One of the best things about writing my Stadia features is the reader response from collectors across the country. At times these articles are a catalyst for detective work that answers questions of authenticity or location. However, they often open doors to other mysteries that Stadia enthusiasts love. This is probably because the pursuit of this genre of sports memorabilia involves greater amounts of research the further back you go. Incredibly, new knowledge on some pretty obscure places keeps popping up, most of it initiated by dedicated collectors such as yourselves.
If you’ve ever seen the show American Pickers, you’ve heard Mike Wolfe say “I’m not just buying the item, I’m buying the story.” And so many of you who have written to me over the years have had great stories to tell. Some involve memories of the ballparks I’ve profiled, while others describe the endless search for those “holy grail”-type pieces that lead us from quiet libraries or historical societies to dusty barns, rickety minor league parks and everywhere in between. Here are a few recent gems.
League Park: An East to West find
Back in November 2011, Jordan Carter of Portland, Ore., wrote me in response to my feature on the “Vermont Find” of League Park (Cleveland) seats that were sold at auction to a consortium of dealers captained by George Tahan. Jordan had obtained a set of three seats on his own, but not from the Vermont horde. He found his at an antiques store in Portland, and was intrigued as to how they’d come so far west and where else they might have been used.
An opportunity for research presented itself when Jordan learned that the father of a co-worker had worked at a Portland minor league stadium called Vaughn Street Park, which had been torn down around 1956. (This man was actually pictured in a book about the Portland Beavers when he worked with the head groundskeeper, so Jordan felt great when he verified the seats as being from Vaughn Street Park.)
Seeking more information, Jordan wrote to him, explaining that he’d found the seats as a lady was bringing them into an antique store after having just picked them up at an estate sale in Portland. She had no idea where they were from, but the figural baseball bat-and-ball logo told him they were fairly old, so his purchase (under $100) was a no-brainer. Since Vaughn Street Park had been a long-time local venue, Jordan went on a mission to connect the dots from Portland to Cleveland. (He knew that the seat design was identical to League Park, and that for many years these seats, especially the figurals, were exceedingly rare and therefore quite valuable.)
Jordan began his letter by sharing what information he already had about Vaughn Street Park (which was opened in 1901 for the Beavers, enlarged in 1905 and remodeled in 1912 to where it could seat 12,000.) Regarded as a top-of-the-line minor league park of its period, it featured “individual theater seats” in the grandstand instead of benches. It was ultimately torn down in 1956 when a nearby stadium was converted to a baseball facility, where the Beavers would move. Jordan correctly surmised that the League Park seats would have been relocated to Vaughn Street Park sometime between 1950 (League Park’s closing) and 1956.
According to Jordan’s research, the figurals at League Park, which were manufactured by Heywood Wakefield, had been installed during a 1910 remodel. He also found that Ebbets Field was supposed to have the same style seats in place for 1913 but last-minute changes prevented this occurrence (remember this fact for later!)
Jordan also revealed that he had been in contact with collectors in the Midwest and on the East Coast about the seats (while debating as to whether he should restore them). Needless to say, everyone was blown away by his find, but Jordan wanted rock-solid proof that they’d come from League Park.
And so, he sent off his letter, accompanied by photos of his seats and the ballpark, hoping to jog the former employee’s memories of 60 years before.
This correspondence would prove fruitful. The man had begun working at Vaughn Street Park when he was in grade school and continued on until he moved to California in 1961, when he was hired as the full-time groundskeeper for the Sacramento Solons.
He recalled that the seats in question were stored for a time at nearby Multnomah Stadium (later named Civic Stadium), then installed at Vaughn Street Park. As an assistant groundskeeper, he remembered refastening the dark green chairs when they came loose from the concrete. And yes, there were figural seats. He also failed to remember anyone taking seats from the park as souvenirs, or of any being made available to the public.
I’d say Jordan’s detective work really paid off, and it gave him a deeper appreciation for his acquisitions.
More insight from 1912
In a related letter, collector Eliot Knispel sent me an article from the 1912 Brooklyn Eagle newspaper discussing the new seats Charles Ebbets had “personally designed” for his new ballpark. As we can see from the image Eliot graciously provided, there was but one armrest-a figural-per row. The other seats, of curved back wood, were described as “spacious” at 17 inches in width. Apparently, Charlie didn’t install them, as they were perhaps cost prohibitive for his budget, but their twin showed up in Cleveland – and later, Portland, Oregon!
Before we finally leave League Park, I should mention the news from early 2012 that a partial restoration of the remaining grounds is slated for this year, at a projected cost of $5 million. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, plans are being finalized to restore the ticket house and a bleacher wall and create a major league-sized diamond in the footprint of the original. Included in this undertaking will be a community building with a museum, a youth baseball diamond and a field for football and soccer (and, if financially possible, a pavilion and splash park!) The money has been raised the past few years through the sale of bonds. I’m sure that all of us who love old ballparks hope that the League Park project will became a reality in the near future.
Kansas City Municipal Stadium
Which brings me to the other ballpark that’s become a popular topic with my readers, Kansas City Municipal Stadium. After a few e-mails from Kansas City area collectors telling me about their prized seats, Jerry Wilder contacted me to say that he was the owner of the 10-by-12-foot clock that stood atop the scoreboard at KC Municipal. Apparently, it came from the estate of an iron worker who was the head of the demolition team in 1973. I don’t know if it’s still available, but you can try him at email@example.com.
I’ve also had the pleasure of trading e-mails quite frequently with Nancy Finley (Charlie O’s niece), whom I portrayed in a two-part SCD interview last year. We seem to speak at least once a week (my wife is getting suspicious), and she always has something interesting to say as she continues her uphill battle to achieve what she believes is proper recognition for her uncle and her father, Carl, who basically ran the A’s organization throughout their early 1970s dynasty.
Nancy contacted me in April of this year inquiring as to whether I’d heard of the Kansas City A’s having a theme song, and whether this was common practice for teams. I told her that, to the best of my knowledge, only some teams had an actual “song.” For example, “Meet the Mets” is a great team song that has persevered from the early years, though the original lyrics have become outdated. One line was “Bring the kiddies, bring your wife, guaranteed to have the time of your life.” Not politically correct in today’s world, I’m afraid. Of course, they tried to update it in the 1980s with the line “Hot dogs, green grass, all at Shea, guaranteed to have a heckuva day!” However, since Shea no longer exists, they can’t use that, either. Oh well. Then, there’s the Yankees’ theme, “Here Come the Yankees,” which nobody knows the lyrics to, though all Bombers fans can hum the tune. Overall, “Meet the Mets” is better.
Anyway, she went on eBay and, lo and behold, she found the 45 rpm record for the KC A’s theme song by the Frank York Orchestra for around $50. Her next correspondence wasn’t as pleasant.
Apparently, Nancy had received an e-mail from a 1970s A’s fan back in March claiming that while he was on a commercial flight to Arizona to watch spring training, he noticed a full-sized World Series trophy strapped into a passenger seat on the plane! Upon closer inspection, it was revealed to be the Oakland A’s 1972 Series trophy. Some A’s execs were traveling with the trophy, and when asked by the fan what was going on, they blithely explained they’d been told to fly the trophy to Arizona for an “investment party.”
Boy, was she mad, and hurt besides. The trophy could have suffered serious damage had there been turbulence or other problems. (Not to mention that in the event of an abrupt stop, the trophy, with its many pronged golden flagpoles, could’ve skewered some innocent passenger!) Nancy felt this historic item should at least have merited a sealed and well-padded crate.
Nancy and her husband posted a blurb on Oaklandclubhouse.com decrying the event, which they believe further illustrates the distance the A’s current regime seems to have put between itself and the historic early 1970s period. Let’s just say that the Finley clan will not be touting Moneyball for picture of the year.
Finally, I really enjoyed Arnold Bailey’s fine article on Fenway’s 100th Anniversary (May 4, 2012, issue of SCD), and hope you did as well. You know, a few years ago I did a three-part series on Fenway when its future was still in doubt and the debate was raging over renovation vs. demolition. I’m glad they decided to stay because it’s still one of baseball’s jewels. And all things considered, the prices quoted Arnold for plastic seats and bricks seem rather reasonable. But you know, sometimes the best collectibles are discovered by chance, so here’s my Fenway story:
In April 2011, my wife and I decided to spend a couple of days in Boston during my school’s spring break. It was kinda cold and gloomy, and the Sox were out of town, but I asked if we could hop off the train at Kenmore Square and take a stroll around the park as part of our itinerary. Maria indulged me, and we got there in the early afternoon to find a section of Yawkey Way closed off to vehicular traffic. Upon closer inspection, I could see workers on a scaffold, gouging out brickwork about halfway up the facade. A thoroughly bored but somewhat officious police officer was stationed in the street to keep any pedestrians (there were none) from standing on the sidewalk under the falling brick chunks.
You know where this is going.
With Maria sighing mightily behind me, I jogged over to the officer and asked if I could scoop up a hunk of brick.
“No way,” he said. “Too dangerous. And why would you want that stuff anyway?” Obviously, he was not a SCD subscriber.
“Ah well, you know, history and all that,” I said wistfully. “But if that’s the way it has to be . . .”
He squinted at me for a second, then up at the workers, whose jackhammers had suddenly gone silent for a short break. “Just hurry up,” he hissed, and I glided over, deftly plucking some good-sized pieces for myself and a couple Red Sox fans I’m friendly with.
My baseball-sized chunk of Fenway now resides in a ballcube near my Fenway wooden box seat (which I paid for, let me note.) And so, just like you Stadia Collector readers out there, I’ve never forgotten that the next find might be just around the corner . . . or off the wall . . . literally. Until next time, please stay seated.