So what’s in a name?

This is about to spring forth in Milwaukee . . .

The Milwaukee Brewers have unveiled the logo for their home field’s name change as of 2021. From Miller Park to American Family Field. From a brewer to an insurer. Social media shows so far that Brewers fans are rather less than amused, though not yet ready for war over it.

For one thing, as one such fan tweeted, “Miller actually cared about the logo, the team and the branding of both. American Family is only interested in their own product.

Presumably, the Brewers’ administration cares greatly about the $4 million a year American Family Insurance will pay for the next fifteen years in return for the park bearing their name. It’s buzzard feed compared even to the Brewers’ actual $1.2 billion worth, but it’s income regardless.

American Family’s apparent concession to the Brewers involves that part of the intended logo that references Miller Park’s unique retractable roof, a stylising of the five curved sections that open and close above the field like a hand-held fan, more or less. One Twitter wag suggested American Family really wanted to show the launch angles of the home runs the adjacent Chicago Cubs tend to hit all over the place in the place. (Last year, the Cubs hit twenty out in ten games there.) Serious Brewer fans suggested, plausibly enough, that they’ll never think of the place as other than Miller Park for time immemorial.

. . . from this.

They’re not necessarily wrong about that, and not just because Miller Park’s official logo marries both the brewery’s logo and two baseballs on either end in a rather handsome badging.

Some of the world’s most famous structures remain referenced by their birth names no matter how often their actual names are changed. You may or may not know the Met Life building in New York City, but New Yorkers still refer to it as the Pan Am building—never mind that Pan American World Airways went cease and desist 28 years ago.

Ask a Chicagolander about Willis Tower and he or she will rejoin, “That’s the Sears Tower to you, fool.” Willis Group Holdings of London owns the naming rights until 2024. The name might change twenty times over the century to follow and Chicago children will be taught to call it the Sears Tower.

Baseball’s ballpark names have been a goulash of sorts. Some have borne or still bear the team name: Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium, Nationals Park, Tiger Stadium, Colt Stadium (Houston), Braves Field (Boston). Some have borne the names of team owners: Baker Bowl (William Baker, the Philadelphia Phillies), Comiskey Park (Charles Comiskey, the Chicago White Sox), Ebbets Field (Charles Ebbets, the Brooklyn Dodgers), Griffith Stadium (Clark Griffith, the Washington Senators), Navin Field (Frank Navin, the Detroit Tigers) . . .

Oops. Some parks have born the name of more than one owner. Wrigley Field (William, then Philip K.) was born as Weeghman Field. (Charles, who bought the Cubs after the Federal League collapsed. Wasn’t it kind of the Tribune Company to leave the name intact after buying the Cubs from the Wrigleys in the first place?) It remains the only baseball park known to wear the name of a chewing gum maker.

Navin Field eventually became Briggs Stadium during the Tigers’ ownership of Spike Briggs. Shibe Park (Ben Shibe, the Philadelphia Athletics until his death in 1922) eventually became Connie Mack Stadium (Shibe’s successor owner), though the main entrance bore both park names in due course. Sportsman’s Park (the St. Louis Cardinals) eventually became the first of three Busch stadiums. Two were named concurrently for the team’s principal owner and the brewery whose name is half theirs; the third’s such name nods kindly to history.

Busch Stadiums, Miller Park, and Coors Field (Colorado) have been the only major league stadiums named after breweries, which seems amiss considering that baseball and beer have been married longer and more successfully than most human marriages today. I still remember some whisperings in the early 1960s, when I was boy just beginning to embrace baseball, that the forthcoming home of my New York Mets might be named for its principal broadcasting sponsor. Now, there was a thought.

Alas, the playpen into which the Mets moved in 1964 wasn’t named for Rheingold beer.  (My beer is Rheingold the dry beer!) It was named for the corporate attorney (William A. Shea) who had a major hand in stirring the late 1950s pot (the proposed Continental League) that eventually brewed the National League’s return to New York. Who said we could have everything? (Or, why didn’t they name it for Branch Rickey, once the Dodgers’ chieftain, whose brainchild the Continental League actually was?)

Two ballparks, one of which has some nerve thinking of itself as a park, are named for orange juice: Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay) and Minute Maid Park (Houston). Three guesses which refreshment out-sells orange juice there. The most prominent sight in San Francisco’s PacBell/SBC/AT&T/Oracle Park, other than the Giants playing baseball, is a large, stylised soda pop bottle behind the left field bleachers, making you wonder why—when it came to the place’s naming rights—Coke wasn’t it.

When Shea Stadium’s life was to expire at last, the Mets’ new home—designed deliberately with references to the Brooklyn Dodgers whom ancient, autocratic city and state planning czar Robert Moses tried to strong-arm into what became Shea (If we play in Queens, we won’t be the Brooklyn Dodgers anymore—Walter O’Malley)—stirred hope (mine, mostly) that they might name the place for someone prominent in Mets history. (Stengel Field? Seaver Park?) Hope sprang infernal when the Mets sold the naming rights to a bank.

That wasn’t exactly going against the grain incumbent or to be, as fans who’ve spent time in such financially-named parks as Bank One Ballpark (Arizona, now known as Chase Field), Comerica Park (Detroit), SunTrust/Truist Park (Atlanta), PNC Park (Pittsburgh) or Guaranteed Rate Field—oops! Real Chicagolanders will never cease to call the place Comiskey Park.

At least one major league ballpark bore a name having nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with capturing Fort Duquesne from the French in 1758. Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss named Forbes Field in honour of the colonial general who led the capture. When Dreyfuss died, his family resisted entreaties to re-name the Old Lady of Schenley Park (one of the joint’s colloquial nicknames) in his honour.

Enough major league ballparks have had boring utilitarian names, though depending upon their locations and conditions they’ve been handed delightful colloquial nicknames: the Mistake on the Lake (Municipal Stadium, Cleveland), the Old Gray Lady of 33rd Street (Memorial Stadium, Baltimore).

Speaking of old ladies, once upon a time, Tiger Stadium bore the colloquial nickname “the Old Girl.” It caused havoc enough in the Florida household of ancient Tigers pitcher Elden Auker, who’d attended the park’s closing ceremonies. Auker’s local newspaper, the Vero Beach Press Journal, headlined that attendance: “Auker Says Good-bye to Old Girl.” As he wrote in his memoir (Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms), it created a ticklish situation for the wife he loved for sixty-seven years until his death:

The headline . . . jumped off the page . . . and grabbed the attention of our housekeeper. She waited until I left the room and sidled up to Mildred with an expression made up of part sympathy and part admiration of Mildred’s strength. She wanted Mildred to know she had a friend in her time of need.

“Who was she?” Darlene whispered, and then braced herself for an explanation of the apparent scandal. Darlene thought the “old girl” in the headline was some old flame of mine.

Auker may have been more than a little wistful about Tiger Stadium’s demise, but he drew the line between wistful and unrealistic. “Who am I to complain about progress?” he wrote in the memoir. “After all, I’m on my fourth pacemaker.”

In Baltimore, of course, the Old Gray Lady of 33rd Street was succeeded delightfully by Oriole Park at Camden Yards, officially. Unofficially, of course, it’s Camden Yards. Nobody’s even thought of selling naming rights afresh there yet, so far as I know. Better stop there. We don’t want to give them any more bright ideas.

If you think re-naming a ballpark for an insurance company is a little off balance, consider: The longtime home of the New York Giants was the third structure on that site to be known as the Polo Grounds. Many things happened at those Polo Grounds, shaped in fact like a horseshoe, up to and including the two maiden absurdist seasons of the Mets. Polo wasn’t one of them.

Traintime

You don’t have to be a Houston Astros fan to appreciate a few of Minute Maid Park’s charms and quirks. (Perhaps an Astro fan will tell me how good Torchy’s Tacos are.) Especially the train that gets a-rollin’ whenever an Astro hits a home run. USA Today photographer Troy Taormina has provided a view for anyone not seated in the appropriate spot at the place:

2020-07-19 MinuteMaidParkTrain

Notice Taormina took that shot on a day the Astros just so happened to be hosting the New York Yankees. Be reminded, too, that Yankee Stadium ancient and modern alike have one thing the Astros lack: an honest-to-God working train behind their stately playpen:

2020-07-19 YankeeStadium

What you see behind the stadium is, of course, the elevated No. 4 rapid transit train, running down River Avenue past its turnaway point from Jerome Avenue; and, the 161st Street station whose platform begins behind the right field seats. Essentially, the Yankees (with a lot of help from New York taxpayers) built the new yard across the street from the old yard:

2020-07-19 YankeeStadiums

The original Yankee Stadium got a major facelift and re-make in 1974-75, which—considering the eventual full flowering of George Steinbrenner’s outsized King-of-Hearts-style rule—prompted assorted wags to say the stadium born as the House That Ruth Built was now the House That Ruthless Rebuilt. The train kept a-rollin’ all night and day long.

But the facelift/re-make robbed baseball fans awaiting the next 4 train of a singular pleasure. Even if you weren’t a Yankee fan you appreciated being able to see much of a game from the southmost platform of the 161st Street station from above and slightly beyond the rear end of the center field bleachers:

2020-07-19 YankeeStadiumTheFirst

I am native to the Bronx and, after my parents moved us to Long Island, I spent many a school break or weekend visiting my maternal grandparents, who were confident and kind enough to give me the run of the city. There’s no false modesty involved when I say that in those years I may have known the New York City elevateds and subways better than a lot of their own motormen did.

If I knew the Yankees were home, I’d take that 4 train (it stopped at Kingsbridge Road, crossing the train’s Jerome Avenue span, which was only a short walk to Grandma and Grandpa’s apartment) to 161st street, move to the platform’s southmost end, and watch for the chance that the Yankees would get their tails kicked from one end of the Bronx to the other.

The trouble for Yankee fans was that, at the time I began turning the city into my personal playground (New York was considerably different in my youth), the odds of the Yankees getting their tails kicked were extremely favourable. In 1966, my own father died, and so did the old imperial Yankees at last. They accomplished something unseen of them since the year the Titanic lost its heavyweight bout against the iceberg: they finished dead last in the American League.

Most of us Met fans since the day they were born couldn’t resist thinking what an absolute bitch karma could be when in the mood. This Met fan couldn’t resist reminding himself of what more knowledgeable observers knew: the remaining Yankee stars were aging (Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Roger Maris, Elston Howard), consistently injured (Jim Bouton), or both (Mantle and Ford); and, the Yankee farm system—except for a small handful of promises who turned out journeymen for assorted reasons (injuries, attitudes)—was suddenly as fertile as the Sahara Desert.

This Met fan since the day they were born also had his first taste of live major league baseball in that ancient, rambling wreck known as the Polo Grounds. The trains rolled behind the Polo Grounds, too, once upon a time. Sort of.

2020-07-19 PoloGrounds

What you see behind and to the right of the far right field stands is the station of the ancient Ninth Avenue El. Above and behind the center field bleachers and clubhouse/office building structure is the portion that survived to be the Polo Grounds Shuttle—until it wasn’t. To the left of the left field stands was the subway yard; as the masthead of this journal shows, you could see trains reposing between the ballpark and the main yard through the rear of the lower deck seats.

New York closed the shuttle in 1958. The underground 158th Street station on the B and D lines of the IND system beneath remain alive today. The Polo Grounds, of course, doesn’t. The Mets played there in 1962 and 1963 until Shea Stadium opened. By the time Grandpa Morris took me to my first Mets game in 1962, the subway yard was long succeeded by a group of apartment buildings and the Ninth Avenue El was ancient history.

The trains didn’t keep a-rollin’ but the Mets did. “Rollin'” was a polite way to put it. The 1962-63 Mets were baseball’s number one comedy troupe. They made Ernie Kovacs’s television surrealism resemble Norman Rockwell. They had Who’s on first, What’s on second, You Didn’t Want To Know’s on third, and You Were Afraid to Ask at shortstop.

The number 7 elevated went right behind Shea Stadium on the right field side and stops at the same station, Willets Point, to take Met fans to Citi Field. The major difference is that you can’t see the train from the Citi Field stands as you could in Shea Stadium. Which made interesting viewing when you arrived early for a game or another event.

2020-07-19 BakerBowl

Philadelphia’s Baker Bowl. Note the subway yard across the street behind the right field wall. Note, too, the wall lacks the team endorsement for a deodorant soap augmented memorably by a disgruntled Phillies fan in the 1930s . . .

For a very long time the Broad Street Line in Philadelphia rumbled within reach of Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium, and runs adjacent to Citizens Bank Park today. Once upon a time, however, the Phillies played in Baker Bowl, and that box of pain (except to Chuck Klein, lefthanded power hitter) sat across the street from a subway yard on the right field wall side. (The legend continues about the disgruntled 1930s fan who took paint to a team endorsement for a certain deodorant soap on the right field wall: “The Phillies use Lifebuoy! . . . and they still stink!“)

The Union Pacific’s Phoenix line passes Chase Field in Arizona. The Metro Blue and Green lines took you to the Metrodome in Minneapolis, if you dared. Navy Yard-Ballpark Station takes you to Nationals Park on the Green Line, but the station’s underground. What’s the fun in that?

The good news if you’re going to Wrigley Field: you get to take the elevated Red Line, and the Addison Street station is a very short walk (about half a city block) from the yard. The bad news: You can’t see the trains from the ballpark. Those houses on Sheffield and Waveland block almost all your views even without the latter-day rooftop bleachers.

It’s not that you go to a baseball game to watch the trains, though if your team is busy getting clobbered on the field that day the trains make for a nice diversion. In Minute Maid Park you need a home run to see the train roll, but at assorted parks past and present the trains kept a-rollin’ all night and day long. Until they didn’t.

2027-07-19 AstrodomeWithColtStadium

An aerial view of Colt Stadium (foreground) adjacent to the newly-opened Astrodome in Houston. The trains didn’t roll to or past them but the cars rolled in and out. In Colt Stadium, alas, so did the mosquitoes.

I’m sure I left a couple of parks out of this survey, but at least Astro fans get a train in the ballpark now. Once upon a time, you got to either Colt Stadium (outdoors) or the Astrodome (The world’s biggest hair dryer—Joe Pepitone, Yankee turned Astro) by motor vehicle. Unless you happened to own a helicopter and were related to a nearby landowner.

If it was Colt Stadium, you had to carry something only slightly more important than hand sanitizer, alas. “This is the only park in the league,” said Hall of Fame outfielder Richie Ashburn, winding his career down as an Original Met in the year that birthed the Mets and the Astros-to-be (born the Colt .45s), “where the women wear insect repellant instead of perfume.”