By Phil Hecken, with Mike Styczen
A few months back, I ran a weekend column on old-time ball parks, all of which are long gone now, and the reaction to it was very positive — and while ballparks themselves aren’t quite uni-related, there seems to be a similar passion amongst Uni Watchers for the old palaces, nostalgia-wise at least, as there is for uniforms.
I had wanted to do a followup (or three) for some time, actually planning today’s column with Mike Styczen since around the time the original ballpark column appeared. Well, today is that day, and I’m extremely pleased to have Mike pen what is a wonderful look back at the two “original” Canadian stadia (for their major league teams): Jarry Park (or Parc Jarry) for the Expos and Exhibition Stadium for the Blue Jays.
Before we get into Mike’s portion of this article, here’s a quick trivia question: “What was the first major league park to have a home run ball land in a swimming pool?” If you answered,
The BOB Chase Field, you’d be wrong. That honor actually belongs to Montreal, where the Expos once played, and you can see the pool here.
Steeped in history and tradition, Jarry and Exhibition Stadium were both unique, and while no longer hosting major league baseball, they still bring back memories for those who had the privilege of watching the show in Canada. I love the old quirky parks, and while neither of these two is as old as those detailed in “Take Me Out To The Ballpark,” they still rank right up there in the “coolness” factor. So, without further ado, here’s Mike to bring us his tour of these two great Canadian venues.
Jarry & The Ex
By Mike Styczen
Writing about the Ex brought back a lot of memories – my dad took me to a lot of games there when I was a kid (seats were only a dollar) and later I went to a lot with my friends. To paraphrase Jean-Luc Picard, although Skydome was superior in every conceivable way to the Ex, it just wasn’t the same anymore.
Jarry Park Stadium
Montreal of the 1960s was on a roll. Expo ’67 brought Montreal to international prominence, city was becoming more cosmopolitan, and in 1967 the city was awarded a National League team to begin play in 1969.
The only problem – there was no stadium suitable for major league baseball.
The Montreal Royals had played in Delorimier Stadium, which seated 20,000 but was built in 1928 and was (by that time) decrepit and unsuitable for the Expos. The team also considered the Autostade, which seated 33,000 but which was in a terrible location and would have required major renovations.
A site was selected in Jarry Park, a municipal park north of downtown. The stadium (actually called Jarry Park Stadium, but usually called Jarry Park) seated 3,000 at the time — this is basically the portion directly behind home plate. The stadium was quickly expanded to seat a little over 28,000 by the addition of a single deck of stands along the first base and third base sides and by the addition of a small section of bleachers in left field. The team had promised (as part of its expansion bid) that a new stadium would be ready by 1972, so Jarry Park was built with minimal amenities and features. There was a large electronic scoreboard in right field. The field was grass.
The only feature of any note was an outdoor municipal swimming pool about 100 feet past the right field fence. A few home run balls (including one by Willie Stargell) are said to have reached the pool.
The team played there from their 1969 inagural season until 1976 (a total of 8 seasons). After Montreal was awarded the 1976 summer Olympic games, construction started on the Olympic Stadium, and the team moved there in 1977 after it was converted from the Olympic setup to a convertible baseball/football setup.
In addition, in 1970, the stadium was used for some minor league games. That year, the Montreal Expos moved their AAA affiliate Buffalo Bisons to Winnipeg to play as the Winnipeg Whips, and had them play 18 home games in 13 days in Jarry Park when the Expos were out of town in June.
Jarry Park never hosted a playoff game.
After the Expos left, the stadium was used for other purposes, (including a Papal mass) was modified for tennis use, and eventually the 1969 additions were removed and new tennis stands constructed. The oldest portions of the stadium (the stands behind home plate) today form part of Stade Uniprix, which hosts Grand Prix tennis events every summer.
Exhibition Stadium was actually the fourth stadium on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition, west of downtown Toronto on the shore of Lake Ontario. Originally constructed for football, the roofed north grandstand seated 26,000 and was constructed in 1948. The stadium was completed with the construction of a small south grandstand in 1959. The stadium had a grass field and, in addition to being the home of the Toronto Argonauts hosted the Grey Cup nine times between 1959 and 1977.
By the mid-1970s, it seemed that Toronto was destined to be the next major league city. The city made pitches to lure the San Francisco Giants only to have the deal fall apart. Finally, in 1976 the American League voted to expand to Toronto for the 1977 season.
Exhibition Stadium (also known as CNE Stadium) was extensively renovated to accommodate the Blue Jays. The south (1959) grandstand was demolished, leaving the north (1948) grandstand intact. In place of the south grandstand, a roofless single-deck grandstand seating about 20,000 was built which stretched the entire length of the football field and then wrapped around the west endzone towards the north grandstand.
Unlike most multipurpose stadiums, Exhibition Stadium had no moveable stands. This led to the unique layout where a significant number of seats down the first base line and in the grandstand were far beyond the outfield fence and faced towards the unused portion of the football field. This was a stadium with 20,000 good seats and 25,000 bad seats for baseball — it was estimated that the seats in the far end of the north grandstand were over 400 feet behind the centre field fence. It also meant that the stands were ridiculously far from the field for football.
Despite the strange layout, the Jays drew over two million to the Ex five times in their 12+ years there, including peak attendance of nearly 2.8 million in the infamous 1987 season. Attendance was helped greatly by the vast abundance of cheap seats — a local grocery store sold undated tickets to the north grandstand, which was entirely general admission, for half of face value (initially $1, later $2).
In addition to the Argos and Blue Jays, Exhibition Stadium hosted the NASL Toronto Blizzard and was used for numerous concerts over the years, with a capacity of up to 70,000 in its largest configuration.
Exhibition Stadium hosted one playoff series, the 1985 ALCS, won by the Kansas City Royals in 7 games.
Unlike Jarry Park, Exhibition Stadium wasn’t intended to be a temporary stadium. But as its faults became apparent (layout and weather in particular) both the Blue Jays and Argonauts began to plan for a domed stadium. After the 1982 Grey Cup was played in atrocious conditions, plans picked up steam, and in 1985 construction started on SkyDome. Both the Blue Jays and Argonauts moved to SkyDome in 1989.
Exhibition Stadium sat basically unused for 10 years until it was unceremoniously demolished in 1999. The site was used for CNE parking and for midway rides until 2005 when BMO Field was built on roughly the same site to house Toronto FC.
Thanks so much for that piece Mike. Interestingly, when I asked Mike to write that, I had no idea it would run today (nor did he), but we both wanted to add a little codacil to include something he penned last Father’s Day:
I’m one of those people who knows that Field of Dreams wasn’t about baseball, it was about fathers and sons. Ray and his father getting the opportunity to have one more catch in the field.
Ray Kinsella: Hey… Dad? You wanna have a catch?
John Kinsella: I’d like that.
My dad took me to my first major league baseball game. Jays versus Athletics, on Victoria Day, 1977. I don’t remember much about the game other than we were a long way from home plate, the seats were metal benches on the first base side, we were facing into the football stands and had to turn sideways to see the baseball field, and the Jays lost.
We went to dozens of games when I was a kid. In those days you could buy undated tickets for the grandstand at Exhibition Stadium for one dollar at the grocery store. Me and my dad could go to games for two bucks, it was cheaper than going to a movie.
We were together at the top of the fifth deck on the first base side at the Jose Canseco home run game in 1989.
He taught me to catch and throw in our front yard, and he coached all my little league teams until I got older and better and they insisted on having “real” coaches. He still spent hours playing catch with me, and came to every one of my games. Even when I was an adult and played slowpitch he still came to as many games as he could.
Our last game together was in the summer of 2004, Jays versus Devil Rays at Skydome. I don’t remember anything about the game other than Jorge Sosa pitched for the Rays and (not knowing anything about the Rays) he thought Sammy Sosa was pitching for about the first three innings.
He died four years ago of pancreatic cancer. I’ll think of him a lot today, and honour him by watching a little baseball and by having a catch with my son (who was born three weeks before my dad died) in the backyard.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Remember Dave Battafarano, who was designing his team’s throwback uniforms? The finished uniforms turned out great, as you can see in these photos. … Reprinted from Friday’s comments: Dig these amazing old Rams yearbook covers. … Longtime Uni Watch pal Jared Wheeler was paging through the latest Hunt Auctions catalog and came across some cool stuff, including a 1940s Cal Bears baseball uni with numbers on the pants; a spectacular 1950s college all-star football jersey; a beautiful 1950s American Legion baseball uni; and a 1920 Cal football jersey. … Interesting discussion regarding possible changes to the Wizards’ team name and/or colors (with thanks to Stephen Wong). … New Mexico State football will wear a helmet decal honoring the USS New Mexico this fall. … New logo for the Japanese baseball all-star game (with thanks to Jeremy Brahm). … Also from Jeremy: Very interesting crescent moon pattern on the Turkish national volleyball uniform. … Jeffrey Moulden writes, “I got this off the Fleer Sticker Project link. I am 99% sure that the stadium behind Johnny Bench in this photo is old Tampa Stadium. The first couple of years it was not enclosed and they didn’t build the second press box till the late 70’s or 80’s. Plus the Reds used the Tampa complex where the Yankees are as home base and spring training then I believe.” … Johnny Garfield has a FNOB alert, from 1986, on the Vikings’ Wade Wilson — who is punting in this paticular game. It can be seen @ 0:34 and at 0:44. … Check out this amazing trophy that was used in the Creighton vs Drake football rivalry back in the day (thanks to Patrick Zach.) “Absolutely beautiful.” … Jay Danborn found footage of the “11 Ugliest Domes” on Leafs Players. Says Jay, “Interesting cage Lanny McDonald sported. Also excellent show of cross sport equipment. Love the 1980’s tubular football neckroll. And lots of 1970’s football facemasks. Enjoy.” … Kirsten has found a great non-uni read, “A couple of local smokestacks of beauty.” … Peter Kurilecz notes this great site with English football club tabs across the top link to pages with uniforms and photos [*NOTE* that link was working as of Sunday evening, but seems not to be working now — apologies if it appears broken] … Something especially for Paul comes from Alexander Ozenberger, who writes, “I’m sure you can relate to this guy.” … UW tennis correspondent Brinke Gurthrie checks in from Roland Garros with some tennis news: Rather unobtrusive Geico Patch on Gisela Dulko; an interesting Roland Garros patch on the adidas kicks; Both Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer have special edition sneakers for the Open; and, for the first time ever, Nadal will wear a watch during competition — now, that’s not just any timepiece — it’s a custom RN Richard Mille watch, and it goes for $425,000 … Sean Patton has some thoughts on this years’ SEC Baseball Tournament Logo. “I really like it’s look, with the stadium and pennants. It’s very classic and a huge improvement from 2009. I’ve also attached the previous few years’ logos, none of which I really like, except 2008 isn’t bad. 2006 looks very generic as it doesn’t even have the year on it. Not sure if they used it for multiple years pre-2006 or not.” … Loyal reader Cosgrove Watt has a question. It’s at the end of this quote: “After entering a fake birthdate, watch the ad on the far right of the thumbnails at the bottom of the page. You’ve seen it a lot recently, it’s the one where they show different ways of carrying ten beers in some mythical ballpark where they let you buy more than two at a time. In the opening seconds, one guy gets up and all his friends ask him to bring them back a beer. Look at their ballcaps. Is that the logo of the Brooklyn Eagles?” … Eagle-eyed Justin Bates was watching the Cubs vs. Rangers game yesterday and noticed Cubs catcher Geovany Soto’s helmet decal appeared to be a bit askew. … Bizarre scene in KC yesterday, as Dexter Fowler lost his glove after slamming into the outfield wall trying to grab a long fly. Alex Higley was Johnny-on-the-spot to grab the aftermath when he reemerged from behind the wall after scaling it to retrieve his wayward glove … Brandon Davis notes that Kevin Kozmanoff is back to the old helmet decal style. … Here is a twitter link of an interesting tidbit concerning the other Nats #1 pick from ’09, Drew Storen, who picked up his first MLB hit in his first professional AB (thanks to Drew Storen) … Jeremy gets a second ticker mention as he checks in with the following European Volleyball news: This weekend the Confederation of European Volleyball (CEV) had qualifying for the 2011 European Championships. Spain’s men’s team has a player with G-Torres, abbreviated for Garcia-Torres; Israel’s men’s team wore a reversed Israeli flag, but back to normal Sunday; The Czech Republic women with vertical arched lettering; The Swedish women have a Swedish flag pattern on their side panel and shorts. … Stephen Wong notes that the Daily Mail is conducting a “Top 50” Kit Countdown, beginning with Kits 50-41. … The French Open may not be tops of everyone’s list of “Must See” but Jonathan Ratshin notes that Venus is sure giving the Parisians something to talk about. … And just moments after I recieved that communiqué, Brinke provided us with more evidence of Venus’ taste in fashion … John Donovan found some awesomely cool ads from a book he has on 1960s advertising. The first is a 1969 NFL ad (looks very Yellow Submarine-ish, no?) and the second is a 1964 Seven-Up Curling ad.
You know we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. Back then I thought, well, there’ll be other days. I didn’t realize that that was the only day. — Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham