J-Doug at Beyond the Boxscore has a lovely graphic showing the history of baseball stadium construction, as depicted in the average age of ballparks around the league.
The upshot: By the 1950s, after four decades of not much new construction, the average stadium was nearly 40 years old, then expansion and the “concrete donut” era knocked that down to around 20 years by the mid-’70s. Average age had crept back up above 30 years by 1990, but then the post-Camden Yards boom brought it back down to around 20 after the turn of the century, where it’s stayed — or, as J-Doug puts it, “the rejuvenation of MLB parks does seem to be more durable this time around.”
Of course, one man’s rejuvenation is another’s mindless destruction, as the Boston Globe’s Derrick Jackson wrote in his Sunday column, in which Jackson noted that on his recent visit to Greece he saw several ancient (as in millennia, not mere decades) sporting facilities that were still in use. Which leads up to his conclusion:
Boston’s Fenway Park (1912) and Chicago’s Wrigley Field (1914) [are] absolute treasures. These stadiums, which underwent renovations that preserved their original charm, are actually going to have 100th birthdays.
Few other stadiums will. No fan screaming for the Pats in Gillette Stadium (2002) or for the Jets and Giants in the new Meadowlands can expect their great-grandchildren to occupy the seats they sit in today. With all the giant scoreboards, blaring sound systems, and high-tech turf, the modern American sports stadium has become just another big-box store for owners. Instead of the centuries of sporting spirits in the air in Greece, our stadiums have all the soul of a Home Depot. Outside of Fenway, Wrigley, and Lambeau, we no longer give them the time to develop one.
And to take one final turn at interpreting that “durable rejuvenation”: If you think about it, the only way to maintain a steady average age around 20 for MLB stadiums is to ensure that most stadiums are replaced after 30 years or so. (It would be 40 years — 20 being the midpoint of zero-to-40 — but those near-centenarian outliers like Fenway and Wrigley skew the average way up.) Since the typical stadium bond is usually around 30 years, that means that the current baseball business model is for every city to be continually subsidizing its team with stadium construction funds, and building a new one as soon as the old one is paid off.
It also means that, if current trends are going to continue, circa-1990 stadiums like SkyDome/Rogers Centre, New Comiskey Park/U.S. Cellular Field, and even Camden Yards would have to be replaced by the end of this decade. Okay, probably not Camden Yards — though I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Baltimore Orioles ask for “improvements.” But it’s going to be very interesting to see whether teams start demanding new stadiums, and if so how they justify them, as the first wave of “retro” parks start going out of warranty.
(In the NFL, of course, we already have our answer.)