Following up: There’s still plenty of time to appreciate Guaranteed Rate Field

In my late-arriving Minor Keys post Saturday afternoon, asinwreck dropped a link to a Hardball Times post by Ben Schulman that attempts to bring glory to the multipurpose concrete donut stadium by emphasizing the diverse brands of baseball played within their confines, and in multiple ways.

The concrete donut era brought baseball Rollie Fingers’ mustache, clad in the A’s gold-and-green, who would sometimes clash, in every sense of the word, in technicolor contests with the electric orange Orioles, when Jim Palmer wasn’t modeling his Jockeys. It was when, with baseball’s frontiers settled, room was made for the San Diego Chicken and Morgana, the Kissing Bandit and big, vocal personalities like Dock Ellis and Bill “Spaceman” Lee, who spoke truth to power from mounds in the middle of modern baseball bunkers, wearing uniforms that were as yellow as a crayon and so flamboyant as to appear foreign. Much of this territory, at least focused on the 1970s, is covered by Dan Epstein’s Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s, and much of the material changes are reflective of larger bohemian ideals seeping into the mainstream.

This growing sense of openness continued into the 1980s: In a diversity that saw an expanding Hispanic population, reaching 15.6% of the game’s makeup by 1992, complementing what was a watermark era of African-American participation, rising from less than 10% of the game’s demographic in 1961 to crest between 16-18% from 1972-1996. In Ozzie Smith’s defensive acrobatics. In Roger McDowell’s kangaroo court.

I’d seen this post batted around by Baseball Twitter, although not to be confused with batted down. Schulman avoids any fatal flaws by avoiding strenuous arguments for their architectural merit. Instead, he mainly limits his appreciation to the idea that midcentury design enjoyed a second wind in other areas, and function-over-form is a pretty good decision-making thought process for taxpayers. Otherwise, any longing for the shape of the buildings is accompanied by a general awareness regarding reflexive nostalgia.

But even if nostalgia for the buildings could be received as phony, there is plenty of nostalgia for the experience they provided.

This argument ties into what I was going for with my unofficial review of the Oakland Coliseum, which I baked into my review of Paul Goldberger’s Ballpark and then spun into a sort-of appreciation for current ballparks that screwed up the decisions regarding design, including, yes, Guaranteed Rate Field. The Coliseum is in fact a terrible building, so why did I have such a great time at a game where the outcome didn’t matter and I didn’t even bring a friend? Intentionally or unintentionally, it had to be doing something right.

I felt a tinge of homerism while making that case — it may be a dumb house, but it’s my dumb house — so it caught my eye when Joey Mellows, aka the Baseball Brit, a lad who’s spending his year catching 162 baseball games on three different continents, established his presence on the South Side with strikingly cheerful note.

Joey’s going to be on the upcoming Sox Machine Podcast to talk about why Guaranteed Rate Field resonated with him, and Josh posted a teaser:

This entire post is basically one long podcast promo. I’m looking forward to hearing the whole thing myself, because between what he’s tweeted and Schulman’s reconsideration of the concrete donut, I’m feeling more confident in my assertion that warts and all, Guaranteed Rate Field is a great place to be for people in a certain frame of mind.

When a ballpark fails to draw the casual baseball fan due to design choices, it can inadvertently heighten the importance to events on the field. There’s no other direction to look, and it self-selects for fans who’d prefer to not turn away from the game. No baseball environment looks more fun than Oakland’s in October. The White Sox don’t make the postseason these days, but the last time the White Sox got there, Ron Darling, who served as analyst for TBS’ broadcast of the Blackout Game, told me he couldn’t forget the delirium.

Mellows’ first White Sox game was one where 27,000 fans showed up and saw the White Sox trounce a Cy Young candidate. If you think about it, it’d be weird if somebody with his dedication didn’t have a blast. I might lean pessimistic about the way the White Sox are run, but I’m wholly optimistic about the kind of environment the Sox could produce at 35th and Shields if they could ever more reliably serve the dedicated.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Nice piece Jim. I’m going to the game today and taking my 5 yr old daughter. It’s her first game.  Family Sunday looks promising for a fun introduction to GRF for her.  

Josh Nelson


You have to make sure Lucy runs the bases after the game!


Will do!


I was ready to dismiss this out of hand as “Good baseball was played despite these stadiums and not because of them” but then your note that bad stadiums turn away all but the most diehard fans got me thinking, I remember going to London a few years back to catch a Tottenham game at the Old White Hart Lane before they tore it down for their new stadium and despite the grounds being old, mostly drab concrete with a corrugated metal sheet roof, I felt it was a real place more than most of the new stadiums they have around. I guess it’s buying into some weird hazing ritual, you’re not a real fan™ unless you suffered through the shitty stadium/season/team/post season run/ownership and once you’re “in” you can’t help but think anything else would lead to anything but plastic fans (“Back in my day, we didn’t get 130 types of craft beer on tap. We had some watered down swill and we liked it that way!”)

Of course, my non-sporting family thought my reasoning was stupid and the trip to the Old White Hart Lane was a waste of time and it was a shithole


The best part of Camden, from my recollection, was the walkway behind the outfield and the view from home plate. I was there mid-nineties, I’d say, not long after new Comiskey was panned and Camden hailed. 

I had seats lower level, however, and I remember looking at Camden’s upper deck and thinking, “Damn, that’s looks just as bad and steep as new Comiskey.”

The experience at GRF is very good, but the upper deck can’t be fixed. Does anyone here choose to watch a game up there, even behind home plate?  

Right Size Wrong Shape

I used to get the Ozzie plan, and I always got the upper deck seats behind home plate. I love it there, you can see everything.

As Cirensica

The best part of Camden, from my recollection, was the walkway behind the outfield and the view from home plate.

That’s still the best part! I absolutely love Camden Yards


On Twitter, Goldberger is noncommittal.


I enjoyed Schulman’s article, though it reminds me of valid ways New Comiskey was not seen as another Three Rivers/Riverfront/Busch/Veterans clone when it opened in 1991. The classic concrete donut is a multipurpose facility with a circular playing field. That gives you a gigantic foul territory, suppressing the run environment. New Comiskey was modeled after Kaufman Stadium and the field was not designed to be multipurpose. If you can sit in the lower bowl in the infield, you are closer to the action than you are in Oakland.

The other way New Comiskey was a break from the concrete donut era was the choice of natural turf. The diversity of a speed, defense, and a little power game Schulman waxes rhapsodic about was exemplified by the Whitey Herzog Cardinals, a team that took advantage of their home park with fast outfielders, great infield defenders, plenty of doubles in the gaps, and room for a slugger or two.
The Sox only used astroturf in their old park (briefly during the Art Allyn era), and then only in the infield.

The fingerprints of the concrete donut are most evident in New Comiskey’s upper deck, which affects the fan’s experience, but not so much how the game a mile below is played. As I mentioned in my comment yesterday, the game played on the South Side has been very friendly to homers this century, which puts the game produced by the building closer to the next generation of ballparks. (The old park’s pre-1981 dimensions were far friendlier to the doubles & defense style than the two buildings during the Reinsdorf era.)

All that aside, Schulman’s defense of the concrete donut can continue the conversation about what makes for good public space. Goldberger’s thesis is attractive design that has a relationship with the neighborhoods around the ballpark improves public space. The idea of the (almost always owned by the city) multipurpose building was it gave the most bang for the taxpayer’s buck, suitable for baseball, football, Led Zeppelin concerts, and any large public spectacle you might want to bring to your city. Sterile and hulking, the insides of these buildings were an attempt to provide public space, even if they looked like monolithic impositions from outer space to people on the streets outside.

New Comiskey wasn’t that. It was meant from the start to be baseball-only, amid a sea of parking and no concern for the residents around the facility. For fans in the lower deck, or watching on TV, the game looks more like the style played at Progressive Field than Riverfront Stadium. For fans in the upper deck or people on the street, the comparison to the multipurpose facilities works.

The question for Schulman and Goldberger is what makes for good public space? What is public space supposed to do for a city and its people?

Since I’ve gone on way too long already, I have one more thing to say here. Longtime Daily News, Sun-Times, and Tribune writer Lois Wille died last month. Her book Forever Open, Clear, and Free (first published in the early 70s, then again by the University of Chicago Press with an introduction by the sociologist Gerry Suttles) is a terrific history of the battles to keep industry and developers from building up Chicago’s lakefront. (At least north of the far south side’s steel industry.) I recommend it for people interested in this discussion.

If I was developing a seminar on Public Space in Chicago, I’d assign Wille, Goldberger, this Schulman post, Jane Jacobs’s Death and Life of Great American Cities (which spawned the New Urbanism Schulman discusses in his article), Charles Euchner’s Playing the Field (still the most damning book about how New Comiskey was built and the damage it did to the neighborhood), Defender stories of the 1919 murder of Eugene Williams by segregationists at the 29th Street beach and the ensuing race riot, Urban Green: Nature, Recreation, and the Working Class in Industrial Chicago, which goes into detail about the ways racial and class tensions have shaped the uses of parks and forests in the region. What is public space for? Who is it for? Who determines and designs it? What I like about what Goldberger and Schulman have written is they raise questions about how cities are planned and maintained, and allow us to consider how baseball fits into those planning decisions.


I had seen references to Schulman’s article on twitter, but I hadn’t read it before I saw this post. My initial reaction to the briefs was that it was conflating two trends that happened at the same time but were otherwise unrelated.

I’m glad I read the article, because I think it does a better job at presenting a nuanced case than I was expecting at first. But I still think there’s a lot less there than is being argued. Baseball was weird in the 70s. There were concrete donuts in the 70s. Maybe these are related, maybe not; there doesn’t seem to be much argument as to why that would be in the post, or evidence that one caused the other.

FWIW, I like these articles, because I do find discussions of how cities are built to be interesting, and I think stadiums are important decisions for cities. I wish I knew which way (multi-purpose vs inviting to the city) is the way to go, but I love to see the discussion.


There were also a lot of psychoactive drugs in the 70s.