Analysis of Baseball’s Cookie-Cutter Era

Cookie-cutter baseball parks and this era of the sport as a whole get a bad rap. If you’re unfamiliar with what these are, I’m referring to Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Three Rivers in Pittsburgh, Busch Stadium in St. Louis (until it was re-done), and Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. These are the main ones. They were essentially giant concrete buildings with astroturf, with fields that had perfectly symmetrical fence distances. Each one shared buildings with the city’s pro football team and it was often hard to tell the difference between one or the other. Each stadium also replaced a classic stadium that had been built into the city with its own unique personality.

About Cookie-Cutter Baseball Parks

I had only visited one of these parks personally; River Front Stadium, in the late 90s when the Reds were bad, so the park was probably ¾ empty, but with seats far from the plate with everything so cavernous combined with your only view being decks of seats that go on forever. Yeah, it’s probably best that these things are mostly gone (if you count the Oakland Coliseum as a cookie-cutter park it’s the last of its kind and it’s likely going to be gone shortly).

Most of these cookie-cutter baseball parks have been replaced with ballparks that are more open and showcase the city more, and also bring back memories of the parks that came before them. The intention is to make sure these generic, probably overly corporate things never get remembered again, but I do think these things did donate something positive to baseball, and here’s what they are.

Riverfront Stadium, an example of a cookie-cutter baseball park and home of the Cincinatti Reds
Credit: Brent Moore, Flickr

Great Background to Baseball Cards

80s baseball cards are some of my favorite things. Yes, they made too many of them and yes they are mostly worth nothing but it’s hard to replicate the feeling of opening a pack and smelling the cardboard mixed with cheap bubble gum. There’s nothing like the crunch of new baseball card bubble gum either and yes I said crunch. Unless you experienced this yourself, I don’t know what else to tell you.

But the best baseball cards that I remember are ’80s action shots on the base paths or in the infield and when this happened within the confines of one of these, there’s a much better background for these photos when you have a generic blue wall/seats and a wall of people over anything else. Plus in a baseball card, I’m not really interested in the setting of the play, I’m interested in looking at the ball player in full uniform and a day game in one of these parks really does capture the light as it has nowhere else to go.

Vintage 80s baseball cards
Credit: Mike Kalasnik, Flickr

Artificial Turf

Okay, I’m going to get a little weird here. As a whole, artificial turf sucks. It definitely messed with players’ careers (Andre Dawson is a big one) and it looked like absolute crap. I always hated how in most parks with turf all you saw was a drawn infield with turf around the bases, and that was it.

It kind of looked like baseball being played in a basement, but some of the best baseball games of all time were played on turf. Were they some of the best games because of the turf? Or were they just good games that happened to be played on turf as there was a time when a lot of friggen games were played on turf? I can’t necessarily answer that but some of the bounces off the ground and speed in which the ball got through the infield sure were fun to watch.

It created an unpredictability that adds entertainment to the sport plus if you were a great infielder and you could showcase that ability on astroturf, it definitely separated yourself from the pack. Watching Ozzie Smith play short on the Busch Stadium turf or Keith Hernandez play even with the bag at first and pick up grounders or pounce on bunts truly is a joy.

Astroturf in a baseball stadium

Symmetrical Fields Creating Deep Gaps

The power alleys in most of these parks are deeper, which really does open the game up in different ways. First of all, it means one really needs to get a hold of one to hit one out. There are no cheap home runs and a home run truly feels earned but also it means that a faster and better outfielder can showcase their skills more.

As a whole, the cookie-cutter baseball parks (and I’m generalizing a bit here) meant defense matters and a defensive player as a whole gets to be more fully utilized. Also, more balls in the gaps make for more exciting plays. More doubles, more triples, more plays on the bases in general. All of this is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.

The cookie-cutter era of baseball was weird and because teams like the Pirates, Cardinals, and Reds were good we saw a lot of it; especially in postseason play. While it looked like garbage and the crowd atmosphere in these parks just doesn’t compare to that of a modern park playoff game, there were some on-field oddities created by these that I did enjoy and actually do kind of miss.

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