Sunday, September 21, 2014
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Baker Bowl, first home of the Phillies, partially collapses; 12 killed

One of the greatest tragedies in the history of American sports occurred in August 8, 1903, during a Phillies/Braves doubleheader at Baker Bowl, the original home of the Philadelphia Phillies. A makeshift balcony that was part of the third base stands collapsed, killing twelve people and injuring 232. The accident was apparently caused when a crowd of fans moved to watch a fight outside the ballpark. The disaster ultimately led to the end of wood as a major building material in ballparks. Baker Bowl was informally known as the "Philadelphia Base Ball Park" and "Huntingdon Street Grounds, National League Park" was its official name. It gradually came to be known as Baker Bowl after William F. Baker, owner of the Phillies between 1913 and 1930.

Baker Bowl, first home of the Phillies, partially collapses; 12 killed

The bleachers of the Baker Bowl in 1915. (Wikimedia Commons)
The bleachers of the Baker Bowl in 1915. (Wikimedia Commons)

One of the greatest tragedies in the history of American sports occurred in August 8, 1903, during a Phillies/Braves doubleheader at Baker Bowl, the original home of the Philadelphia Phillies. A makeshift balcony that was part of the third base stands collapsed, killing twelve people and injuring 232. The accident was apparently caused when a crowd of fans moved to watch a fight outside the ballpark. The disaster ultimately led to the end of wood as a major building material in ballparks. 

Baker Bowl was informally known as the "Philadelphia Base Ball Park" and "Huntingdon Street Grounds, National League Park" was its official name. It gradually came to be known as Baker Bowl after William F. Baker, owner of the Phillies between 1913 and 1930.

Originally opened in 1887, the park was located alongside Broad Street in North Philadelphia between Lehigh Avenue and Huntingdon Street. This was the first ballpark to offer pavilion seating for spectators and the first with outside walls built entirely of brick instead of wood. 

The park suffered a tremendous fire and burned to the ground only eight years later. When substantially rebuilt in 1895, the new arena was the first to be constructed with a cantilever design, then a radically new architectural technique in stadium construction. Incorporating a series of fifteen 30-foot iron girders supporting the platforms and roof of the upper deck, this design eliminated the support columns that cause the obstructed views at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. 

The rebuilt structure was hailed as the "first modern ballpark" built for baseball and the nation's finest stadium. It was also the first ballpark to be constructed primarily of steel and brick. The double-decked grandstand was built of steel, brick and concrete to prevent future fires. The park featured outer brick walls on all four sides and three wide steel stairways between decks. Its seating capacity ranged from 18,800 to 20,000 during its second, much longer and more storied lifetime. 

Baker Bowl hosted the Phillies and the Red Sox at the first World Series game ever attended by a U.S. President: Woodrow Wilson, along with his fiancée, Mrs. Edith Gait. This was the second game of the 1915 games, which also featured the first World Series appearance by Babe Ruth. Babe grounded out as a ninth-inning pinch hitter for the Red Sox. 

Twenty years later, Ruth made his last appearance in a major league game in the same arena. Playing for the Boston Braves, he took himself out of the lineup after the first inning of the first game of a doubleheader with the Phillies on May 30, 1935. Pitcher Jim Bivin spent only one year in the majors, but is immortalized in the annals of baseball trivia as the last man to face the Babe in a major league game.

Baker Bowl was also the site of many Negro League baseball games. The Hilldale Daisies from Darby, Pennsylvania, often played there in the 1920s and 1930s. Negro League World Series games were played at the ballpark from 1924 to 1926.

In addition, between 1933 and 1935, Baker Bowl was the home field of the Philadelphia Eagles football club—the team's first three years as an NFL franchise. Thus, Baker Bowl became the first dual-use stadium for professional sports in Pennsylvania, an idea that would be formally resurrected with the construction of Veterans Stadium for the Phillies and the Eagles in 1971. 

Despite the revolutionary design and construction methods Baker Bowl incorporated when built, the ballpark was badly outmoded and in serious disrepair by the 1930s. With mediocre teams, scant attendance and poor finances, the Phillies had no money to put into maintaining or renovating the structure.

The club finally abandoned Baker Bowl in 1938 and moved down Lehigh Avenue to Shibe Park—home of the Philadelphia Athletics—where the Phillies remained until 1970. Baker Bowl was used for many activities after the Phillies left, including midget auto races, before finally being demolished in 1950.

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