GREY CUP CFL GAMES: 1982 ARTIFICIAL TURF: always? 1977-1999
Snow covered the field on the very first day major league ball was played in Exhibition Stadium, on April 7, 1977. Although local folks were enthusiastic about the expansion Blue Jays franchise, the city of Toronto lacked enough hard cash to build a decent new baseball stadium. Instead, they simply expanded the existing football stadium that had originally been built in 1959 for the Toronto Argonauts. (Note the much longer field size used in the Canadian Football League: 110 yards plus 25 yards in each end zone.) The capacity for football games was 53,816. The scoreboard was positioned near the northeast corner of the end zone, making room for a movable bandshell used in concerts.
The results of this expedient expansion were rather bizarre, with the original football stadium taking on the role of left field "bleachers," extending far beyond center field. The back-row seats in the far end were over 300 feet from the baseball field! (Many of those seats were apparently not included in the official capacity of 43,737; the biggest-ever baseball attendance here was nearly 48,000.) Another oddity is that more than half of the seating area on the first-base side of the grandstand was composed of bleacher-style benches. The seating capacity rose by over 5,000 prior to the 1978 season, suggesting that construction may not have been complete when the Blue Jays first played here. The huge single-deck uncovered grandstand built for baseball was remarkably similar to Jarry Park, which closed just before this stadium opened. One difference from that other humble quasi-temporary venue was that this stadium had a much bigger press box / luxury suite section.
Exhibition Stadium stood out in an even bigger way, however: it was the only baseball stadium ever built with a roof over the bleachers but none over the grandstand. Of all the football stadiums used for baseball, it was the next to worst suited for baseball, a lousy compromise that left spectators of both sports dissatisfied. Why the existing roofed grandstand was not better incorporated for baseball purposes into the expanded stadium design is uncertain. The hypothetical alternative diagram above, in which the older grandstand is roughly parallel to the third base line, explores one such possibility. The first 15 or so rows of the grandstand in right field would be retractable, like at Candlestick Park, which was similarly expanded during the same decade. At least that way they would have economized, not having had to build so many additional seating sections.
Like most other stadiums of that era, the turf was artificial and the field dimensions were perfectly symmetrical, even though the overall stadium structure itself was extremely oblong. Like Olympic Stadium and several other stadiums built in the 1970s and 80s, the "dugouts" were actually at ground level, i.e., not dug out. There was one very positive aspect of Exhibition Stadium: its convenient location near downtown in a lovely park along the Lake Ontario waterfront.
Besides serving as home of the CFL Argonatus, Exhibition Stadium hosted the Grey Cup championship game many times. The last such event there was in 1982, in the midst of miserable freezing-rain conditions.
The Blue Jays won only one divisional title during the twelve full seasons that they played in this stadium, in 1985. Like Arlington Stadium in Texas, it was just a bland, make-do venue for a franchise lacking in means. The Blue Jays played their last game there on May 28, 1989, and moved into to nearby Skydome a week later. Soon the team's fortunes skyrocketed! Exhibition Stadium was demolished in February 1999, and a few years later a new soccer stadium was built in its place: BMO Field, which opened in 2007 as the home of the Toronto FC.
SOURCES: Lowry (2006); Pastier (2007); argonauts.ca; cfl.ca/greycupcentral/year/1982; www.bmofield.com
FAN TIPS: Paul Thompson