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Must-Click Link: the amazing White Sox ballpark that never was

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We talk a lot about ballparks and ballpark construction around here. About public financing, threats of teams to move, the economic benefits of new parks and the aesthetic choices of ballpark designers. If these topics even remotely interest you, boy howdy, should you set aside some time today to read this brilliant piece by CBS’ Dayn Perry.

It’s a story about the Chicago White Sox and their three ballparks. “Wait, Craig,” you exclaim, “the Sox have only had two parks in the last 108 years? Comiskey Park and New Comiskey/WhateverTheHeckTheyCallItNow park.” “Ah yes,” I reply. “But you’re overlooking Armour Park.”

Armour Park was never built. But it was designed in the 1980s by an architect named Philip Bess. Bess applied for and received a grant to design a ballpark concept which would fit nicely into an existing neighborhood, combining the beauty of the old classic ballparks but which would have modern conveniences we now take for granted. It wasn’t something the White Sox knew about ahead of time — this was a labor of love and intellectual curiosity for Bess — but the design did get in front of Jerry Reinsdorf and various White Sox and Chicago officials. They didn’t care for it and it was rejected and they decided to go with New Comiskey Park instead.

What they rejected, though, was brilliant. Brilliant aesthetically and brilliant in design and conception. It integrated itself into the South Side neighborhood that New Comiskey would eventually disrupt and, as Perry convincingly argues, would actually have provided a lot of urban renewal and economic benefit that the new ballparks are always promised to deliver but never actually do.

In addition to providing an almost painfully tantalizing glimpse at what could’ve been for the White Sox, Perry’s story makes a lot of points people tend to overlook about the post-Camden Yards ballparks. For example, while people speak highly of the new wave of ballparks because they tend to be located in downtown areas, they really aren’t any more “neighborhood ballparks” than their poured concrete multipurpose predecessors were. Their footprint is still huge, parking still rules and in many subtle ways they are aimed at drawing people away from surrounding neighborhoods rather than toward them. If you doubt this, make sure you read the part of the story in which Perry discusses the original ideas for Camden Yards. Short version: it ended up being cool by sheer accident. HOK, credited with the retro-park boom, actually preferred something that looked way more like Veterans’ Stadium than what O’s fans now know and love.

At the same time, while often lauded for their aesthetics and idiosyncrasies, the new ballparks are pretty dang phony in a lot of ways. There’s a reason why Fenway Park has the Green Monster: it has to have it because of the size of the plot of land on which it sits. The current parks’ “quirks,” like the Crawford Boxes in Houston or the deep outfield dimensions of Comerica Park are manufactured to add character and variation on what are, in essence if not actual design, still cookie-cutter parks on parcels of land that do more to disrupt neighborhoods than enhance them. Put differently: the best ballparks, like Fenway and Wrigley, are built in neighborhoods. The newer ones tend to have neighborhoods built around ballparks. There is a difference.

Perry’s story is a long one — set aside at least a half hour or so for it — but it’s so well-constructed and touches on so many interrelated aspects of ballpark design that it has to be that long. It’s definitely worth your time.

Derek Jeter calls Bryant Gumbel “mentally weak”

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Derek Jeter has not covered himself in glory since taking over the Miami Marlins. His reign atop the team’s baseball operations department has been characterized by the slashing of payroll in order to help his new ownership group make more money amid some pretty crushing debt service by virtue of what was, in effect, the leveraged buyout of the club. A club which is now 5-16 and seems destined for five months more and change of some pretty miserable baseball.

Jeter has nonetheless cast the moves the Marlins have made as good for fans in the long run. And, yes, I suppose it’s likely that things will be better in the long run, if for no other reason than they cannot be much worse. Still, such reasoning, while often accepted when a lesser light like, say, White Sox GM Rick Hahn employs it, isn’t accepted as easily when a guy who has been defined by his hand full of championship rings offers it. How can Derek Jeter, of all people, accept losing?

That’s the question HBO’s Bryant Gumbel asked of Jeter in an interview that aired over the weekend (see the video at the end of the post). How can he accept — and why should fans accept — a subpar baseball product which is not intended to win? Jeter’s response? To claim that the 2018 Marlins are totally expected to win and that Gumbel himself is “mentally weak” for not understanding it:

JETER: “We’re trying to win ball games every day.”

GUMBEL: “If you trade your best players in exchange for prospects it’s unlikely you’re going to win more games in the immediate future–”

JETER: “When you take the field, you have an opportunity to win each and every day. Each and every day. You never tell your team that they’re expected to lose. Never.”

GUMBEL: “Not in so–”

JETER: “Now, you can think — now– now, I can’t tell you how you think. Like, I see your mind. I see that’s how you think. I don’t think like that. That’s your mind working like that.”

. . .

DEREK JETER: “You don’t. We have two different mi– I can’t wait to get you on the golf course, man. We got– I mean, I can’t wait for this one.”

BRYANT GUMBEL: “No, I mean–”

DEREK JETER: “You’re mentally weak.”

I sort of get what Jeter was trying to do here. He was trying to take this out the realm of second guessing among people who know some stuff about sports and subtly make it an appeal to authority, implying that he was an athlete and that only he, unlike Gumbel, can understand that mindset and competitiveness of the athlete. That’s what the “get you on the golf course” jazz was about. Probably worth noting at this point that that tack has never worked for Michael Jordan as a basketball executive, even if his singular competitiveness made him the legend he was on the court. An executive makes decisions which can and should be second-guessed, and it seems Jeter cannot handle that.

That being said, Gumbel did sort of open the door for Jeter to do that. Suggesting that baseball players on the 2018 Marlins don’t expect to win is not the best angle for him here because, I am certain, if you ask those players, they would say much the same thing Jeter said. That’s what makes them athletes.

No, what Gumbel should have asked Jeter was “of COURSE you tell your players to win and of COURSE they try their hardest and think they can win every night. My question to you is this: did YOU try YOUR hardest to get the BEST players? And if not, why not?”

Question him like you’d question Rick Hahn. Not like you’d question Future Hall of Fame Shortstop, Derek Jeter.