The Battle to Build Slows Veterans Stadium Opening

With Veterans Stadium entering its final few games, <I></I> is presenting a series of articles from our writers about memories and great moments that have taken place at The Vet. Our readers are also invited to share their thoughts on the place that the Phillies have called home since 1971. Send your thoughts and memories to <a></a> and we may include them in our tribute to Veterans Stadium.

Until the arrival of Camden Yards in Baltimore, most people didn't realize the shortcomings of Veterans Stadium. When it was built, The Vet was considered state-of-the-art. Sure, it was one of the cookie-cutter type stadiums springing up all over the country, but with both the NFL and MLB having teams in many of the same cities, the theory behind the stadium explosion was logical. Astroturf provided the ability to play both football and baseball on the same surface and the huge stadiums becoming part of landscapes all over the country were just what was needed.

The idea for Veterans Stadium didn't just spring from a thought to fruition overnight. Since the 1950s, there were various movements to build a stadium in Philadelphia. Both Bob Carpenter, the owner of the Phillies and Frank McNamee, the owner of the Eagles argued that Connie Mack Stadium was outdated and that both teams needed a new home. As often happens, the stadium movement was tied up in red tape and bounced around city politics from one committee to another. As the ‘50s sped by, there was no new stadium and there were starting to be rumblings that perhaps the Phillies and Eagles would be lured to a different city.

As the 1960s came, the debate continued until a referendum was finally placed on the ballot in 1964. The referendum was to allow the city to borrow $25 million to build a new stadium and it passed without much opposition. Now, only the remaining arguments about what type of stadium to build and where to put it were left to be settled.

The Phillies originally wanted to build the stadium at 33rd Street and Columbia Avenue in the Fairmount Park section of the city. Developers – and the Philadelphia Eagles – didn't like that location and offered other ideas. One idea was to build the stadium elevated over the railroad tracks at 30th Street Station. Others preferred a spot along the Delaware River and a few more downtown locations were also considered. The city of Cherry Hill, New Jersey even got into the fray, offering to house the Phillies and Eagles in their city.

Eventually, the long list of sites was narrowed down and the site at Broad and Pattison was chosen. As developers, architects and city politicians gathered to discuss how the stadium would take shape and exactly what was needed, another problem arose. In the three years that had passed since the original price tag of $25 million was approved, the cost of building the stadium had erupted to closer to $40 million. The issue was sent back to the voters, who again handed over more taxes and approved a price tag of $38 million.

When it appeared that all of the fighting was behind everyone, a new argument erupted. What to name the stadium? Newspapers waded into the fray offering up reader polls to name the stadium. Simple names like Philadelphia Stadium were popular and some names somewhat fitting of the times were also popular, such as The Philadium. Finally, Paul D'Ortona, the president of City Council pushed through a resolution to have the stadium named Philadelphia Veterans Stadium.

Again, more time passed as various parties argued over the particulars of the stadium design. The Phillies and Eagles had differing views over the scoreboard that was to be used. That dispute was settled by installing a scoreboard that would be removed for football, allowing for more seating for the Eagles. Mother Nature didn't help either, as a major snowstorm set construction schedules way behind and high winds and heavy rains pushed things back even further. A fire at the construction site added to the delays and just as everything seemed to be ready to go again, a grand jury probe was opened over alleged misuse of funds and materials.

When the original referendum was passed in 1964, the thought was that the stadium would be open for the 1967 season. Then, 1968, 1969 and 1970 all became target dates for the opening of Philadelphia Veterans Stadium. Of course, all of those targets were missed and The Vet finally opened on April 10, 1971. Suddenly, Philadelphia was home to the largest stadium in the National League. The cost had ballooned to $52 million and a lot of egos had been damaged during the bickering and political battles, but the Phillies and Eagles had a spectacular new home.

The Phillies and the city of Philadelphia actually gave away tickets to ensure that opening day would be a capacity crowd. The plan produced the largest crowd to ever see a baseball game in Pennsylvania at 55, 352, a record which has since been surpassed. TV host Mike Douglas sang the National Anthem and four F-106 fighter jets flew over the stadium to mark the occasion. In one of the more memorable stunts, catcher Mike Ryan caught a ball dropped 150 from a helicopter and befitting the name of the stadium, Marine Corporal Frank Mastrogiovanni, a Vietnam veteran threw out the first pitch. With all the splendor of opening day, problems arose, almost as a seeming testament to the delays and problems that had accompanied the building of the stadium. A major water line ruptured, flooding parts of the stadium and even the 60 concession stands seemingly weren't enough as fans waited in long lines for food, missing large chunks of the game.

Eventually, The Vet went on to host the Major League All-Star Game in 1976, numerous playoff games and of course, the World Series in 1980, 1983 and 1993. The Eagles made The Vet their home as well and over the years other events such as concerts and the Army / Navy football game have been played at Veterans Stadium. One of the more sobering moments in the stadium's history came during the 1998 Army / Navy game when a railing broke, sending cheering cadets falling to the turf.

Now, in a different era, when the former state-of-the-art stadiums have no place in either the NFL or MLB, Philadelphia looks forward to a new era in stadium designs. The Eagles begin their first season in Lincoln Financial Field and the Phillies look to opening day of 2004 and the inaugural season at Citizens Bank Park. The new state-of-the-art has arrived and before long, Veterans Stadium will become a former piece of the Philadelphia skyline. The seats will be sold to nostalgic fans and the concrete will crumble. The memories live on for every fan who ever witnessed the magic of their first major league baseball game, a big Phillies win or even just the majesty of a simple day at the park with their family and friends. To paraphrase the commercial; "building Veterans Stadium $50 million. A day at Veterans Stadium – priceless."

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