BEEN THERE (ALMOST): June 24, 2014 ALL-STAR GAMES: none
This was definitely a step down for the former Washington Senators when owner Bob Short moved the team to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and renamed them the "Texas Rangers" in 1972. A deal consisting of a $7 million public loan plus a rent-free stadium was "an offer he couldn't refuse." Arlington Stadium was a strange combination of a doughnut "clone" and a hastily upgraded minor league ballpark. It was as though they were trying to imitate Houston by creating a hybrid of the Astrodome (in terms of the grandstand configuration) and Colt Stadium (with a vast uncovered single deck). Like Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota, Arlington Stadium was expanded in a haphazard, unplanned way that ended up looking rather tacky. Its original capacity (in 1965) was 10,000, was doubled in 1970, and and was increased to 35,000 in time for the first major league game played there in 1972. To cut down on construction costs, all of the seats added for the arrival of the Rangers in 1972 were in the new outfield bleachers, which were by far the largest of any major league stadium. As shown in the dynamic diagram above, from 1970 to 1972 there were bleachers extending straight down the first base line, intended mainly for football games. Not until 1973 (or perhaps 1974?) were those bleachers were replaced with a curved grandstand extension, matching the third base side.
This hastily-improved expansion was contrary to the original (highly speculative) plans to build a double-decked grandstand extending for roughly two-thirds of a circle, rather like Shea Stadium, except with partially-covered bleachers filling the gap around the outfield. (A matchbook with the 1968 schedule for the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs shows an artist's conception of the "The Ultimate Turnpike Stadium," from which the above hypothetical diagram is derived.) I estimate the seating capacity would have been just over 50,000. Why didn't they follow that plan at least part-way in 1972, and build more seating sections built along the foul lines? Somebody was a cheapskate, evidently.
Arlington Stadium was built on a slope, such that the back side of the (original) grandstand was at ground level. Beyond center field was a creek, on the other side of which now stands Globe Life Park. In 1979, however, a second deck stretching from first base to third base was added, raising the capacity to 41,000. There was a small mezzanine with glass-enclosed (and presumably air-conditioned) luxury suites, but hardly any overhang between the two decks. In 1985, over 2,000 more seats were added, partly by making the aisles narrower and partly by installing additional luxury suites in back of the lower deck, on both the first and third base sides.
Like six other doughnut-shaped hybrid stadiums, Arlington Stadium had a "paired swivelable circular section lower deck" (PSCSLD) configuration, which was obviously designed to accommodate football games. Indeed, the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) Mavericks football team (and local high schools) played here until 1980. Since Texas Stadium was not built until 1971, I had wondered whether the Dallas Cowboys were ever invited to participate in this project, but I am told by "Bucky" Nance that "The Cowboys never had an interest in playing there." He also explained that only the third base side of the grandstand was moveable, meaning that the football gridiron was supposed to lie at an angle of about ten degrees from the right field foul line. (Just like Riverfront Stadium.) Thanks for the helpful tips and the great photos, Bucky! By the way, the front edge of the huge bleachers was 11 feet above the ground, whereas the highest part of the back edge of the swivelable lower portion of the main grandstand -- which was situated along the same inner circle you see on the diagram above -- was about twice that high, just as in all stadiums of this "PSCSLD" design. Whenever the lower portions of the grandstand were swiveled around for football games, a large number of seats in the bleachers would be obstructed. At first that didn't make sense to me, but as it turns out, it didn't really matter: They had so much difficulty moving that section around for football games that they decided to simply leave it in place and put the gridiron in the outfield, with the end zones near each foul pole. The UTA Mavericks apparently didn't need that many seats for their games anyway. Five years after Maverick Stadium was built in 1980, the UTA football program was shut down.
If ever there was a stadium that needed more shade, this was it. Given the frequent 100+ degree days on the plains of Texas, the lack of any roof at Arlington Stadium is simply inexplicable. For that reason, the vast majority of games here were played at night. The field dimensions were virtually identical to such "doughnut clones" of that era, and the fence was likewise a perfectly symmetrical arc. In 1974, however, a straight section of fence was installed in each of the power alleys in hopes of inducing more home runs; this reduced the distance to right-center and left-center field by ten feet. This inner fence was apparently removed in 1981. One small element of asymmetry (though not connected to the field per se) was that the bleachers wrapped further around the foul pole on the left side, while the grandstand reached further toward the foul pole on the right side. The one positive aspect of Arlington Stadium, reflecting its minor league roots, was that the seats were very close to the diamond, resulting in very few foul popups being caught. The only really distinctive feature was the scoreboard shaped like the state of Texas in back of the bleachers in left field. After the 1983 season, it was replaced by a solid wall of scoreboards and billboards stretching from foul pole to foul pole.
CINEMA: Arlington Stadium made a brief appearance at the end of the motion picture Bull Durham starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins.
The Rangers never won any pennants or even divisional titles during the 22 years they played in this ramshackle stadium, but they can claim credit for one of the best pitchers of all time: Nolan Ryan, who played for most of the second half of his career in Texas. Ryan threw 5,714 strikeouts during his magnificent 27-year year career, far more than his nearest rival. Arlington Stadium never hosted an All Star Game. In fact, since the All Star Games began in 1933, no other stadium had a longer major league lifetime without ever hosting an All Star Game.
In March 1989 the Rangers franchise was purchased (for a record price of $79.3 million) by a consortium that included none other than former president George W. Bush, two months after his father became president. Well aware of the limitations of this stadium, he took a lead role in pushing for construction of a new (publicly financed) stadium, which was built next door. The Rangers left Arlington Stadium after the 1993 season and the following April moved into "The Ballpark in Arlington" (subsequently changed several times and now called "Globe Life Park in Arlington").
SOURCES: Lowry (2006); Pastier (2007); Jenkinson (2010); Rosen (2001); Zimbalist (1992); Gershman (1993)
FAN TIPS: Clifford "Bucky" Nance, Terry Wallace
WEB LINK: phanfare.com