Clem's Baseball home

War Memorial Stadium *
Former home of the
Buffalo Bisons **
(1961-1970, 1979-1988)

Memorial Stadium

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* Also known as "Civic Stadium" (1938-1959), and "The Rockpile"
** and former home of the AFL / NFL Buffalo Bills (1960-1972) and the fictitious NL "New York Knights"
Vital statistics:
Lifetime Capacity Outfield dimensions (feet) Behind home plate Fence height
The Clem Criteria:
Built Demo-
Loc. Aesth. Overall
1937 1988 46,201 330 (362) 420 (333) 310 (50) (8)-(8)-(20) 3 7 4 5 6 5.0

Parentheses indicate estimated distances and heights.

AFL CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES: Dec. 26, 1964, Jan. 1, 1967

"Civic Stadium," as War Memorial Stadium was originally known, was one of many New Deal public works projects that were used by minor league baseball teams, another one being Roosevelt Stadium. It was originally an oval-shaped, open-air single-deck football stadium, to which a large roof and lights were added later on, probably in the late 1940s.

thumbnail After the long-time home of the Buffalo Bisons, Offermann Field (built in 1923), was condemned via eminent domain proceedings in 1959, the Bisons moved into Civic Stadium, which was renamed "War Memorial Stadium." Crescent-shaped sections were carved out of the grandstand to make room behind home plate, and to provide for a respectable distance down the right field line -- 310 feet. Seating capacity was soon raised by about 10,000, as the grandstand was doubled in size on the third base side, forming one huge deck that was unusually steep by baseball standards. That, coupled with the huge size of the roof, is why the support beams were so tall. The juncture between the expanded main portion of the grandstand and the smaller, curved portion was bridged by a section of roof that sloped down sharply, an awkward expedient reminding one of Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. People sitting in the back rows had to look through two sets of support beams. In contrast, the seating rows in the new section along the first base line had hardly any slope at all, making it hard to see over the heads of fans in front. Players from the visiting team who needed to use the facilities had to walk from the dugout on the first base side through the entrance tunnel, sharing the restroom with the general public.

CINEMA: War Memorial Stadium was featured in the classic movie The Natural (1984), starring Robert Redford as "Roy Hobbs," a 40-year old superstar rookie for the "New York Knights."

Designed primarily for football, War Memorial Stadium was bound to create asymmetrical dimensions for baseball games. Without the inner fence, the distance to the left center power alley would have been almost 500, feet, rivaling the Polo Grounds, which it resembled. In some years, the diamond was rotated a few degrees counter-clockwise, so that the left field line intersected the straight portion of the grandstand. That was the same as at L.A. Memorial Coliseum, but in reverse: Instead of an abnormally short left field, there was an abnormally short right field. That was partly offset by a high temporary wooden fence on that side, about 20 feet.

The Buffalo Bills of the new American Football League made their home in War Memorial Stadium, and were very successful in their first decade, winning two AFL championships and taking second-place honors in another. That was when Jack Kemp, who later served as a U.S. Senator, was their quarterback. The Bills drew good-sized crowds, but with the completion of the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 came pressure to compete with bigger franchises, hence the construction of Rich Stadium, located in the suburb of Orchard Park. The Bills moved into their new, much larger home in 1973, and are still there today. It is now called "Ralph Wilson Stadium."

While the Bills prospered, the Buffalo Bisons struggled, and the franchise moved to Winnipeg in June 1970. After several years "in limbo," War Memorial Stadium once again opened for minor league baseball in 1979, when the Bisons were "reborn" at the AA-level, later upgraded to AAA status. During the 1980s the uncovered bleachers on the far side were filled with advertising signs, while the creeky old grandstand slowly rusted. Soon the city scraped together funds to build a modern yet distinctively classic ballpark -- named "Pilot Field" -- that opened for business as the new home of the Bisons in 1988. In fact, several design elements (such as outfield asymmetry) had a major influence on the stadium that was was about to be built at Camden Yards in Baltimore. So in a sense, the whole "retro" ballpark design movement really got started in the City of Buffalo. Pilot Field was later renamed "Dunn Tire Field," and then "Coca-Cola Field."

"The Rockpile" was demolished soon after the Bisons moved into Pilot Field. One of the four grand entrances was retained as a historical reminder, but there is nothing left of the grandstand itself. Today the land is occupied by Masten Park, with a baseball field and a football field. It is located at the corner of Dodge Street and Jefferson Avenue, about two miles northeast of downtown Buffalo.

SOURCES: Pastier (2007), Ritter (1992), Gershman (1993)


Vox populi: Fans' impressions

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