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October 27, 2010
Bill Shannon, 1941-2010
Baseball writer Bill Shannon died tragically in a house fire at his New Jersey home yesterday morning, at the age of 69. Shannon was best known around New York as an official scorer for the Mets and Yankees, but I knew of him first and foremost as the co-author of the masterful book The Ballparks, which I got at around age 10 and continue to refer to on a regular basis, though its spine is now held together with tape. It's no exaggeration to say that Field of Schemes, and fieldofschemes.com, wouldn't exist without my learning from Shannon an appreciation of the long history of the places where baseball has been played.
Here's a sample from Shannon's preface, written in 1975, that's stuck with me ever since I first read it as a young fan. The story has changed since then, but the sense of critical perspective — the insight — remains true:
Governmental involvement in America's architecture appears inevitably to produce uninspired uniformity and dulling sameness. It has largely done so with ballparks. To justify huge public expenditures, public officials created the oval or circular "all-purpose" ballpark, which theoretically caters to all outdoor sporting needs in the community. In reality, it generally caters to none well and to all with mediocrity. Publicly financed activity has given us ballparks without personalities.
In large measure, this is what this book is about — the personalities of ballparks. Despite the best efforts of planners, even today's newest parks still have their own small idiosyncracies, weather factors, hitting backgrounds, playing surfaces, and wind currents, all varying slightly.
Without doubt the best of the governmental plans for ballparks is New York's reconstruction of Yankee Stadium. It will leave us with a great sports landmark structurally mauled somewhat beyond need in our view. But some Yankee Stadium is better than none, and that seemed to be the alternative choice.
My condolences go out to Shannon's family, his friends, and all who knew him from the press box. This has been just an awful year for people dying too young.