Ranking 30 MLB Stadiums in 30 Days: #24 Guaranteed Rate Field

1024px-thumbnailLast year, I achieved a life goal: seeing all 30 active MLB stadiums.  It’s a fleeting achievement though, which will become obsolete the moment the Atlanta Braves open their brand new stadium this April.  So now is the perfect time to rank the stadiums, since I’ll need a new ranking in only a few weeks.

Over the next 30 days, I’ll countdown the best stadiums in MLB–Turner Field included, since this is the last time I’ll ever get to rank it.

Rankings like this are inherently subjective.  I won’t try to give them a faux-objectivity by creating a point system like you’ll see in other rankings on other websites.  I also don’t rank peripheral factors like food, beer, and fan support.  I only care about the building and the location.  I’m ranking stadiums, not stadium experiences.

30. Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays)

29. Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum  (Oakland Athletics)

28. Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)

27. Rogers Centre (Toronto Blue Jays)

26. Miller Park (Milwaukee Brewers)

25. Turner Field (Atlanta Braves)

24. Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox)

In 1988, then-Baltimore Orioles President Larry Lucchino met with representatives of the architectural firm HOK (now Populous) to discuss designs for the team’s new stadium.  The HOK reps brought with them a replica of the Chicago White Sox’s replacement for Comiskey Park, slated to open in 1991.  Baseball had just emerged from a period of multi-use cookie stadiums like Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, which were drab and lifeless.  HOK tried to update the prototype by designing a cookie cutter baseball-only venue with modern amenities and, most importantly to the owners, revenue generating suites.  The result was the design for the new stadium in Chicago.  HOK hoped to replicate it throughout baseball.  With luck, the league would be filled with identical new Comiskey Parks–fully functional, modern venues that were in no way distinctive or unique.

Lucchino, of course, told them to get out and come back with something better.  It was too late for the White Sox, however, who got saddled with new stadium that was obsolete before its first birthday.  Guaranteed Rate Field (renamed last year) looks different now than it did when it opened in 1991.  The team quickly realized how badly they missed out on the 1990’s retro-ballpark craze, and they decided to renovate and make their home less antiseptic, since a new stadium wasn’t an option.  Starting in 2000, the White Sox began tinkering with what was then known as Comiskey Park and later became U.S. Cellular Field.   Arguably no baseball stadium has changed so quickly in such a short amount of time.  The blue seats became green.  A multi-layered concourse was added in the outfield.  The team added seats closer to the field and removed ones furthest away.  Outfield dimensions were changed to make them less symmetrical and to make room for new bullpens, party decks, and restaurants with a field view.  Guaranteed Rate Field is far more fan friendly now than it was in 1991, and it’s no longer the snaggletooth of new MLB stadiums.  It’s a pleasant place to watch a game, and it has almost everything a fan wants.

The White Sox play on the South Side of Chicago, amid highways, parking lots, and housing projects.  The site was chosen because it was adjacent to the old Comiskey Park, one of baseball’s old great stadiums, built in 1911 (the old home plate is still preserved on the site).  The atmosphere surrounding Guaranteed Rate Field is the inverse of Wrigleyville on Chicago’s North Side, with its walkable streets filled with neighborhood bars and overpriced townhomes.  The contrast further validates the stereotype of the White Sox as Chicago’s blue collar team.

In the run up to the Cubs’ first World Series win since 1908 last October, ESPN’s SportsCenter flashed a graphic of “Chicago’s Championships” since the last time the Cubs won.  It listed titles won by the Bulls, Bears, and Blackhawks, while completely omitting the White Sox, who ended their own multi-generational World Series drought in 2005.  It was like ESPN forgot Chicago had a second baseball team.  Symbolic and not surprising.

We are counting down the top MLB stadiums from worst to best.  It’ll be a while until we get to Wrigley Field.  The White Sox may or may not be Chicago’s forgotten baseball team, but they definitely play in Chicago’s forgotten stadium.