ST. LOUIS -- When the Busch Stadium gates close for good in a few weeks, there will be some sadness in the realization that the ballpark that served as the site of so many memorable moments and historic events over the last 40 years will soon fall to the wrecking ball.
And yet the demise of old Busch also closes the books on the cookie-cutter period of baseball architecture and that is an event which won't leave many fans misty-eyed. All fads must end, and the close of the cookie-cutter era that Busch Stadium typifies is one that will not be missed.
When Busch Stadium opened on May 12, 1966, the donut-shaped facility was the height of fashion, a multi-purpose facilty for the times. It was an era when round-as-a-wheel stadia were the rage for reasons more financial than asthetic. The parks were economical, since with a few alterations they could be quickly configured to host a baseball game one day, a football game the next and various other events when those sports were out of town or out of season.
Cost-conscious communities initially embraced the idea. The rise of artificial turf coincided with this concept because it was cheaper to maintain and more durable than real grass. The end result was an assembly-line string of stadiums across the nation that quickly became tired and outdated. Like disco, cookie-cutter stadiums were a fad that would peak in the 1970s before quickly fading away.
Busch Stadium, like many other cookie-cutter parks built during the '60s and '70s, was all the rage in those days. In hindsight, it can be argued that the stadium's popularity is owed more to the great Cardinal players who gave fans so many great performances at Busch Stadium over the years, such as Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith and Mark McGwire, than the ballpark itself.
Busch Stadium became a landmark more for what happened there than the park itself. Busch Stadium was where Jack Buck urged fans to go crazy and Whitey Herzog's Cardinals won a World Series. Busch Stadium was center stage for the McGwire-Sammy Sosa pursuit of Roger Maris' single-season home run record in '98.
Though it is the site of so many memories, Busch Stadium never fostered the unbreakable bond that exists between fans and ballparks in other cities such as Fenway Park in Boston or Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium, like Busch, was among the first cookie-cutter parks constructed. Cincinnati built Riverfront Stadium (later Cinergy Field) in 1970, Pittsburgh followed with an almost identical version in Three Rivers Stadium. Philadelphia's Veteran Stadium was the last of the line.
RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., opened before all of them, but hasn't been a permanent home for a Major League team since it hosted the Senators from 1961-71. It now serves as temporary shelter for the Nationals, who are hoping to play in a new ballpark by 2008.
One by one they have been replaced with new "retro" ballparks that are as unique as the cities they represent. Real grass is back. Character and comfort in a baseball-only park has trumped versatility and cost.
With baseball cathedrals like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field serving as examples, the unique newer parks have followed a baseball-only path while adding the modern amenities today's fans demand. The new parks are generally smaller, as the cookie-cutters were massive and non-descript. The new parks are cozy and quaint.
One by one, the cookie-cutters have gone the way of all extinct species. The Pirates tore down Three Rivers Stadium in 2000. Cinergy Field fell in 2002 and the Phillies moved out of the Vet for PNC Park in 2003, leaving only Busch Stadium as the last of the cookie cutter dinosaurs.
Today the era is at an end.
After the playoffs it will be gone forever, as the new Busch Stadium rises from the rubble of its predecessor.
The new Busch Stadium is already impressive, though smaller than the original. The bright red seats are close to the action and the park layout will obviously look nothing like the symmetry that was characteristic of old Busch Stadium.
The newer parks on the whole have made baseball a more enjoyable experience for fans and new Busch will do the same for St. Louis fans. They will have baseball near the banks of the Mississippi in a setting similar to what it was before the cookie-cutter craze.
The name is the same, and the Cardinals will still call it home. Albert Pujols will still be hitting home runs while a sea of red-clad fans cheer him on. The best of what is the St. Louis Cardinals will carry over from old Busch to new Busch.
As for the rest, may it rest in peace.
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.