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Welcome to The Hardball Voyager–SABR’s Baseball Landmarks blog

Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards

The purpose of this forum is to allow members of SABR’s Baseball Landmarks Committee to write about baseball sites. Posts could include detective work to find long-lost places, celebratory gatherings, ideas for marking currently unmarked locations, stories about what makes the landmark special in the first place, and more.

The main purpose of our committee is to create and support the SABR Baseball Map. But the project lends itself to storytelling. Why is the plaque here? Why did I decide to visit? We’d love to read what you have to write.

Onward.

Second home

However much baseball has changed in my lifetime one aspect that has always stayed the same is the notion of a home team and an away team. This is true even when the two squads share the same ballpark (e.g., Dodgers/White Sox Spring Training) or play at a neutral site such as Mexico City or the Field of Dreams. After all, someone has to bat first.

The same is true with people and places. As we find ourselves in different spots over the course of our lives, we are sometimes at home and other times visitors. As a kid, I knew one home and that was the Palms/Mar Vista area of Los Angeles. Until halfway through the eighth grade, I’d spent my entire life in the same house on the same street in the same neighborhood. (Why this house has since been re-branded “Bigfoot Lodge West” is beyond the scope of this article.)

The red pin on the map was our house and center of my universe. That school in the upper left corner, Charnock Road Elementary, was where I walked for first and second grade. Tito’s Tacos, at the bottom of the map, was where we’d go out to eat. The Baskin-Robbins in the middle is where we’d go for ice cream when guests were in town. And most importantly, in the same strip mall as Baskin-Robbins was the liquor store where I traded what I could skim from my mom’s parking meter change for pack after pack of baseball cards.

Every now and then I make the trip back to Los Angeles to see old friends and take in a Dodger game. Forty years later, the old neighborhood is part familiar, part unrecognizable. Make the mandatory trip to Tito’s and place the same order I’ve always placed (tacos with cheese), head down Venice Boulevard to Baskin-Robbins, and this is home. Pass just about anything else, even the house I grew up in, and I’m the visitor, connected to nothing I see.

My son keeping tradition alive, 2017

Los Angeles will always be home to me, but my connections have dwindled to a just four: high school buds, tacos, the Dodgers, and nostalgia. Not a bad four to keep, I suppose, but sure a lot less than in the old days. That’s what the decades do to a place. Things happen. Things change. The blessing, of course, is that my remaining touchpoints, while few, have each gotten better with age.

* * *

Only a few years ago there was a fifth connection to the city: family. My dad passed in October 2020, an indirect COVID casualty, but before that had spent a good 70 years of his life in L.A. That said, his true spiritual home was Venice, especially Venice Beach.

Locals, depending how far back they go, will remember him as the “cardboard sign man” of the 1980s and 90s, or–this century–as the “tee shirt guy.” In a town that prides itself on its freaks and crazies, my dad managed to lap the field, rendering the pretenders of this new urban Bohemia downright normal by comparison.

Accidental Jewel co-star Nelson Schwartz

Still, despite my dad’s near celebrity status (if not because of it) I hated Venice as a kid. Too dirty. Too weird. And, when my dad was there (i.e., all the time!) too embarrassing! I was definitely the away team here, a reluctant (though frequent) visitor at best. I hadn’t yet learned to appreciate the ways Venice was my dad’s lifeblood, nor was I aware of its baseball history. And, for damn sure, I had no idea there were baseball cards!

Venice Tigers baseball cards, 1913-14

Yes, Venice was briefly home to the Venice Tigers of the Pacific Coast League. The team that had called Vernon home from 1909-1912 (and would return to the industrial enclave south of Los Angeles in 1915) spent the 1912 and 1913 seasons just a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean. (You can see the approximate location of the Venice ballpark on the SABR Baseball Map. You can also spot Vernon in the map’s lower right-hand corner.)

Moving from the map to real life, the marker is not so easy to locate. Having wandered the neighborhood a fair amount, nary noticing a thing baseball related is proof of this. However, some nice online photos are available though the Historical Marker Database. Google Street View also affords this image, though my understanding is that it’s frequently defaced by graffiti.

The presence of the Tigers in Venice (and even Vernon) pre-dates my dad by quite a bit, and it would be a stretch to even call my dad a baseball fan beyond his love of Fernando Valenzuela. Still, I feel drawn to this Pacific Coast League squad of no-names simply because these Tigers, like my dad, called Venice their home, even if both parties left too soon.

I have a Venice trip in my future, one that I’ve already put off too many times. A friend has been holding my dad’s ashes for me far longer then etiquette should allow, and the plan has always been to spread them at Venice Beach. There are a lot of reasons why I’ve waited this long, but I feel like the ghost of an old ballpark, whether as bonus or distraction, may be just what I need to get moving.

* * *

While I’m in the neighborhood I can also check out a couple other Venice Tigers-themed sites. About 0.4 miles from the Corner Ballpark marker, there is the precise location (southwest corner of South Venice and Abbott Kinney) where the ballpark (built in only five weeks!) stood . Though not an official SABR Landmark, why not take a look! And finally, if I’m dropping ashes off the Venice Pier, I may as well stroll past the old parking spot of Ward McFadden’s Ship Café.

What does the Ship Café have to do with baseball?! How else did fans get ahold of their 1913 Venice Tigers schedule doubloons!

There will be a weirdness to the trip, as is tautologically true of all things Venice, but the weirdness will not emanate from the sights, the sounds, or even the smells. Now the weirdness will be my dad joining me, unmistakably, at every step. It will be his weirdness, once off-putting but now sufficiently missed as to turn the unwanted to welcome and the foreign to familiar. Steeped in his memory, this New Venice will offer me what it offered the Tigers, neither errand nor detour but second home.

Author’s Note: This article is dedicated to my father, Nelson Schwartz (1947-2020) and his special love of all things Venice.

Since We’ve No Place to Go

There is a famous quote attributed to Rogers Hornsby, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” As a Chicagoan, this sentiment seems a bit disingenuous considering Hornsby lived in Texas. Nonetheless, I really hate winter, too. Snow is a hassle and messy and annoying.

Looks like someone waited too long to stow the patio furniture

It was somewhat quaint this morning to wake up to a surprise snowstorm in the smartphone age, (especially in mid-November before someone had put the patio furniture away for the winter). Regardless, snow has at least one redeeming quality—it often creates magical, though fleeting, moments of serenity.

Billy Sunday – Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Park, IL

Cemeteries are typically tranquil places, but they take on a whole new level of quiet peacefulness under a fresh blanket of snow.

Pretzels Getzien – Concordia Cemetery, Forest Park, IL

This winter, don’t let a little snow prevent you from paying your respects at the graves of departed ball players.

Billy Pierce – Chapel Hill Gardens South Cemetery, Oak Lawn, IL

We would love to see hear your stories.

Dick Hyde – Grandview Memorial Gardens, Champaign, IL

A Crusty Old Baseball Field in Brewerytown

Amid the noise of bouncing basketballs and splashing in the new pool at the Athletic Recreation Center, there exists a baseball diamond whose provenance is embedded in baseball’s past. Just outside the fence along the third baseline stands a Pennsylvania historical marker that details that background. Primarily funded by the generous donations of SABR members and dedicated in September 2017, the marker explains that the property played host to the first National League game, was the site of the first interracial baseball game and was home of the American Association’s Philadelphia Athletics.

Harry Stovey leads off second base at Athletic Park in 2017

In 2015 I went down a rabbit hole and discovered Jerry Casway’s biography of the Jefferson Street Ballparks. I was new to SABR and just developing my passion for 19th century baseball history. After learning about the extraordinary history that took place there, I decided to hop in my car and make the half hour trek to the Athletic Recreation Center and view the site with my own eyes. When I arrived, I walked onto the field where I was mentally transported back in time. I tried to imagine the sights, sounds and smells that would have been familiar to those who visited the ballparks during the 19th century. I’d like to take you on that journey.

The Jefferson Street ballparks were situated in a Philadelphia neighborhood called Brewerytown. Its proximity near the Schuylkill River, outlying farms, and lack of development attracted brewers and beer related industries to the area in the 1860s. The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin recalled the Brewerytown of the late 19th century with fondness. “…the air was as nourishing as vaporized bread…It was a place for family bakeries and rich delicatessens, a neighborhood scrubbed to within an inch of its life and resounding to the guttural language of Goethe and Schiller…” Railroad lines serviced the industry along the river while streetcar lines acted as the neighborhood’s public transit option, bringing fans to and from the ball grounds. The noises and smells of a developing Brewerytown enveloped this epicenter of Philadelphia baseball for nearly three decades.

Olympic Ball Club clubhouse along Master Street. 1860s

The property was used regularly for baseball beginning in 1864 when the Olympic Ball Club leased the grounds. On September 3, 1869, the first interracial baseball match between nationally prominent clubs was played at the Jefferson Street Grounds. The Olympic Ball Club, an all-white team, and Philadelphia Pythians, an all-black team, squared off in a match that was reported on as far away as Utah.

The Athletics called Jefferson Street home during their championship season of 1871, the first professional baseball league championship season in history. On April 22, 1876, all the inaugural National League games were rained out except the game in Philadelphia where Boston defeated the Athletics in the first National League game in history. But the Athletics were expelled from the League at the end of the season, ending Philadelphia’s affair with top-flight baseball. It would be six years before Major League Baseball returned to the Quaker City and Jefferson Street.

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. 10/6/1883

The Jefferson Street Grounds experienced change in the absence of top-flight baseball between 1877-1881. A school was constructed on the original field, while 26th street was cut through the middle of the lot. But in 1883, baseball returned to Jefferson Street when the American Association’s Philadelphia Athletics constructed Athletic Park at 27th and Jefferson streets. The first city championship game in years was played on April 14 between the Athletics and Al Reach’s Philadelphia Phillies. The account published in the Times noted that “the audience gave audible criticisms on the merits of both nines” when the squads were warming up on the field. Evidently, Philadelphia fans haven’t changed in 139 years. Toledo visited Athletic Park on May 26, 1884, and when Moses Fleetwood Walker, MLB’s first African American player, stepped to the plate for the first time, the Philadelphia fans rose to their feet and applauded him. Jackie Robinson received a different reception 63 years later.

I thought about these things as I stood in the baseball diamond at the Athletic Recreation Center. I could almost smell the beer, hear the fans yelling themselves hoarse, and see Moses Fleetwood Walker step into the batter’s box as the American flag lazily waved in deep center field. History buries its treasure deep.

In the case of the smells, sounds, and sights from within the Jefferson Street ballparks our imagination is almost all we have that will allow us to visit this space as it once was. Newspaper accounts the only vestiges of their existence. But they are lacking the context that I often enjoy, the fan experience. I left the Athletic Recreation Center convinced that I needed to do something to memorialize the place and the people who made it important.

Athletic Park as printed in the 1886 G.W. Bromley Atlas of Philadelphia

Finding what made the Jefferson Street ballparks special and worthy of a Pennsylvania State Historical Marker wasn’t difficult. Period newspaper accounts and images combined with secondary source work made this nomination a home run. I was confident the oversight committee would approve the marker. My concern was funding the marker.

The cost for the historical marker in 2017 was approximately $2,000. I had created a GoFundMe in late 2016 to fundraise and by late March, had raised approximately $500 of the $2,000. On March 27, 2017 I announced that the Pennsylvania State Historical and Museum Commission (PSHMC) approved my nomination. Once this announcement was made, full funding was achieved within a week!

The next challenge was finalizing the wording with the PSHMC. Ultimately everything I wrote made it onto the sign with one alteration: I stated that the April 22, 1876, game between Boston and the Athletics was the first Major League Baseball game in history. Despite explaining that MLB has held that stance since 1969, the PSHMC required the wording to be changed to “first National League game.”

Jefferson Street Ballparks historical marker

The Jefferson Street Ballparks historical marker was officially dedicated on September 30, 2017. Speeches were given by Dick Rosen, then Co-Chair of the Connie Mack SABR chapter, Rob Holiday, Director of Amateur Scouting Admin of the Phillies, a member of the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia (vintage baseball), and me. After the speeches and the unveiling, the Athletic Base Ball Club played a game of Philadelphia Town Ball and invited attendees and those in the community to join in the action. The Athletic club’s uniforms are almost exact replicas of the Athletics’ 1866 uniforms. It was surreal seeing those uniforms back on such a historic field. My favorite part was the young kids engaging in a 19th century game on a field where so much history had taken place, and their naivete to it all. The Philadelphia Inquirer covered the event and published a story in their October 1, 2017, issue

Philadelphia Town Ball played on the grounds of Athletic Park

Just days ago, the Philadelphia faithful packed Citizens Bank Park three straight nights as the Phillies hosted the Houston Astros in the 2022 World Series. It has been an exhilarating month for Philadelphia baseball fans, who have once again become a topic in the grand postseason narrative. I had the privilege to attend two postseason games, both Phillies victories, and they were both the loudest baseball experiences I’ve ever had. The crowd was authentic, bombastic and boorish. As we cheered our Phillies and jeered the opposition, the wind rustled leaves on an old crusty baseball diamond in Brewerytown, some five miles away from Philadelphia’s current baseball epicenter. Did our voices travel those five miles to Jefferson Street and transform into distant echoes of what once was a hotbed of baseball activity? Maybe that’s too mystical for the real world, but I’ll choose to believe it.

My Favorite (Oldest) Marker: Dreyfuss Monument at PNC Park

Since the Hardball Voyager blog was announced, I tried to pick a favorite local landmark to write about related to Pittsburgh baseball. I failed, as there are too many “favorites.” So instead, let’s talk “favorite oldest” landmark.

With recent improvements to the outfield concourse (stress on the word “improvements”), PNC Park is even more rife with reminders of the region’s baseball past than previously. Cartoonish bobblehead statues, club hall of fame plaques, and colorful, decorative signage are just some of the welcome additions to the home of a team with such a long (and occasionally) storied history.

While the new-fangled items are great and welcome, there’s one longtime object within the stadium that has my heart. It has stood steadfast through the years, far away from the glitz and color of PNC’s outfield. Amidst one of the busiest areas in the stadium, it somehow manages to quietly hide in plain sight–it’s the Dreyfuss monument, located at the top of the Peoples Gate escalator, a short distance from the entrance near the Honus Wagner statue. Aesthetically, there is nothing overly significant about the monument itself; a large, gray, tombstone-like slab ornamented with a small, circular bronze plaque. Most folks entering the ballpark probably don’t even notice it, as it seems to fit as a piece of the building’s structure. But given who it is there to memorialize, and given the history it has seen, the marker is a standout amongst so many others on the other side of the ballpark.

Barney Dreyfuss image (ca early 1900s) from Wikipedia, no indicated source

Following nearly two decades of (relative) historical anonymity, the Pittsburgh National League team really burst onto the national baseball scene in 1900. Barney Dreyfuss bought into and (essentially) merged the franchise with the soon-to-be retracted Louisville club, a team he’d previously owned. The combination of the Pittsburgh team with a number of players from Louisville (the previously mentioned Wagner included) turned the new club into a powerhouse in the NL standings immediately, and the success continued for the next decade.

Even though the shine faded a bit after 1912, Dreyfuss’s organization managed to rebound a few years later, and what followed was another period of strong finishes throughout the 1920s. Barney’s knack for finding the right people (both player-wise and management-wise) was evident from looking at the results during his stewardship; the team landed in the upper echelon of the NL quite a bit. They captured six pennants and finished as either runner-up or third place seven times each.

Barney and son Samuel from 1925 team photo, as reprinted in the 10/16/1925 Pittsburgh Gazette Times

As Dreyfuss aged, his intention was to pass ownership of the Pirates on to his son, Samuel. The younger Dreyfuss joined the club in 1920, and apprenticed as the team’s treasurer, as well as taking numerous other roles in the employ of his father during the Pirates’ resurgence. Unfortunately, tragedy struck in 1931 when Samuel passed away from pneumonia at the age of 34. It has been theorized that the loss of his son was the psychological and emotional blow that led to Barney’s decline and death only a year later.

Heydler wreath image from 7/1/1934 Pittsburgh Press

Two and a half years after Barney Dreyfuss passed away, a monument dedicated to both Barney and Samuel was unveiled at the game that marked the 25th anniversary of one of Barney’s crowning achievements—the opening of Forbes Field. NL president John Heydler and several local dignitaries were on hand for the ceremony. The memorial for the Dreyfuss men was placed in deep centerfield, near the flagpole. In the years following, the monument saw a good bit of action, as it was located within the field of play. Just like the early years of Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park, outfielders had to be aware of their surroundings, lest they become part of an unwanted collision.

After the Pirates moved in the early 1970s, the Dreyfuss monument was as well, transported from the Forbes outfield to a more fan-friendly (and less hazardous) concourse location in Three Rivers Stadium. In 2001, it was taken to the new digs on the concourse at PNC Park, and resides there to this day.

Early Pirates broadcaster ‘Rosey’ Rowswell image from 10/2/1948 Bulletin Index

If you come to a game in Pittsburgh, it’s imperative that you take in the statues and various markers celebrating the players and history of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Above all others, though, I ask that you be certain to stop by the simple gray slab, near the home plate entrance, to pay your respects to the two Dreyfuss men who left an indelible mark on Pittsburgh baseball history.

Remembering Milwaukee County Stadium

Growing up in greater Chicagoland, I had two baseball options. Despite pressure from my hardcore extended White Sox family, I became a Chicago Cubs fan. Perhaps my recessive genes kicked in.

Despite my local team affiliation, I attended games at both Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park. I remember when the Cubs played home games exclusively during the day, and when the White Sox played on the other side of 35th Street. As my baseball interests expanded beyond just my team, I became intrigued by ballparks. Each team had unique homes with rich histories. I established a goal to get out of my media market and visit every Major League Baseball park. Little did I know, the park closest to home is one I’d never visit.

During the early-1980s, my family spent substantial time visiting my paternal grandmother in Milwaukee. We enjoyed countless lunches at the nearby Ground Round. I threw peanut shells on the floor and accumulated more mini Brewers helmets than my Mom could stand. On our way home one day, my Dad took a different route. We looped around Milwaukee County Stadium, then the home of the Brewers, before one of the World Series games in 1982. My jaw dropped and my eyes widened. I had never seen so many cars in a parking lot. Even the Goodyear blimp hovered over the ballpark.

The Brewers continued playing their home games at County Stadium through the 2000 season before moving to Miller Park (renamed American Family Field in 2021). To the surprise of the 9-year-old in me, I never attended a game at County Stadium (I did see a Paul McCartney concert there in 1993).

Despite having a date with the wrecking ball, the Brewers guaranteed the memory of County Stadium would endure. Baseball fans can enjoy the home plate marker placed where Henry Aaron and Eddie Mathews powered the Milwaukee Braves to a World Series championship in 1957, and Robin Yount and Paul Molitor won the American League pennant in 1982. Just a few feet away, there’s a memorial honoring the Braves brief Cream City tenure. Speaking of Hammerin’ Hank, fans will find an added treat in the parking lot with a marker commemorating where the final home run of Aaron’s career landed.

Going to a game? Make sure to visit the Brewers Team Store in the Left Field Corner at American Family Field. There is a wall entirely constructed with bricks from County Stadium.

Heading to Milwaukee soon? The new SABR Baseball Map will provide the precise location of these markers, the Walk of Fame and the Wall of Honor outside of American Family Field.

Exploring Cleveland Baseball

Ichiro Suzuki famously slandered Cleveland when having to return there to make up a snowed-out game, “To tell the truth, I’m not excited to go to Cleveland, but we have to. If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face, because I’m lying.”

Frankly, I was ambivalent about the city having visited twice before my youngest put a school there at the top of his college list. In the intervening trips for campus tours and moving him in and out of dorms, there has been some opportunity to explore the city, dine at some amazing restaurants, and better formulate my thoughts on what Cleveland has to offer.

“To tell the truth, I’m not excited to go to Cleveland, but we have to. If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face, because I’m lying.”

Ichiro Suzuki

Moreover, there is an awful lot of baseball history in the Cleveland area to experience. Most of my landmark hunting to date has been in the early morning hours while everyone else sleeps in, often by way of a roundabout bagel run. Spanning several trips I have lingered at League Park, admired the statues of Elmer Flick and Rocky Colavito erected in town parks, paid my respects at the (purported) grave of Ed Delahanty, and attended games played by the Guardians and Lake Erie Crushers of the Frontier League.

Our most recent visit was for parent’s weekend, a delightful departure from past visits free of the “is this the right place for him?” quandary or the stress of packing and moving and making sure we brought enough ramen. We enjoyed an afternoon of hiking at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, had an amazing dinner downtown, and toured the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) after a late breakfast the following morning.

But of course I had some time to see a few baseball things. I headed first to the marker at Brookside Stadium and found the park quite easily with turn-by-turn directions from the SABR Baseball Map on my phone. It was a bit of a walk down a paved path the marker, but it was worth it.

Built in a natural amphitheater, a baseball diamond still occupies the former site of Brookside Stadium, which was razed in the 1980s. According to the marker, Brookside hosted the largest crowd ever recorded for an amateur baseball game, some 115,000 people in 1915. What a contrast to the park I found, serene and lovely on a crisp fall morning.

Part of exploring baseball history is finding new landmarks, so I was thrilled to look over and see another marker detailing the history of Brookside Stadium that we did not yet have on our list. I learned that the ballpark was built in 1909 in an effort to have the 1912 Olympics awarded to Cleveland.

I then headed over to Highland Park Cemetery to pay my respects at the grave of Luke Easter, a fascinating player who seemingly came out of nowhere and met a tragic end. [Do not miss the chapter on Easter in Outsider Baseball by Scott Simkus.]

And perhaps most surprisingly, I happened upon some baseball-related art at the CMA. The oversized Standing Mitt and Ball by Claes Oldenburg was a fitting companion piece to his Batcolumn erected in Chicago, just blocks from my office.

I also happened upon this centuries-old headgear displayed in the armor gallery, which most certainly qualifies as the earliest known baseball helmet, right?

There are several more trips to Cleveland in my future and I cannot wait to continue exploring the area. That I might get to see some baseball-related sites along the way is just a bonus.

Ichiro was wrong.

Sources:

Larry Stone, “Ichiro unlike any player we’ve seen or will see again,” Longview (Washington) Daily News, March 23, 2019: B7.

Welcome to Marengo or: How I Accidentally Visited My First Ballplayer’s Grave

Several years ago I was in Rockford, Illinois for work so (of course) I planned a slight detour on the way home to check out the Carl Lundgren historical marker in Marengo. After a bit of detective work (the SABR Baseball Map did not exist yet!) I was able to locate the marker, placed on the west side of North East Street.

Carl Lundgren was a terrific twirler for the Chicago Cubs from 1902-09. During the three consecutive seasons in which the Cubs appeared in the World Series (1906-08), Lundgren posted a regular season record of 41-22, with an ERA of 2.33 and 13 shutouts. Yet he was the odd man out and tossed not a single World Series pitch in any of those three years.

After a pair of ineffective outings for Chicago in 1909, Lundgren bounced around the minors for a few seasons before retiring from the game as a player. He went on to an amazing career as manager for Princeton, the University of Michigan and (alma mater) University of Illinois baseball teams, piloting his Wolverine and Illini squads to eight total Big Ten championships.

As I took a moment to read the inscription and snap a couple of photographs on an overcast morning, a man approached on a bicycle and let me know the sign had been purposely placed near the field where Lundgren played ball as a child. Wonderfully, a youth-sized diamond still existed at the site.

Lundgren died suddenly of a heart attack at his childhood home in 1934 and, as the gentleman on the bike advised, was buried right across the street from where his baseball career began. The man rode off after directing me to Lundgren’s grave, certainly unaware he had just sent me down a path that would lead to innumerable future ballplayer gravesite visits. Somewhat reluctantly at the time, however, I drove slowly through the cemetery and found Lundgren’s marker, lovingly adorned with Cubs mementos. 

Unsure what to do, I silently paid my respects and snapped a quick photo. As I drove away, I was struck by the weighty realization that although Lundgren threw his final pitch for the Cubs in 1909, he was not forgotten. Although baseball is not the most important thing in the world, these individuals were the most important people in the world to the people who loved them.

That’s comforting.