Ten years later, remembering Veterans Stadium
Another baseball season, the 131st for the Phillies, is almost in the record book. Hard to believe, but 10 years ago, an era in Phillies baseball ended when the final game was played in Veterans Stadium.
Groundbreaking took place on Oct. 2, 1967. Because of design changes, labor strikes, bad weather, grand-jury probes and political in-fighting, the construction schedule was delayed. A 1970 opening was postponed until April 1971.
The cost to build the place ranged from $45 million to $63 million, according to newspaper accounts. Capacity for baseball originally was 56,371. Seat levels were colored in earth tones of yellow, orange and brown.
The Vet was one of the circular multisport facilities of that era that featured the latest technology in playing surfaces, AstroTurf. The wall-to-wall carpet eliminated the traditional dirt infield.
Technically the Vet wasn't a circle, but an octorad. Ron Knabb of Philadelphia Stadium Architects said at the time: "'Octo' is Latin for numeral eight. 'Rad' is short for radius. There are eight points of radius on a circle. Connect them with straight lines or chords, and you have the shape of the stadium."
The naming of South Philadelphia's new multipurpose stadium took more than a year. Nearly everyone had an opinion.
Newspapers took up the campaign and conducted polls. The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin's poll drew 500 suggestions from 1,650 readers. The top vote-getters were Philadium, Philadelphia Stadium, Independence Stadium, Apollo Stadium, Eisenhower Stadium and William Penn Stadium.
Philadelphia City Council members debated the naming of the stadium that was funded with public dollars. Initially, two bills were introduced in April 1969, backing "War Veterans Memorial Stadium" or "Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower Stadium".
City Council had the final say and the final vote came on March 13, 1970: 11 for Veterans Stadium, five against.
The first game
The Phillies and the Montreal Expos, the teams that closed Connie Mack Stadium the previous Oct. 1, opened Veterans Stadium on Saturday afternoon, April 10, 1971, a 2:15 p.m. ET game.
It was a chilly (48 degrees) and windy (20-34 mph west winds) afternoon that saw the Phils prevail, 4-1. Jim Bunning, at 39 the oldest starting pitcher in the Major Leagues, won his 220th career game. The crowd of 55,352 fans was the largest to attend a Major League game in Pennsylvania.
Expos center fielder Boots Day was the first batter. He grounded back to Bunning for the first out. Shortstop Larry Bowa got the first hit and third baseman Don Money hit the first home run.
Veterans Stadium was the pride of the City of Philadelphia, the Phillies, Eagles and fans when it opened, a crown jewel. The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin described the new facility with a simple but descriptive headline following Opening Day: "It's Beautiful." Sports Illustrated echoed the sentiment: "It is a beautiful place. The seats are roomy, and they offer excellent visibility."
The stage was set for the last game and postgame closing ceremonies Sept. 28, 2003, on a Sunday against the Atlanta Braves.
The closing ceremonies were designed to provide a lasting memory and bring tears to thousands of fans. Veterans Stadium deserved a grand exit.
The day after the closing ceremonies, the dismantling of the Vet began in preparation for implosion on March 21, 2004. Eventually, the spot where players once roamed became a parking lot for 5,000 cars.
Remembering the Vet
The Phils made sure the Vet would be remembered.
The four Joe Brown statues that were on the podium level were refurbished and relocated to the outer portions of the new parking lot. Bronze plaques capturing the history of events that took place at the stadium were added to the statue bases.
Markers were installed where home plate, the pitcher's rubber, three bases and the two football goal posts once existed. A new Veterans Memorial was designed and located on Pattison Avenue. And a Pennsylvania historical marker added to commemorate the site.