ALL STAR GAME: 1936 LIGHTS: 1946
WORLD SERIES: 1915 (Red Sox), 1916 (Red Sox), 1948 (2 W, 1 L)
Braves Field was the last of the "classic era" ballparks, i.e., those built in the years up to World War I, but it was also the FIRST of that era to be closed down. Like Fenway Park, located less than a mile away, it only had a single deck, but it was truly mammoth in proportions, giving Braves Field the biggest seating capacity of any baseball stadium until Yankee Stadium was built eight years later. There was a very large roof that covered most of the main grandstand, and along both foul lines there was an uncovered "pavilion." A small bleacher section in right field came to be known as the "jury box" because one day there were only twelve fans sitting out there. Unlike Fenway Park, the original field dimensions were enormous, 402 feet to the left field corner and 440 feet to center field. The deep corner in far right center field was about 520 feet from home plate, but that area (which had a slope in front of the perimeter wall) was often fenced off, as standing room for patrons. The field was designed this way because the team's owner favored base-running-intensive games with lots of triples and the occasional inside-the-park home run.
In August 1914, as German armies swept across Belgium and northern France, the Braves abandoned old South End Grounds and moved into Fenway Park, and remained there as temporary tenants of the Red Sox until Braves Field was completed in August 1915. They played the 1914 World Series in Fenway Park and then repaid the favor by letting the Red Sox use brand-new Braves Field during the World Series in both 1915 and 1916. (See Shared & borrowed stadiums.)
During the 1920s, as Babe Ruth's torrent of home runs changed the very nature of baseball, fans began demanding more of this new kind of bicep-powered action. So, in 1928 the Braves moved in the fences substantially, added bleacher sections in left field and center field, and turned the diamond clockwise, resulting in a very short distance to the right field foul pole. That caused too many home runs, however, so they quickly readjusted the fences again and removed several rows of those new bleachers. In almost every year from the late 1920s until the early 1940s, the outfield dimensions changed, but much uncertainty remains over the exact sequence of these changes, and whether they may have remeasurements or merely spurious figures. In 1937 they blasted out a triangular section of the right field pavilion to bring the distance to the right field corner back up to a respectable distance, usually about 320 feet. (From 1936 to 1941 the Braves were called the "Bees," and their stadium was renamed accordingly.) The center field distance over the years is a mystery. According to Lowry's Green Cathedrals (2006), it was 417 feet as of July 1928, when the bleachers were either reduced in size or removed, and then reduced to 387 the next year. Supposedly it was increased to 417 feet again in 1933, but I have seen a video of Babe Ruth playing for the Braves in 1935, and it shows a distance marker of 387. It was supposedly reduced to 370 feet in 1943, then raised in 1944 and 1945, and then reduced to 370 again in 1946, when a new 20-foot fence was built. That is the same year that lights were installed, and I have seen a photo showing a 390 marker to the right of center field, near one of the light towers, and it seems unlikely that they would move such a tall fence. Two years later that fence was raised to 25 feet in height. Given that I have seen no photographs showing a 370 marker, I am suspicious that that was the actual distance. In any case, the outfield dimensions more or less settled down after World War II. At some point in the late 1940s (probably 1948, the World Series year), three rows of box seats were added in front of the grandstand beyond the two dugouts, and in front of both pavilions.
One of the problems with Braves Field was that there was usually a strong wind blowing in from center field, making it very hard to hit the ball very far. This resulted from the fact that the stadium was situated rather close to the Charles River, which was a sort of funnel for ocean breezes. (It reminds you of Candlestick Park.) The stadium was also right next to a major railroad switching yard, with the tracks paralleling the left field outer wall. The smoke from the locomotives often clouded the field, so they planted a row of fir trees to block this unsightliness, to little avail. On the plus side, Braves Field was easy to get to, with trolleys stopping right in back of the stadium. This vast, wide-open stadium design with a very shallow incline left many fans far from the action and seemed better suited for football games. There was no other baseball stadium like it.
There were no more World Series games in Braves Field until 1948, when the Cleveland Indians beat the Braves in the first-ever all-Native American mascot World Series. (The Braves got their revenge when the two teams had their "rematch" in 1995.) If the Red Sox had not lost to the Cleveland Indians in a tie-breaking American League pennant playoff game in 1948, it would have been the first and only all-Boston World Series. For many years the Braves' attendance figures dwindled, especially during the 1940s when Ted Williams drew the attention of virtually all Bostonians to the Red Sox. That was too bad for the Braves' future Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn. With very little advance warning, in 1953 the Braves became the first East Coast team to pull up stakes and head west, abruptly relocating the franchise to Milwaukee. Thus, Braves Field ended its existence as a major league ballpark after a relatively short lifespan of 38 years.
In 1932 a new pro football team named the Boston Braves was formed, and they played, logically enough, in Braves Field. One year later they changed their name to the Redskins (!) and moved into Fenway Park. Boston University acquired the Braves Field property after the Braves left town in 1953, and the pavilion on the third base side and the "jury box" in right field were soon demolished. The AFL Boston Patriots played football what came to be called "Nickerson Field" from 1960 until 1962, and then -- just like the Redskins had done -- they moved into Fenway Park for a few years. After the main grandstand was demolished some time in the 1960s, the pavilion on the first base side and the adjacent office / ticket sales building was all that was left. The pavilion was extended slightly on the side closest to where the infield had been, and became the main grandstand of Nickerson Field, where the Boston University football team played until 1998, when their football program was terminated. Today it is used for soccer matches and track meets. While on a visit to Boston in August 1998, I was passing by on a commuter train and caught a fleeting glimpse of the Braves' former office / ticket sales building; I don't count that as "being there," however.
SOURCES: Lowry (1992); Ritter (1992); Gershman (1993); Spink (1947)
FAN TIPS: Bruce Orser, Mike Rodak