ALL STAR GAME: 1958
WORLD SERIES: 1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1979, 1983 (3 wins, 3 losses)
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: I saw the Orioles play the Brewers in 1979, the Yankees in 1981, and the Royals in 1986; I also saw a Colts football game in 1982 or so.
Memorial Stadium was originally a single-deck bowl built on the site of Venable Stadium, a football facility that was built in 1922. The new structure was intended to accommodate football games (especially the NFL Baltimore Colts) as well as the minor league Orioles, with the ultimate hope of attracting a major league baseball team. The diamond was moved from the north to the south side, reoriented toward due north. After the St. Louis Browns franchise was sold and began the transfer to Baltimore (to be renamed the Orioles), a second deck was hurriedly added in time for the 1954 season. This was an anomolous west-to-east migration in an era when east coast teams were heading west. The stadium was not really up to Major League standards, however. Most notably, a large proportion of the seats were mere bleacher-type benches, especially in the upper deck. (Sections with bench seats are indicated by gray lines in the diagrams above.) This deficiency was gradually rectified over the years, but it was not until the 1980s that individual seats were installed throughout the upper deck. In addition, much of the outfield was dark during night games in the early years, necessitating the construction of big new light towers later in the 1950s.
In spite of its origins as a football stadium, Memorial Stadium was reasonably well suited for baseball, and became known primarily as a venue for the latter sport. It was similar to other dual-use stadiums with ovoid shape -- Cleveland's Municipal Stadium and Montreal's Olympic Stadium -- except that it was "compressed" laterally, like a football, creating a sharp "bend" in the grandstand behind home plate. In an architectural innovation for the mid-20th Century, the huge upper deck of Memorial Stadium was supported by reinforced concrete columns rather than bare steel beams. It was one of the last baseball stadiums with such supporting columns, which put all fans sitting the upper decks closer to the diamond while obstructing the view for some lower-deck fans. Memorial Stadium was the first "baseball" stadium without any roof, which meant that fans in the upper decks really suffered on hot summer days. In contrast, since the upper deck covered most of the lower deck, most of the fans in the lower deck had it "made in the shade."
The distinctive stylistic features of Memorial Stadium were the massive brick exterior wall and a huge plaque on the exterior south side memorializing American soldiers and sailors from World War I and II. Though it was part of the trend toward bland baseball-football hybrid stadiums of the 1960s, Memorial Stadium was aesthetically appealing. The tree-covered grass slope behind center field and the residential neighborhood visible in the distance created a friendly ambience, almost like Wrigley Field. The downside of the urban location was the traffic nightmares one had to endure getting there and back.
The temptingly short distances to right and left field corners (309 feet*) were partly offset by the relatively high (14-foot) walls, which sharply receded from the foul lines at a 135 degree angle. The original outfield distances were enormous, rivaling the Polo Grounds, and center field was marked by a hedgeline with only a flimsy fence in front of it. For the first two months, in April and May 1954, there was no center field fence at all! An inner fence was added in 1958, resulting in a more "normal" baseball field shape. From then on, there were only minor changes in outfield dimensions. The seats in the outer reaches of the grandstand "horseshoe" were well over 100 feet from the playing field, demonstrating the awkwardness that results from compromising between baseball and football seating. As in most stadiums built for football, there was a huge amount of foul territory, especially during the 1950s. For some occasions, such as the 1958 All Star Game, temporary "box seat" bleachers were added between the dugouts and the foul poles, thereby displacing the bullpens. They added about ten extra rows of permanent box seats into that space in 1961, reducing the distance behind home plate by 20 feet; the bullpens were moved in back of the fence in the power alleys as well. In 1964 the upper deck was extended by about fifty feet on both ends near the foul poles. By the 1970s a new scoreboard was installed beyond deep left-center field, and additional exit ramps were built around the periphery, but otherwise very little changed at Memorial Stadium.
* Some doubt exists about that distance. In the late 1980s someone used a laser measuring device and determined that the actual foul line dimension was slightly over 303 feet.
Memorial Stadium was the scene of many memorable seasons of baseball glory. Slowly but surely, the lowly former Browns climbed in the standings in the late 1950s. In 1966 they finally reached the World Series, and swept the Dodgers in four games, thanks in large part to third baseman Brooks Robinson and slugger Frank Robinson, who had been foolishly traded away by the Reds. The pitching arm of another Hall of Famer, Jim Palmer, kept the Orioles at or near the top through the early 1980s, at which point Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken took up the mantle of team leadership. With six American League pennants and three World Series titles in less than 20 years, Baltimore for a time rivaled St. Louis as the most successful smaller-sized major league baseball city. Rather ironic, given that the Orioles had "migrated" from that very same city! After the Washington Senators left town in 1972, many D.C.-area residents came to regard the Orioles as a virtual "home team."
After Edward Bennett Williams bought the Orioles in 1979, a few minor enhancements were made, as part of an understanding that a new baseball-only stadium would be built eventually. In 1986 a new Diamondvision video board was installed on the far slope to the right of center field. Some time in the mid-to-late 1980s a large annex was built on the southwest side of the stadium.
The Baltimore Colts played football in Memorial Stadium from 1953 to 1983; the capacity for football games was about 60,000. The exact position of the gridiron shifted from time to time; in some years the gridiron was positioned closer to the south end, so that a gap had to be carved out of the grandstands where the dugouts were. On December 19, 1976, a small plane crashed into the upper deck shortly after the Colts lost an NFL playoff game to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries.
CINEMA: An exterior shot of Memorial Stadium was used in the movie Brian's Song (1971).
The Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro American League played four home games in Memorial Stadium in 1950, just as the league was dissolved.
After the Orioles moved into their new ballpark at Camden Yards in 1992, Memorial Stadium lay in disuse for two years, and then got a brief second life when the Canadian Football League created an expansion CFL franchise in Baltimore, the Stallions. The extra-large size CFL gridiron necessitated removal of the small center field bleachers. That franchise was displaced in 1996 when the Cleveland Browns' owner Art Modell moved his team to Baltimore. (It was the second team named "Browns" to relocate to Baltimore and change their name!) The Stallions relocated to Montreal, becoming the "Alouettes," while the Browns were obliged to changed their name to the "Ravens." A large temporary bleacher section with about 5,000 additional seats was built on the north end of the field, and the Diamondvision video screen-scoreboard was removed. For the two years the Ravens played there, the gridiron was shifted about 20 yards toward the north; reasons for this change are not clear. Other temporary bleachers were installed in front of the single-deck (outfield) portion of the grandstand, in an awkward fit that left gaps of several feet. Evidently, the tailor-made movable seating sections that the Baltimore Colts used to use for that purpose were no longer available. In 1998 the Ravens moved into brand-new (state subsidized) "PSINet Stadium," but that high-tech firm went bankrupt and the team had to pay them to remove that name, which was changed to "M & T Bank Stadium." (Like the Astros and Enron!) Meanwhile, back at 34th Street in north-central Baltimore, the demolition crews put an end to Memorial Stadium during the spring of 2001. Historic preservationists protested, and rightly so, given the very name Memorial Stadium, which was meant to honor World War I and II veterans. As a compromise, a reduced-size portion of the huge engraved metal plaque on the stadium's south side was preserved for posterity, located on the southeast corner of Camden Yards.
SOURCES: Lowry (1992, 2006), Pastier (2007), Ritter (1992), Gershman (1993), Dow (2002)
FAN TIPS: Ken Levin, Kevin Johnson, John Pastier