When The Post’s deputy design director, Brian Gross, came to me looking to revive an idea for an interactive graphic featuring the 30 major-league baseball ballparks, we settled on a three-pronged approach. It would be part interactive checklist, part travel guide and part ranking — because, let’s be honest, sports fans love disagreeing with rankings.
I tapped five of The Post’s most knowledgeable baseball folks to create a composite ranking from a diverse set of viewpoints. Adam Kilgore and Dave Sheinin have covered both the AL and NL. Chelsea Janes brought both youth and a current beat writer’s opinion to the table. Lacy Lusk, a Post copy editor and Baseball America contributor, has been to all 30 parks as a fan. They each willingly sent in a 1-to-30, which we used as part of the fascinating final product.
Columnist Thomas Boswell, as any Post reader knows, practically breathes baseball. Asking him to rank the 30 ballparks could not be more in his wheelhouse, and he enjoyed the project so much that he sent me not just a ranking, but commentary on how he arrived at his choices. He revised it three times. Rather than leave it on the editing-room floor, we present Boz’s insights here, as a complement to the interactive.
— Keith McMillan
I divide them into four almost-equal groups: Great, excellent, very good and okay-to-poor. This is the age of great ballparks. That’s why only six parks are ranked worse than very good. No sport has ever seen anything like the high-quality stadium building that has happened since Camden Yards opened in 1992.
1. Pittsburgh. Spectacular skyline. Intimate. Feels like PNC Park has been there forever. Clemente Bridge from downtown is a unique experience, walking in from downtown. Maybe most important: Every seat is a “best seat in the house,” and a higher percentage of seats have a breathtaking view than any park.
2. San Francisco. I’d put AT&T Park ahead of Pittsburgh except the spectacular views of bridges and bay are in the upper deck. You don’t see anything special from the lower deck except that big glove and soda bottle in left field. Also, I’ve always considered the dimensions “misshapen” rather than idiosyncratic. Pittsburgh’s outfield is quirky in a good, understated way; the Giants’ Triples Alley is distorted. McCovey Cove, just far enough away for the very longest homers to splash in it, is an inspired design stroke that no other park has equaled, although “Hit the Warehouse” in Baltimore is a contender for Best Slugger Target.
3. Boston. Now that Fenway Park has been renovated, it’s almost as good as its reputation. No matter how many times you go, it doesn’t get old. Lot of great seats. But a lot of awful seats, too, in right field bleachers and far down the right field line. The neighborhood is more BoSox Theme Park now than it used to be when it was gritty, authentic and the phrase Red Sox Nation hadn’t been invented. But, if you’re a baseball fan, or even if you’re not, it is magical.
4. Baltimore. Oriole Park is the most influential park in baseball history. It impresses me anew every time I go. Fenway edges it because it has so much more fabulous history. The Os, since Camden Yards opened, haven’t gotten past the American League Championship Series. Although Ripken’s Streak gives it a big piece of history.
This park is so fundamentally in touch with the spirit of the game that 15 of the other MLB parks, including Nos. 1 and 2, essentially copied its old-becomes-new ambiance — and, to varying degrees, every one of them is a success. Oriole Park at Camden Yards is the reason that this list exists and why baseball is the only sport where the pleasure of the venues may rival the game itself.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers. Just went back to Dodger Stadium last year. Wow! It needs even more money pumped into it, but what a setting. And classic fabulous architecture that I’ve never seen imitated successfully except in Matanzas, Cuba. Also, the park “plays” very fairly — a pitcher’s park, but not extreme. The perfect home for both Koufax and Kershaw.
6. Chicago Cubs. Wrigley Field, for decades, was the biggest ballpark disappointment in MLB for me. Dingy. The “panoramic” views are mundane. It’s pretty, quaint, but not thrilling. But they’ve helped it a lot in recent years. The neighborhood is nice for walking. The Ricketts family may ruin “Wrigleyville,” and the ambiance around the park, if they try to milk every last dollar out of it. We’ll see how that goes with a mega-hotel across the street, etc. But the ivy, the brick, the scoreboard built by a young Bill Veeck are still wonderful — a time machine. Still, I’m glad the 21st century arrived to fix it up.
7. New York Yankees. They almost ruined it with the “new” Yankee Stadium. It will never be as good as the old place. In its worst elements, it’s a crass cash factory for the rich. In its best elements, it still feels like its Yankee Stadium, white facade and all. The park doesn’t “play” as well as it once did with far too many cheap home runs to right and right-center field. The Babe would hit 75 homers in this bandbox.
8. St. Louis. No place loves baseball as much as St. Louis or puts it in such a high spot in its civic pecking order. The Arch in center field at Busch Stadium is a stunning touch. It isn’t the San Gabriel Mountains outside Dodger Stadium. But it gives a unique sense of place. Great seating. It was built late in the ballpark boom, so lessons learned in other parks were used here, like open concourses so you can see the action as you walk around the park.
New Busch is one of the parks to benefit from engineering insights into what seating capacity, in what configuration, is most conducive to a weight-bearing design that allows the most seats that are closest to the field. This includes upper-deck seats that are much closer to the field than older “new parks” like Coors Field and Progressive Field. Nats Park was built from the same blueprints (I saw them) and has the same cozy-seating benefits. By using different materials, you get a modernist look in D.C.
9. Seattle. Everybody loves its elegant emerald green and its views of the city and Puget Sound from the upper deck. The retractable roof is the least aesthetically offensive in MLB — a backhanded compliment. It’s needed in the Northwest, but also keeps this park out of my top eight. I never quite love it. However, being close to downtown Seattle is a major plus. Being part of the urban fabric of a great city is why Safeco Field is ahead of ….
10. Philadelphia. I’ve seen tons of games in Citizens Bank Park and like it just as much as I did the previous time. The city skyline in the distance is excellent. It makes you forget there’s nothing around the whole Sports Complex area (besides the NFL and NBA/NHL facilities). It’s cozy and warm — feels like a town that really “gets” baseball, right down to Ashburn’s Alley. Maybe this yard is partial compensation for so many awful teams since 1883.
11. Everybody praises San Diego’s park. I agree. I once spent two days at Petco Park to compare/grade it vs. Nationals Park, because I thought it would be a close call. I made a list of Better Park virtues. I preferred Nats Park, but only if the final phases of the Southeast waterfront project in D.C. were a major success so that the Nats neighborhood topped San Diego’s. D.C. hasn’t done it yet, but I think it probably will.
One reason: the views of Washington from the upper deck are the best view of all of the Washington area from any spot except the top of the Washington Monument. Some fans never go up there. That’s their problem. Larry Lucchino, who was the force behind Camden Yards and Petco Park, as well as the Fenway refurb, walked Nats Park with me and said, “This is one of the three best upper decks in baseball. It’s even breezy up here. And you need that in summer in D.C.”
12. Washington. Nationals Park is the first park done in a modernist architectural style. It takes its inspiration from I.M. Pei’s East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, and succeeds. The South Capitol Street and first-base sides of the park are gleaming, sleek glass, steel and limestone, which match the marble look of Washington’s city of monuments. Too bad the Metro entrance is in left field; many fans and visitors never see the best three-quarters of one of the most attractive exteriors in MLB. On the inside, the park is seldom given credit for its clean, uncluttered lines and perfect dimensions which, year-after-year, offer the best hitter-pitcher balance in MLB. Many hoped for U.S. Capitol views. They’re gone. However, the upper deck has panoramic views of D.C., Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac. What few fans anticipated was the creation of a knockout two-mile-long river walk beside a cleaned-up Anacostia River, bordered by parks, fountains, restaurants and a booming affluent neighborhood. But it arrived. I prefer the tradeoff. Forget the dome. Spend an hour walking the Southeast waterfront and you may declare it the best neighborhood in baseball!
13. Minnesota. Devoted, dome-suffering Twins fans deserve this lovely park. Minneapolis appreciates architecture and the downtown views beyond right field are excellent. I walked the parks and environs for two days at the All-Star Game and while I liked it a lot, I’m biased against parks where high, steep grandstands wrap around too much of the outfield, making the experience a bit enclosed, claustrophobic from too many seats. The Warehouse District is a plus. But the 10 blocks to the Mississippi River means there’s no real waterfront connection. So, the Anacostia Riverwalk, which starts 250 feet from the Nationals Park right-field foul pole, and panoramic upper deck views in D.C., broke a deadlock with Target Field.
14. Colorado. Coors Field is very pretty, in a wonderful part of Denver, and on a clear day from the upper deck you can see the Rocky Mountains. But only from the upper deck and only on a clear day. Unfortunately, playing baseball in mile-high altitude is an abomination against the game. It’s not Denver’s fault, but it’s a major demerit. Distant fences, to compensate for altitude, plus a too-large capacity, give Colorado 15,000 very remote seats.
15. Houston is a retractable dome that’s only a semi-kiss-of-death. I like the Astros park more than most folks. I don’t mind the fluky Crawford Boxes. I liked Tal’s Hill in its day. I even like the train. The place makes me happy. Is that wrong? You walk right into the main level from downtown.
16. Cleveland’s park is classy and stands up well with time. The ’16 World Series seemed right at home there. It’s confident. It says “baseball.” There’s nothing ugly in view. But there are no memorable panoramas or a superior river walk; the neighborhood is fine, but not exciting. Built in ’94, it feels like the very best of ’49 — a mixed blessing that says, “Middle of the pack.”
Very good ballparks
17. Kansas City used to be in my top 10 easily. Then they screwed the place up by destroying most of their outfield water features and chopping up the beautiful sweep of outfield architecture. It’s is by far the most damage that I have ever seen done to a wonderful sports facility by people who, I am sure, had the best intentions. I’ve tried through an All-Star Game and two World Series to make my peace with the place. I can’t. I want to scream, “All that this place had going for it, out here in West Nowhere, was gorgeous design and the water fountains at night — but that was enough!”
18. Cincinnati. People say it was built on the cheap. They say it looks like the circus came to town with pinwheels and riverboat restaurants above the outfield. They say the Ohio River beyond right field is brown. They say it’s an uphill walk back to downtown. They say … oh, gimme a break. I like it. It’s an enthusiastic homer-happy little park that feels open — to the sky, weather, views of the (muddy) river.
19. New York Mets. Nice rotunda. An ex-Mets manager, who still loves the Mets, said it all after he saw the new digs for the first time: “Could they possibly crap it up any more with all that signage everywhere? It hurts your eyes to look at the darn place. But, yeah, it’s real nice park, otherwise. And it sure beats the heck out of that [dump] Shea.” The street of crummy auto chop shops 30 yards from the park is a touch. Oh, and the jets still scream over it.
20. Detroit. Good, solid park. I love the statues of Tigers with giant baseballs in their mouths outside the park. Detroit deserves something with bearing and endurance about it. The park works. However, to accommodate a distant downtown view, they tolerated two eyesores — an garage and the drab-brown-box Detroit Athletic Club — directly behind the center field fence, where you look at them for hours. And, God, I loved old Tiger Stadium. The upper-deck seats behind home plate were The Best Spot in Baseball, so close you could hear the hitter talk to the ump. The new suffers by comparison with the old.
21. Milwaukee. They draw tons of fans. Every year. I consider that evidence that the park is much better than I think it is. At least the dome — always a rankings-buster for me — is retractable. (Is the roof leak fixed?)
22. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. I like the fake rocks and water in center field. Everybody knocks it. I kind of like it. A lot of red. The huge attendance must mean it serves its function very well. It’s located in Nowhere and looks at Nothing. Okay, it’s easy to get to Disneyland. But I’ve been.
23. Atlanta. It looks very nice on TV. It doesn’t look special. I look forward to seeing it in person and revising my opinion.
24. Texas. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, I enjoyed both World Series I covered there. The outfield grandstands have a good, traditional feel. Unfortunately, it is right next to the Jerry Jones Ego Museum, the most hideous wretched excess in sports. But it makes the Rangers’ park look tasteful by comparison.
Okay to poor ballparks
25. Miami. Okay, here are the (relative) losers. I have a good friend, a former college pitcher, who loves the Fish Bowl with its bright colors. He likes the hideous sculpture in center field. He enjoys … whatever, maybe I’m a little wrong on this. But my family loves Miami. It rivals Chicago as our favorite U.S. city. But the Marlins ballpark is not “Miami architecture” or “Miami style.” It is visual junk food. I look forward to seeing the place in person and I hope, for my sake, that I can change my mind because now, whenever I watch a game on TV, I start by screaming, “Nooooooo!”
26. Arizona. Come on, it isn’t that bad. If I lived there, I could go to games there — and enjoy myself. Not as much as at two dozen other ballparks. But I could enjoy it. When the roof is open. Otherwise, dungeon.
27. Chicago White Sox. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf got the stadium he deserved for being one of prime movers on the owner’s side in the Strike of ’94.
28. Toronto. The Blue Jays also have huge attendance. What happened, did they blow the roof off the Skydome?
29. Oakland. At least it’s outdoors. And there are people who like it, even some who like it a lot, including friends who’ve taken me to games there. Mount Davis in center field is not my idea of a baseball park. To each his own.
30. Tampa Bay. Blow it up. Oh, that’s been suggested since the day it opened? Sorry.