The White Sox ballpark in Chicago that never was

This is the story of Philip Bess and his attempts to design a ballpark that combined the best of the Wrigley-Comiskey era parks along with modern amenities.

In essence, Bess’ project took root as a counterproposal to what the White Sox were planning. He received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (who was perhaps on the lookout for something relatively benign in the midst of the evolving Robert Mapplethorpe kerfuffle) and the Chicago-based Graham Foundation. The SABR Ballparks Research Committee also sponsored his efforts. That support allowed Bess to leave his job and devote himself fully to the project. He worked mostly on his own for 1986 and 1987 and eventually hired a single assistant for 12 weeks or so.

Eventually, Bess settled on Armour Square Park, which we saw above, to be the home to what he’d call Armour Field, a name that was a dual nod to its physical space and the industrial past of its city …

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The passing similarities to Wrigley Field are no accident. The Cubs’ home for more than a century inspired parts of Bess’ design, but at no point does Armour Field ever feel too derivative. The most important similarity may be the use of columns in the upper deck, which allows Armour Field, in keeping with the lessons of its masters, to put every fan close to the game on the diamond. Then again, Bess designed Armour to correct what he sees as Wrigley’s chief flaw. “In my opinion,” Bess says, “the problem with Wrigley isn’t the column-obstructed seats, but rather the overhang-obstructed seats.”

Indeed, fans in the last several rows of the lower deck at Wrigley can’t see the sky or even follow a fly ball through its full parabola because of the upper deck overhang. In the days when his design was first coming to life, Bess would go to Wrigley and sit in the lower deck and figure out at what point the overhang became tolerable. Row 42 is what he determined to be the cutoff point — below it, you can still get some sense of trajectory and watch players track the ball, but above it some of that is lost.

Bess addressed this in his design of Armour Field. For one, he managed to keep columns out of the lower deck until the upper deck turned, in part because the curve of the upper deck doesn’t follow that of the lower deck. He says today if he could go back, he’d put columns further down into the seating bowl in order to get the upper deck seats behind home plate even closer to the field.

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Despite its pastoral creation myth, baseball has been a city game all the way back to those misunderstood origins. In that sense, it seems fitting that the game’s canvas — the ballpark — should conform to the city and not contrariwise. That’s the argument that Armour Field made. It seems we found that argument wanting, or perhaps we didn’t listen to it closely enough. We should always listen to things like this because baseball is the chamber piece among sports. The setting matters, sometimes more than we know.

Source: Dayn Perry, CBSsports.com

Okay, I know I quoted a ton from this piece. But it’s really only a fraction of what appears at the site, which I encourage you to click on and check out in its entirety. In addition to Bess’ story, there’s discussion of other ballparks, Chicago politics and the design firm HOK and how they stumbled into the feature for which they became famous. And if reading’s not your thing, there are some interesting photos and illustrations that you should see.

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