II, which was one of those oval baseball/football artificial turf atrocities that they built in the 1970s, kind of felt more alive, especially after they spruced it up toward the end.

The Great American Ballpark and Miller Park are similar — they should be fantastic. And they’re just not quite fantastic.

Nationals Park should probably be in a different category — make it an Almost Almost Park. It’s is entirely unclear how they could have built a ballpark in the Nation’s Capitol, with monuments and some of the most famous buildings on earth nearby, and with a whole lot of money, and made it as bland as they did.

And Yankee Stadium III is what it is — a billion dollar Taj Mahal meant to evoke the grittiness of Yankee Stadium II. That’s a tough double. I don’t think it quite pulls off either end.

Weird Parks: Chase Field (Arizona); Marlins Park (Florida); Minute Maid Park (Houston).

I’m not exactly sure how to categorize any of these — they’re all just kind of offbeat. Chase Field is probably the most conventional of the three, but it never quite feels like baseball in there, more like a reasonable facsimile of the game.

Marlins Park is a circus. A lot of people like circuses.

And Minute Maid Park, well, I really like the place, a lot, but could they have just a few more things going on? You got those windows in the outfield and the train and the hill in center field and the roof and it’s like, whoa, my the fuses in my brain are popping. I suppose that is a Houston tradition of over-the-topness going back to the Astrodome, so maybe that’s why I like it so much. I like the authenticity of it all. If Minute Maid Park was in, say, Minneapolis, I’d probably really dislike it.

The Not-So Great: Guaranteed Rate Field (White Sox); Oakland-Alameda County Stadium (Oakland); Rogers Centre (Toronto); Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay),

So here’s the punchline: I LOVE not-so-great ballparks. I love them because I grew up in a not-so-great ballpark, in Cleveland Municipal Stadium, where your shoes stuck to the floor and steal girders blocked your view and a cold wind howled in off the lake and the infield looked like a place where they buried old cars a few hours before gametime.

I loved it … loved that sort of harsh and grim baseball, where the separation between the fans and players was almost non-existent. Of course, it was a different time, tickets were cheap, crowds were much smaller, we expected less from the game. The baseball experience has gotten so much better and deeper, and this is good.

But I still get a kick out of ballgames in Tampa Bay, which always feels dark and a little bit dangerous.

I get a kick out of Guaranteed Rate Field, that poor, unfortunate white elephant built about five minutes before mankind figured out how to build beautiful baseball stadiums.

I get a kick out of the Rogers Centre; I once got a room at that Marriott that is attached and watched a baseball game from the room. It was, like the Rogers Centre itself, one of those experiences that was at first reallky exciting and became less and less interesting the longer the game went on.

And I even get a kick out of Oakland-Alameda, a crumbling place that — as PosCast partner Mike Schur says — you feel might collapse on you at any time. Oakland-Alameda is probably the only thing left that really reminds of the Cleveland Stadium of my childhood. That’s probably a good thing.

Look at those salaries

Speaking of old-school stuff, Super 70s Sports — your must follow Twitter account of the day — tweeted out this old Sports Illustrated:

So much joy to look at there — see the young Terry Francona (making an outrageous $225,000 a year!). See the bearded Rick Sutcliffe (oh my gosh, he’s making a MILLION dollars!). See poor B.J. Surhoff ($62 grand plus meal money).

Fun with Win Probability

Screenshot 2017-05-17 08.23.27.png

Yes, that was one crazy game between the White Sox and Angels on Tuesday night. You can follow along with the Fangraphs Win Probability chart. As you can see on top, when the Angels’ Martin Maldonado grounded out to third to end the eighth inning, the Angels led 5-2 and their win probability was 97.1%.

Melky Cabrera singled to lead off the ninth, improving the White Sox chances by about three percent.

Jose Abreu singled too — that added about sevent percentage points ot the White Sox chances.

Then Avisail Garcia doubled, scoring one run, and putting runners on second and third with nobody out. Suddenly, the White Sox chances of stealing this game were up to 35%.

And that’s when Todd Frazier hit the weakest two run single you will ever see in your entire life. That tied the game and made the White Sox 67% likely to win the game.

And so it went, back and forth.. When Chicago’s Tim Anderson homered in the 11th, the White Sox had a win probability of 83%.

And then, bottom of the inning. Cameron Maybin hit a pop-fly double to score the tying run, Albert Pujols singled for the 1,847th RBI of his career (he has now passed Carl Yastzemski on the all-time list) and that was the ballgame.

Win percentage isn’t much fun in real time. But looking back on a game, it’s a cool way to capture the emotions of the moment.

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23 Responses to Ranking the Stadiums

  1. Mark Garbowski says:

    Yankee fan here and your take on YS is exactly mine. It tried to meld the Cowboys stadium with YSII and half-succeeded at both. Meh.

    Also want to say I’ve been to Pittsburgh once, almost 30 years ago, and any time the subject comes up I have been telling everyone the same as Skip Prosser. Coming through that tunnel is an astonishingly beautiful experience. The airport is very far away and the view of the city as you approach is blocked by the terrain. So you enter the tunnel with no expectations — plus its Pittsburgh, which unfairly nobody thinks is beautiful — and then Wow!

    • Sadge says:

      That is exactly my experience, too. People look at me like I have a chicken on my head when I say Pittsburgh is gorgeous. I’ve been there three times now and it has always been green and clean, not the way it maybe once was or how I imagined. The first time I came through that tunnel on my way to Three Rivers Stadium for a ballgame was like entering finding that secret city hidden away from the rest of a desolate world. I’ve walked around the new ballpark but still haven’t seen a game there. I hear it rivals AT&T for baseball beauty.

    • Cuban X Senators says:

      My only time through Pittsburgh was in 1989 and I was on a Greyhound. It was night, and I have no memory of a tunnel being involved by I remember hills as far as I can see lit up with lights from houses (and streets, I assume). It was strikingly beautiful, and I, too, continue to roll out the story to constant incredulity.

  2. Chris H says:

    Unless it has changed dramatically in the last decade, you were far too kind to whatever they’re calling New Comiskey this year. I remember it as Fort Baseball, the South Side – a hulking mass completely walled off from the neighborhood, pointed with a view past centerfield of grim housing projects instead of the dramatic skyline of Chicago, dank and gray. With Chicago weather to boot.

    It was longer ago that I was in Oakland – it wasn’t crumbling then, and the A’s had Rickey & Co so it was reasoably full, and I liked the wide open feeling of it, even if the sightlines were terrible. It seems, from televised games, as if the renevationa made for Al Davis made it much less appealing.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      I always liked the New Comiskey if only because on a Saturday in the summer, you could get tickets at the last minute, which you couldn’t do at Wrigley.
      On the other hand, I was at one game and I noticed the lower section around the field was pretty much full, while the upper deck had only a few clumps of people. I was curious at the attendance because it seemed pretty impressive for a moribund franchise at around 2000-2001.
      When they announced the attendance, it was like 17,000. The place at the time held like 47,000. Did they actually build a stadium with more seats in the upper deck than on the lower level?

    • Sadge says:

      Oakland is old and the facility isn’t aging well but what killed a pretty good stadium was Mount Davis. They can’t get to Vegas fast enough at this point.

  3. Ron Kitchell says:

    I was at the White Sox-Angels game last night and we left after eight-and-a-half innings. If I was a White Sox fan, I’d be miffed at myself for doing so, but I’m glad I wasn’t there to watch the bullpen collapse in the ninth inning. I did get to see Pujols “single” to win the game. You’re right, Joe, that chart pretty much graphs my emotions.

  4. Rob Smith says:

    Parks: Oakland Alameda was horrible when I caught a game there in the 70s. It wasn’t crumbling, but it was gray and ugly and had an ungodly amount of foul territory… which put the fans very far from the action. Candlestick was worse because of the weather, but both were ugly, ugly, ugly.

    Angel Stadium is interesting. It opened in 1966 and was almost a direct copy of Dodger Stadium, except mostly for the fact that the Angels didn’t add the pavilions. So there was just concrete behind the fences. That was kind of fun because you could really see how far a homerun travelled before actuall landing and field level. Then there as always some fat guy on a motor scooter tasked with retrieving the ball once it stopped rolling. I was there when Frank Robinson hit a ball, estimated at 493 feet, that hit at the base of the Big-A when it was still stationed about 100 feet behind the leftfield fence.

    Angel Stadium was reconfigured once when the Rams started playing there. The blacktop behind the outfield was essentially closed in with stadium all the way around. When the Rams left town & they reconfigured again, they reconfigured the outfield to a baseball only vibe with a waterfall and some fake looking desert rocks. The funny thing is that, despite two major reconfigurations, foul line to foul line it’s the same stadium as it was in 1966. If you compare that part of the stadium to Dodger Stadium, it’s almost exactly the same.

  5. Paul Zummo says:

    I have now been to just about as many stadiums that no longer exist (or are no longer used for MLB) as are now operating, but I agree with your takes on the stadiums we’ve both been to. Your remarks about St. Louis and Washington are right on the money. They’re perfectly fine, and in DC’s case, anything would have been better than RFK. Yet there is just something very mediocre about it. I don’t know if it suffers by comparison to the park just up the road, but it’s neither uniquely interesting or even uniquely bad.

    Curious if the St. Louis and Washington stadiums were designed by the same architects, because they are similar to one another.

  6. Darrel says:

    I always think Skydome(now Rogers Centre) gets a bit of a bum rap. It certainly does not have the nostalgic old baseball park feel as it was designed to be multi-use but the location is really great what with the CN tower looming above it and set right in the middle of downtown T.O.
    I’m wondering if the talk of installing natural grass comes through, which isn’t terribly likely, that it might take a few steps up the ladder in rankings like these. something about turf that just takes something away from the experience.
    Having said all that I’m not sure that throwing piles of money into a renovation, as is planned, is worth it. Might be better value in starting over with a new ballpark altogether.

    • Mysterio says:

      It gets a bum rap and not enough credit is given for the fact that games can’t be rained out there and it was the first to have a retractable roof. When the seats are soggy in parks within the top stadium tier because (god forbid) MLB hold a doubleheader the next day, nobody is thinking their experience is better than it would be in the SkyDome.

  7. Carl says:

    Citifield > YS III?

    Not a chance. Besides the fact that Citifield is really an owed to Ebbets Field, it has poor parking, a tiny exhibit area/Hall of Fame that could fir in most people’s closets, and forces you to ride up really slow escalators. After that, a poor concourse that is too narrow for crowds, and too narrow to put anything else (i.e. murals, banners, display cases) on. Of course, the best restaurants are 400 field from the playing field, and the best site line is of a fake bridge. Whoopie do. Moving from one level to another (desirable since the upper level concessions are pathetic) to a lower level one is near impossible since 1 elevator per 5,000 fans was deemed sufficient, and the non-handicap stairs are closed, dark and smell dirty, even on Opening Day.

  8. AaronB says:

    Busch II was built in ’66. I agree, even though it was a multipurpose cookie cutter, with the upperdeck being wayyyyy up there, it had a weird charm that I loved.

    Busch III: also agree. It’s a really nice park, but it does seem to be missing something. I think part of the reason is that it was built a bit on the cheap. Money was spend on some areas, other areas saw corners cut, and I wonder if that plays into the overall experience of it.

    One other thought, not sure if you’ve been there since phase 1 of the Ballpark Village was finally completed, but that has helped a bunch, in my opinion. The Cards HOF is over there and it’s fantastic. They also have a very nice green area where you can play catch, corn hole, whatever. Foot & drink are inside and the Cards sell rooftop seats to view the game, kind of mimicking Wrigley.

  9. Rob Smith says:

    I’ll give a review of Suntrust Park (since Joe hasn’t been there yet), the Braves new stadium. Of course, I can’t help but compare it to Turner Field. Obviously it’s far superior to Turner Field which was a retrofit of the 1994 Olympic Stadium, which created plenty of compromises for baseball. The foul territory at Suntrust is much smaller than Turner and the right field is a short porch. So lefty hitters can hit balls that would have been warning track edge shots at Turner that go out at Suntrust. The wind, so far, has been blowing that direction, as well. It could very well be a launching pad on balls hit in the air to rightfield. Freddie Freeman is tearing it up, but he’s tearing it up everywhere, so the park can’t get too much credit.

    The seats and sight lines are good. There is plenty to check out. The Chophouse restaurant is now the entire right field bleachers on multiple levels. It looks fun. Chow down, have a few beers and watch the game with table service.

    The Battery is the walkable town they’ve built around the stadium with apartments, bars, restaurants, shops and even a movie theater. I heard about it, of course, but seeing it was a little bit mind blowing. It’s a self contained little village. For a huge baseball fan, they can live right there. It’s a bit manufactured, of course, but it does offer a really good vibe. It’s a very lively scene. I heard that they were trying to create a vibe like there is at Wrigley Field. Obviously you can’t totally do that, but they’ve done a nice job.

    The downsides: The concourses, at least at the upper level, are far too narrow when there’s a big crowd. The food lines were too long. Hopefully they’ll figure it out, but it was not a good experience walking back to try and get something to eat. Plenty of space in the bathrooms though.

    The bigger downside: parking. You have a choice of parking in a Parking Garage for $20 and up, where you get trapped after the game. Or, you can pay less in one of their multiple lots they “license” outside the park. And you have to pick your parking in advance and pay for it or good luck finding a cash lot. I didn’t see one. The Braves were pretty blatant in trying to make sure they had a piece of the pie for any parking around the stadium. Yep, it’s all greed. Anyways, we paid in advance and ended up parking at a Marriott overflow lot. It was close to a mile walk away. I was glad I was with people who didn’t mind the hike. For an older or handicapped person, those lots will never work. The drive in wasn’t bad. They tell you to use the WAZE app to get to your parking, which is a really good idea to get everyone in via different routes to smooth out the traffic. In case you’re not familiar with Atlanta, they built Suntrust Park in the worst traffic corridor in the area. Right where 285 and 75 intersect and it’s a parking lot every night during rush hour. It was such an issue that the Braves moved back the weeknight start times to try and let traffic thin out before the game. The only problem with using WAZE (which is normally very reliable) is that it didn’t actually direct us to the parking lot! It got us to within about 1/2 mile of it, then just ended. We ended up asking a policeman for directions. So yeah. It’s a new park and there are still some glitches.

    But overall, I think pretty much everyone loved the baseball experience and the Battery. Joe, I think you’ll love it. Come early and grab a beer or dinner at the Battery. Hang out for a while there after the game. See what you think.

    • Ed says:

      I live in Vinings about 1.5 miles from the new stadium. I haven’t been (A. I’m a weirdo who prefers watching sports on TV rather than in a stadium and B. I’m not a big fan of watching baseball period), but I don’t understand why they built something that looks so similar to Turner Field. I know it’s nicer, and it’s not a replica or anything, but the whole aesthetic is very close. They should have built something new/unique; from what I’ve seen of it (and heard from friends who have gone) I have a feeling it’ll fall into Joe’s “Almost” category. A fine park, but lacking anything to make it stand out or feel special.

      • Rob Smith says:

        I think there is more to explore. But I wouldn’t compare it to Turner Field. It’s not comparable. Much less capacity, different configuration, different experience, less foul territory, lots of electronic goodies…. totally different. If you watch on TV, then all you see is a baseball stadium. Being there is a whole other thing. Like a lot of sports, baseball in person is WAY different and WAY better than TV. Watching a game at Suntrust Park is WAY better than Turner Field. Turner Field was average, at best. Fine. Not great. Suntrust is way better.

        • Ed says:

          I meant the facade etc. of the stadium; not the in stadium experience of watching baseball. It almost looks like they just picked up Turner Field and dropped it in Smyrna from the outside (like I said, it’s not identical, but I don’t understand why they didn’t try to make it more interesting visually). Looking out at the outfield is definitely a different view from Turner, but there’s nothing really special about it to make it stand out.

          I also disagree completely on the in person thing — to me, sports are typically much better on TV! The experience of being in the stadium might be great for a lot of people, but if you actually want to watch the game closely and not miss anything that’s happening, TV blows away actually being there. I would NEVER want to go watch one of my teams play a major game in person. If I don’t care about who wins etc. then being there is fine, but if I actually have a rooting interest I can’t stand being there. It feels like I’m missing half the game; I’ve done it a couple of times and would never do it again. But I know I’m strange and the vast majority of people would not agree with me on that.

        • Ed says:

          Also, it’s undeniable that the area AROUND the stadium is 100x better at SunTrust than it was at Turner. The fact that Antico opened a location in the Battery alone makes it better than the vast majority of stadiums in the country for eating around the park. And while Fox Brothers itself is good for BBQ and in the Battery, Heirloom Market is maybe 5 minutes from the stadium and its one of the best BBQ places I’ve ever been anywhere.

          So it’s a huge improvement there for sure.

  10. Scott says:

    I’ll preface this as saying that I’ve never been to the stadium. I think part of the reason that Kauffman Stadium isn’t as well regarded by the general public as it should be is because the Royals weren’t a good team for 30 years.

    Fenway, Wrigley and Dodgers Stadium all have marque franchises in large cities. Their parks play into the team identity. By contrast, for many baseball fans the Royals simply fell into the background. But seemingly every time I watch a game on TV, the announcers talk about how much they like the stadium. The shots from home plate and sightlines are always great and the waterfalls add a unique touch. But without publicity from success or a large market, we forget about it.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Part of the reason Dodger Stadium is so great is that it’s usually full or near full, and it’s a big stadium. If it was frequently empty, it wouldn’t be as well thought of.

  11. David Nicholas says:

    I’ve only been to a handful of parks in my life (Coors, AT&T, Camden Yards, Kauffman, Nationals, Rogers Centre, and the Metrodome), so my opinion might not mean much. But as much as I’ve enjoyed my times at Kauffman, there’s no doubt it trails Coors. And maybe it’s because I’m a dislodged Coloradan, and I never truly feel home until I see the sun setting over the front range from the right field nosebleeds I paid $8 for, or maybe it’s because​ Joe still resents everything Colorado because of a certain John E, but I’ll never understand it.

  12. EnzoHernandez11 says:

    I’ve been to 33 MLB stadiums, about half of them no longer in operation. Fenway and Wrigley truly are in a class by themselves, as was the previous Yankee stadium. (Old Comiskey, on the other hand, struck me as a miserable, charmless place, and I was not sorry to see it demolished. But is wasn’t my home stadium, so I have no sentimental attachment to the place.)

    I would also agree that Dodger Stadium is the best of the parks built in the 1960s and 1970s. I’m glad it’s still around and largely untouched, even though I hate the Dodgers.

    Of the “modern” stadiums, my favorite is San Francisco. Of course, the only time I was there was a beautiful summer night in 2001 with a perfect view of the bay from the upper deck. Also, Barry hit a blast into McCovey cove, which certainly enhanced the experience. I haven’t been to Pittsburgh, but Coors, PETCO, and Camden Yards don’t measure up to the Giants’ ballpark, at least in my opinion.

    The worst stadium I ever visited was Sicks Stadium, the 1969 home of the Seattle Pilots. That’s unfair, of course, because Sicks was never intended to be the Pilots’ permanent home, but it really was a dump. Of the “real” stadiums, my vote would be for Oakland. Even before they built Mt. Davis (where I actually once sat for a baseball game when they sold out the place for July 4th fireworks), the sight lines were still awful and the place always seemed a little dark during night games. Tropicana Park is kind of dumpy, too, but it’s such a weird place (for a ballpark) that it’s kind of endearing; same with that crazy new park in Miami.

  13. Drew says:

    Late to the party, but … let me get this straight … Kauffman is one of The Best Places to Watch a Game and Guaranteed Rate Field is Not So Great when New Comiskey was modeled after KC? Same architects, same blueprint, same concept.

    No bias here, huh?

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