|Shibe Park's Inaugural Opening Day -- April 12, 1909|
|Philadelphia Fans arriving at Shibe
Park for its April 12, 1909 inaugural Opening Day immediately discovered
that it was totally unlike the Athletics' former home, Columbia Park, with
its wooden grandstand and 9,500 seating capacity. The new Shibe Park was a
dignified palace with rusticated bases, composite columns, arched windows
and vaulting, ornamental scrollwork, and a fabulous French Renaissance
tower with a cupola that housed the offices of A's manager Connie Mack.
But most remarkable was the simple fact that Shibe Park was the first
stadium to be built solely of steel and concrete. Prior facilities had
been constructed primarily of wood.
The dimension of the playing field were generous, with the left field foul pole measuring 378 feet from home plate, right field 340 feet, and dead center a distant 515 feet. Built at a cost of $300,000, Shibe Park opened with seats for 23,000 and under-the-bleachers parking for 200 cars. As people first took the magnificence of Shibe Park into view, it must have been hard to believe that only a year before the area had consisted of vacant lots, trees, SPCA kennels, and the notorious Philadelphia Hospital for Contagious Diseases.
George McFadden arrived at Shibe Park at 7 a.m. and was the first person in line at the ticket window. McFadden later refused a then-astronomical offer of $35.00 for his prized ticket. Amazingly, 30,162 joined McFadden in paying to get into the game, leading the Philadelphia Inquirer to report that "the greatest crowd that has ever witnessed a baseball game" paid to enter while "5,000 others gained admission by invitation, by scaling the high walls, or pressing into the grounds when the gates were rushed by surging crowds." When the last of the tickets were sold and the gates were closed, 30,000 had to be turned away. The angry crowd outside the park tried to storm the gates and pelted ticket windows before police broke up the melee.
Inside the park, a double-decked grandstand hugged the infield in a half-hexagon and open-decked bleachers continued down each foul line. The 10,000 grandstand tickets sold for one dollar or fifty cents, depending on the seat location. Fans who sat in the grandstand enjoyed an innovation: folding seats. Bleacher seats -- rows of eight-inch planks -- cost 25 cents. The Park offered no seats beyond the outfield wall, but for this game 10,000 people paid to stand behind ropes on the outfield grass.
Those in their seats by 1 o'clock heard the First Regiment Band play a concert. At 2:30, after the crowd sang America, the Athletics and Boston Red Sox teams marched behind the bands to center field where Old Glory was raised by the Athletics' majority shareholder, Ben Shibe, and American League founder Ban Johnson while the band played The Star Spangled Banner. Capping the ceremonies, Philadelphia's Mayor Reyborn threw out the ceremonial first pitch. A few minutes later, Athletics southpaw Eddie Plank delivered the first official pitch in Shibe Park to Red Sox second baseman Amby McConnell.
The Athletics got off to a quick 1-0 lead in the first inning and never looked back on their way to an 8-1 victory. Eddie Plank scattered six hits while striking out eight and walking four. Meanwhile, the Athletics pummeled losing pitcher Frank Arellanes for 13 hits. Right fielder Danny Murphy collected four hits and third baseman Simon Nicholls added three hits and scored four runs to pace the A's attack. As the Evening Bulletin reported the next day, "It was a great day for Philadelphia in the baseball world, it was a great day for the fans, a most profitable one for the owners of Shibe Park, and a grand start for the Athletics. The attendance will probably go on record as the largest in the history of baseball."
By season's end, total attendance at Shibe Park reached 674,915. Moreover, the Athletics had a fine season on the field. The team finished second to much-hated Detroit, 3 1/2 games back.
Contributing Writer Bob Warrington penned this piece for Bucketfoot. Bob gave his OK to edit the piece (bad move, Bob) so we made just enough changes to lower the quality to our usual standard. Our gratitude and a request for another article go out to Bob.
Philadelphia's Baker Bowl was typical of pre-Shibe wooden parks.
Early exterior shot of Shibe Park.