Baker Bowl is the best-known popular name of a baseball park that formerly stood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Its formal name, painted on its outer wall, was National League Park. It was also initially known as Philadelphia Park or Philadelphia Base Ball Grounds.It was on a small city block bounded by N. Broad St., W. Huntingdon St., N. 15th St. and W. Lehigh Avenue.
The ballpark was initially built in 1887. At that time the media praised it as state-of-the-art. In that dead-ball era, the outfield was enclosed by a relatively low wall all around. Center field was fairly close, with the railroad tracks running behind it. Later, the tracks were lowered and the field was extended over top of them. Bleachers were built in left field, and over time various extensions were added to the originally low right field wall, resulting in the infamous 60-foot (18 m) fence.
The ballpark's second incarnation opened in 1895. Its upper deck was notable for having the first cantilevered design in a sports stadium and was the first ballpark to be constructed primarily from steel and brick. It also took the rule book literally, as the sweeping curve behind the plate was about 60 feet (18 m), and instead of angling back toward the foul lines, the 60-foot (18 m) wide foul ground extended all the way to the wall in right, and well down the left field line also. The spacious foul ground, while not fan-friendly, would have resulted in more foul-fly outs than in most parks, and thus was probably the park's one saving grace in the minds of otherwise-frustrated pitchers.
The Baker Wall
Baker Bowl's right field wall circa 1920 after the metal screen was added to extend the total height to 60 feet (18 m). Notice the Phillies advertisement for Lifebuoy Soap along the length of the wall. An often-told joke was that even if the team used the product, they still "stunk".
The most notable and talked-about feature of Baker Bowl was the right field wall, which was only some 280 feet (85 m) from home plate, with right-center only 300 feet (91.5 m) away, and with a wall-and-screen barrier that in its final form was 60 feet (18 m) high. By comparison, the Green Monster at Fenway Park is 37 feet (11 m) high and 310 feet (94 m) away. The Baker wall was a rather difficult task to surmount. The wall was an amalgam of different materials. It was originally a relatively normal-height masonry structure. When it became clear that it was too soft a home run touch, the barrier was extended upward using more masonry, wood, and a metal pipe-and-wire screen. The masonry in the lower part of the wall was extremely rough (Benson termed it "the sort of surface that efficiently removes an outfielder's skin upon contact") and eventually a layer of tin was laid over the entire structure except for the upper part of the screen. The wall dominated the stadium in much the same way as the Green Monster does, only some 30 feet (9.1 m) closer to the diamond; and because of its material, it made a distinctive sound when balls ricocheted off it, as happened frequently.
The ballpark, shoehorned as it was into the Philadelphia city grid, acquired a number of nicknames over the years. Baker Bowl is the best-known name; its formal name, painted on its outer wall, was National League Park.
Huntingdon Street Grounds was a nickname for a while, as it was a side street running behind the first base line that intersected Broad Street, a major thoroughfare. Baker Bowl, also called Baker Field in the baseball guides, referred to one-time Phillies owner William F. Baker. The use of "Baker Field" was perhaps confusing, since Columbia University's athletic facility in New York City was also called "Baker Field". How it acquired the unique suffix "Bowl" is subject to conjecture. It may have referred to the banked bicycle track that was there for a time, or it may have been used derisively, suggesting non-existent luxuriousness. The Hump referred to a hill in center field covering a partially submerged railroad tunnel in the street beyond right field that extended through into center field. The Cigar Box and The Band Box referred to the tiny size of the playing field. After the demise of the Baker Bowl, the terms "cigar box" and "bandbox" were subsequently applied to any "intimate" ballpark (like Boston's Fenway Park or Brooklyn's Ebbets Field) whose configurations were conducive to players hitting home runs.
During the 51½ seasons the Phillies played there, they managed only one pennant (1915). The 1915 World Series was significant in that it was the first time a sitting president attended a World Series game when President Wilson attended and threw out the first pitch prior to Game 2. The Series was also the first post-season appearance by Babe Ruth.
While they were occasionally at least respectable in the dead-ball era, once the lively ball was introduced the Phils nearly always finished in last place, substantially helping them towards the 10,000-loss "milestone" they reached on July 15, 2007. During its last two decades, the ballpark became heaven for batters (both home and visiting), whereas having to play half their games there every year became hell for the Phillies' pitching staff. For a number of years, a huge advertising sign on the rightfield wall read "The Phillies Use Lifebuoy", a popular brand of soap. This led to the oft-reported quip that appended "... and they still stink!" In 1936, a vandal sneaked into Baker Bowl one night and actually wrote that phrase on the Lifebuoy ad. Conventional wisdom ties their failures to Baker Bowl, but they remained cellar-dwellers in their new home as well, suggesting that Baker Bowl was only part of their problem.
On June 9, 1914, Honus Wagner hit his 3,000th career hit in the stadium. Babe Ruth played his last major league baseball game in Baker Bowl on May 30, 1935.
The ballpark was abandoned during the middle of the 1938 season, as the Phillies chose to move 5 blocks west on Lehigh Avenue to rent the newer and more spacious Shibe Park from the A's rather than remain at the Baker Bowl. Phils president Gerald Nugent cited the move as an opportunity for the Phillies to cut expenses as stadium upkeep would be split between two clubs.
At Baker Bowl, the Phillies finished with a 30-38-1 record against the A's in City Series exhibition games.
After the Phillies' move, the upper deck was peeled off and the stadium was used for sports ranging from midget auto racing to ice skating. Its old centerfield clubhouse served as a piano bar for a while. By the late 1940s, all that stood of the original structure were the four outer walls and a field choked with weeds. What remained of the ballpark was finally demolished in 1950 - coincidentally, the year of the Phils' first pennant since 1915. The site now features a gas station/convenience store where the centerfield clubhouse once stood, garages, and a car wash.
Some distinctive buildings visible in vintage photos of the ballpark remain standing and help to mark the ballpark's former presence. One is a roughly 10-story-tall, triangular building across the street to the north-northeast, behind what was centerfield. Another is the neoclassical train depot building across Broad Street from what was the end of the first base grandstand.
Baker Bowl was the first home field of the Philadelphia Eagles who played there from 1933 through 1935. In their three seasons there, they had a record of 9-21-1.
Eagles' owner Bert Bell hoped to play home games at larger Shibe Park, but negotiations with the Athletics were not fruitful, and Bell agreed to a deal with Phillies' owner Gerry Nugent. For Eagles games, 5,000 temporary seats were erected along the right-field wall. The Eagles played their first game at the ballpark on October 3, 1933, a 40–0 pre-season victory over a U.S. Marines team; the game was played at night under rented floodlights. In the first regular-season game on October 18, 1933, 1,750 fans saw the Portsmouth Spartans beat the Eagles, 25–0. Later that season, 17,850 fans watched the Eagles tie the Chicago Bears on Sunday, November 18, 1933. Under Pennsylvania Blue Laws, Sunday games had been prohibited.
With the ballpark in poor condition, the Eagles left Baker Bowl after the 1935 season for the city-owned Municipal Stadium, which was then only ten years old and could seat up to 100,000 spectators.
During its tenure, the park also hosted Negro League games, including those of the Hilldale Daisies and Negro League World Series games from 1924-1926. The first two games of the 1924 Colored World Series between the Kansas City Monarchs and the local Hilldale Club were hosted at Baker Bowl on October 3 and October 4, owing to its larger capacity.
It was during a 1929 exhibition with a Negro League team that Babe Ruth hit two home runs that landed about halfway into the rail yards across the street in right.
Rodeos were occasionally held at Baker Bowl in order to raise additional revenue. That activity and mindset fit with the reported use of sheep to graze on the field during Phillies road trips, in lieu of buying lawn mowers, until sometime in the 1920s.
Fire destroyed the grandstand and bleachers of the original stadium on August 6, 1894. The $80,000 in damage (equal to $2,024,000 today) was covered fully by insurance. The fire also spread to the adjoining properties, causing an additional $20,000 in damage, equal to $506,000 today.
Temporary stands were built in time for a game on August 18. It was then fully rebuilt of fireproof materials with a cantilevered upper deck. It also contained a banked bicycle track for a while, exploiting the cycling craze that caught the nation's fancy in the late 19th century. In terms of pure design, the ballpark was well ahead of its time, but subsequent problems and the parsimony of the team's owners undermined any apparent positives, as the ballpark soon became rundown and unsafe.
During a game on August 8, 1903, some carrying-on in 15th Street caught the attention of bleacher fans down the left field line. Many of them ran to the top of the wooden seating area, and the added stress on that section of the bleachers caused it to collapse into the street, killing 12 and injuring 232. This led to more renovation of the stadium and forced the ownership to sell the team. The Phillies temporarily moved to the Philadelphia Athletics' home field, Columbia Park, while Baker Bowl was repaired. The Phillies played sixteen games at Columbia Park in August and September 1903.
During a game on May 14, 1927, parts of two sections of the lower deck extension along the right-field line collapsed due to rotted shoring timbers, again triggered by an oversize gathering of people, who were seeking shelter from the rain. Miraculously, no one died during the collapse, but one individual did die from heart failure in the subsequent stampede that injured 50.
After both of those catastrophes, the Phils rented from the A's while repairs were being made to the old structure.
When Baker Bowl was first opened, it was praised as the finest baseball palace in America. By the time it was abandoned, it had been a joke for years. The Chicago Tribune ran a series of articles on baseball parks during the summer of 1937, and the article about Baker Bowl was merciless in its ridicule of this park. The many futile attempts to keep it going, for a dozen years after its abandonment, only added to the ridicule due to the park's "lingering death". The later Phillies' ballparks, Shibe Park and Veterans Stadium, would similarly undergo the cycle of praise upon opening and disdain upon closure.
A Pennsylvania Historical marker stands on Broad Street just north of West Huntingdon Street, Philadelphia. The marker is titled, "Baker Bowl National League Park" and the text reads,
The Phillies' baseball park from its opening in 1887 until 1938. Rebuilt 1895; hailed as nation's finest stadium. Site of first World Series attended by U.S. President, 1915; Negro League World Series, 1924-26; Babe Ruth's last major league game, 1935. Razed 1950.
The marker was dedicated on August 16, 2000 at Veterans Stadium during an on-the-field pre-game ceremony. The marker was unveiled by former-Phillies shortsop Bobby Stevens, who played for the team in 1931 and then current-Phillies pitcher Randy Wolf. The marker was displayed at the Vet through the end of the 2000 season and then moved to the location of the ballpark, just behind where the right field foul pole would be.