Never let it be said that a good idea for an article can’t be lifted from someone else. It happens all the time. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” etc. So to give credit where it’s due, Marc Carig of The Athletic wrote about the 38 ballparks he’s covered baseball in and ranked them in six different tiers.
I could have done a tiered approach, but some of these parks were one-offs (stadiums that didn’t normally host MLB games, but where I saw games anyway) and some of them I haven’t been to in decades, so I think the tiered approach doesn’t work for me.
I have attended MLB games in 45 different ballparks and have seen the Cubs play in all but seven (and four of those were A.L. parks that went out of use before interleague play began, so the Cubs couldn’t have played there), and I figure you deserve a 45th-to-first ranking, and so that is what you shall have.
I don’t think there’s any doubt as to which will rank first on my very subjective list. Nevertheless, there are several newer stadiums that come very close to Wrigley Field in terms of sightlines, amenities, the whole experience.
Someday — and honestly, I hope it’s not this year, I just don’t think it’s safe for fans to be back in MLB parks this year — I will add to this list. Of the 45 parks I’ve been to, 26 are current MLB parks (all but Truist Park, Petco Park, Marlins Park and Globe Life Field, and the last of those hasn’t hosted a single MLB game yet), 17 are parks no longer in use and two are stadiums where the Cubs played in special-event games. London Stadium was going to be No. 46 and Truist Park would have been No. 47, but the novel coronavirus pandemic took care of that.
This is the first of a nine-part series, ranked 45th to first.
45) Candlestick Park, San Francisco (last attended, 1989)
All you have to do to understand how bad this park was is read Grant Brisbee’s latest magnum opus, “How quickly did San Francisco realize Candlestick Park was a debacle?” An old saying, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” often attributed erroneously to Mark Twain, describes Candlestick well. They made it worse in the 1970s when they enclosed it to make more seats for the 49ers — and even put artificial turf in from 1970-78, as shown in the photo above. It was sterile, concrete and freezing. And when I say cold, I mean Wrigley-Field-in-April cold — at all times of the year.
The Giants used to have some fun with this — if you stayed to the end of an extra-inning night game, you’d be given an orange pin with an “SF” logo covered in icicles with the Latin words VENI, VIDI, VIXI (“I came, I saw, I survived”). Some Giants fans wore these as badges of honor, with caps full of them:
Funny thing, at the last game I ever attended there (Game 5 of the 1989 NLCS), it was brutally hot that afternoon, over 90 degrees. But all the other games I saw at Candlestick brought various shades of cold. It closed for baseball after the 1999 season and the last event there was a Paul McCartney concert in 2014.
44) Exhibition Stadium, Toronto (last attended, 1978)
Toronto wanted a team in the worst way — they nearly got the Giants in 1976 — and when they finally did get an expansion team for the 1977 season, they had no suitable big-league stadium.
Instead, they repurposed a football/soccer stadium on the site of the Canadian National Exhibition — thus the name.
This view tells you how horribly unsuited it was for baseball:
They squished a baseball diamond into one corner and put a wall of sorts up in right field. All the supposed “best” seats in the house were uncovered and in the cold wind in April (it snowed heavily during the first-ever game there) and hot sun in summer, and the left-field seats were the only ones with any sort of shade. I wound up sitting in those the one time I went; they’re a long, LONG way from the action. Give them credit, they charged only $2 for that.
The Blue Jays managed one division title there, in 1985, and finally got the heck out of there in 1989 for the Skydome, now named the Rogers Centre. The “Ex,” as it was often called, was demolished in 1999, and a soccer stadium called BMO Field occupies the site.
43) Hard Rock Stadium/Dolphin Stadium, Miami (last attended, 2003)
I went here for the Cubs/Marlins NLCS in 2003. Besides being located in the middle of nowhere, about halfway between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, it was a football stadium in a sea of parking lots. Some of my friends and I wound up with extra tickets for one of the NLCS games. There were so many tickets floating around that we wound up finding some Cubs fans in the parking lot and giving the tickets away. For a NLCS game.
Here’s what the stadium in Miami (and it’s had so many names I can’t even remember what it was called back then) looked like before Game 3 of the 2003 NLCS:
You can’t really tell in this photo, but the seats in the outfield upper deck are really far from the action. I mean, really, really far. Plus, as I found when I tried to look for food, once you get to a specific level of seating, there’s no way to get from level to level. I got stuck on the ramp before having to climb over a barrier to get back to my seat. The food selections were awful, the sightlines poor... yuck. The new Marlins Park is supposedly a vast improvement, but I haven’t been there yet.
42) Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan (last attended, 2003)
The Montreal Expos played 22 games in this converted minor-league park in 2003 and 2004. The Cubs were the opponent for one of those series, in September 2003. When I made plans to go to these games, I had no idea they’d be important in a playoff race. So it wound up more than just a trip to Puerto Rico, it was seeing important games for the ballclub. They lost two of the three, the only losses in an 8-2 stretch.
The park was pretty plain, what you’d expect from a minor-league park built in the 1960s, with bare-bones concessions. The capacity was expanded to 20,000 for MLB games, but none of the games sold out, 18,002 was the top attendance. The crowd had a lot of Sammy Sosa fans who had taken the short flight (about 30 minutes) from the Dominican Republic.
MLB has played other games here, and had a Mets/Marlins series scheduled there in April 2020, which was cancelled due to the pandemic. Here’s what it looked like in April 2018 when the Indians and Twins played there. The corrugated roof is very 1960s.
41) Metrodome, Minneapolis (last attended, 1983)
This was the first indoor stadium in which I attended a game, and it was as weird as you might imagine from an early 1980s standpoint. Now, of course, we have several retractable-roof parks and many of them are pretty good places to watch a game.
But the inflatable-roof concept was new, and the stadium was one of the last built as multi-purpose for both baseball and football, leading to the “Hefty Bag” look in right field, when the football seats were stashed:
Now, that photo shows a full house, and it was said the noise level there freaked out some of the opposing teams and gave a big home-field advantage to the Twins. The game I attended was between the last-place Mariners and sixth-place Twins and the attendance was 12,260. It felt like watching baseball in a warehouse.
The Twins moved to Target Field in 2010 and the Metrodome was demolished in 2014. US Bank Stadium, home to the NFL’s Vikings, opened on the Metrodome site in 2016.