Baker Bowl

From BR Bullpen

Home of Philadelphia Phillies, 1895 to 1938

BUILT: 1895

CAPACITY: 18,000 (1895); 20,000 (1929); 18,800 (1930)

FIRST GAME: May 2, 1895

LAST GAME: June 30, 1938, vs. New York Giants (Giants 14, Phillies 1)

LARGEST CROWD: 23,377 - August 8, 1908, vs. Pittsburgh Pirates



OTHER OCCUPANTS: Frankford Yellow Jackets (NFL), 1931; Philadelphia Eagles (NFL), 1933 to 1935

The Baker Bowl, officially National League Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies for over four decades, is noted for its highly rectangular shape and its small field area. Because of its small size it was often derided as the "Cigar box" or "band box". The Phillies largely neglected the maintenance of the park, and on August 8, 1903 a section of the upper deck collapsed during a game and 12 persons died while 232 were injured. Again in 1927, the upper deck collapsed, this time with no fatalities. The name "Baker Bowl" was given to the facility derisively by journalists around 1923, and it stuck. It was derived from owner William Baker, who was responsible for a a good part of the neglect.

The Baker Bowl hosted the 1915 World Series, between the Phillies and the Boston Red Sox. It was considered outdated by the 1920s, but the Phillies were run on shoestring budgets by then and were unwilling to invest in a new facility. Connie Mack, the owner of the rival Philadelphia Athletics had a long-standing offer to the Phillies to share the A's ballpark, but the offer was not accepted until the middle of the 1938 season. The ancient ballpark was abandoned, but its outer wall stood at 15th and Huntington Streets for years afterwards.

Some anomalies of this park include the train tunnel under deep center field that caused a bulge in the field, and the on-again-off-again bleachers in front of the center-field clubhouse.

Designed to the specifications of Phillies owner A.J. Reach by the architectural firm of R.C. Ballinger & Co, the ballpark was built on the site of the Philadelphia Baseball Grounds which were ravaged by fire on August 6, 1894. The destroyed structure was replaced by a state-of-the-art building made principally of brick and steel at a cost of $225,000. It used cantilever construction, thus eliminating the need for most support columns for the roof and upper deck, reducing obstructed view seating to a minimum. It opened as "National League Park" at the start of the 1895 season with a capacity of 18,800. It was called by many to be the first modern ballpark, but in fact, was still a transitional structure with wooden supports still used in a number of places.

While Reach and his partners sold the Phillies following the 1902 season, in which the team was thoroughly outdrawn by the new Athletics of the upstart American League, they retained ownership of the ballpark. The 1903 disaster occurred during the second game of a doubleheader against the Boston Beaneaters. At 5:40 pm, a commotion arose on the street behind the third base bleachers as a drunken man assaulted a young girl, who cried for help. Spectators rushed to the top of the structure to see what was going on in the street behind them, congregating on a small walkway overhanging the street behind the stands. The balcony was not independently supported and crashed to the pavement 30 feet below under the weight of the estimated 300 people that were jamming it. The crash also caused panic in the stands, as spectators feared the whole ballpark was about to collapse and ran onto the field in a stampede in order to evade what they thought was impending doom. The toll of 12 dead and 232 injured made this the deadliest tragedy in the history of major league baseball.

Both new Phillies owner Jimmy Potter and ballpark owners Reach and John Rogers denied responsibility for the accident, claiming the ballpark was in perfect condition and subject to regular safety inspections. However, the first investigation into the causes of the collapse by the city of Philadelphia pointed to rotten timbers holding the balcony. All parties sought to absolve themselves given the first lawsuits were filed within two days; eventually, more than 80 were filed with the total amount of the claims reaching over $1 million. A coroner was appointed to lead a formal inquest which concluded that the timber was indeed rotten and had been built of hemlock and not pine, as claimed, and that Reach and Rogers had given unsupported assurances about the state of the ballpark when they had sold the club a few months earlier. The various lawsuits took years to resolve and eventually found their way to the Supreme Court, which accepted the owners' defense that the main cause of the tragedy was the extraordinary rush of people to an area not designed to hold such a crowd and where they should not have been, absolving the owners of blame.

The Phillies played the remainder of the 1903 season at Columbia Park, home of the Athletics, until the Baker Bowl could be thoroughly inspected and repairs made, but they were back playing there by the start of 1904. Lessons from the tragedy were learned, as the use of wooden timbers was phased out of ballpark construction. When the Athletics opened Shibe Park in 1909, which was destined to be used for six decades, wrought steel and cement, i.e. reinforced concrete, were used for all structural supports. Another consequence was that the city began to inspect buildings where large crowds gathered regularly, and to post inspection certificates for all to see, a practice that is generalized throughout the country and continues to this day.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Robert D. Warrington: "Baseball’s Deadliest Disaster: 'Black Saturday' in Philadelphia", in Morris Levin, ed.: From Swampoodle to South Philly: Baseball in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, The National Pastime, SABR, 2013, pp. 154-163.

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