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The Polo Grounds was the name given to four different stadiums in Upper Manhattan, New York Citymarker used by baseball's New York Metropolitans from 1880 until 1885, New York Giants from 1883 until 1957, the New York Yankees from 1912 until 1922, and by the New York Mets in their first two seasons of 1962 and 1963. It also hosted the 1934 and 1942 Major League Baseball All-Star Games.

As its name suggests, the original Polo Grounds was built in 1876 for the sport of polo. Of the four stadiums that carried this name over the years, the original structure was the only one actually used for polo. The field was originally referred to in newspapers simply as "the polo grounds," and over time this generic designation became a proper name. Bounded on the south and north by 110th and 112th Streets, and the east and west by Fifthmarker and Sixth Avenues, just uptown of Central Parkmarker, it was converted to a baseball stadium when leased by the New York Metropolitans in 1880. The stadium was used jointly by the Giants and Metropolitans from 1883 until 1885, and the name stuck for each subsequent stadium of the Giants.

The fourth and final Polo Grounds, which was the Giants home until they moved to San Franciscomarker after the 1957 season, and which was also a temporary home for the Yankees (1913-1922) and the Mets (1962-1963), was the most famous, and is the one most people mean when they refer to the Polo Grounds. The name "Polo Grounds" did not actually appear prominently on any of the stadiums, until the Mets posted it with a large sign in 1962.

The final version of the structure was noted for its distinctive bathtub shape, with very short distances to the left and right field walls, but an unusually deep center field.

Left field also had an upper deck ("the short porch") which extended out over the field (after its 1923 extension), reducing the distance from 279 feet (85 m) to about 250 feet (76 m). That meant it was technically rather difficult to hit a home run into the lower deck of the left field stands, unless it was a line drive such as Bobby Thomson's famous home run -- "the Shot Heard 'Round the World" -- in 1951.

No player ever hit a fly ball that reached the 483-foot (147 m) distant center-field wall, which fronted a part of the clubhouse which overhung the field. Given that overhang, it was not inherently clear what the actual "home run line" would have been in straightaway center. Some sources listed the center field distance as 505, which suggests that was where the true home run line would have been, at the back of the clubhouse overhang. But if there were any ground rules governing such a situation, they never had to be applied. The last sporting event played was between the New York Titans and the Buffalo Bills.

Chronology

The first Polo Grounds, Opening Day, 1886


Polo Grounds I

The original Polo Grounds stood at 110th Street between Fifth Avenue and Sixth (now Lenox) Avenue, directly across 110th Street from the northeast corner of Central Parkmarker. The venue's original purpose was for the sport of polo, and its name was initially merely descriptive, not a formal name, often rendered as "the polo grounds" in newspapers. The Metropolitans, an independent team of roughly major-league caliber, were the first professional baseball team to play there, beginning in September 1880, and remained the sole professional occupant through the 1882 season. At that time the Metropolitans' ownership had the opportunity to bring them into the National League, but elected instead to organize a new team, the New York Gothams (who soon came to be known as the Giants), mainly using players from the Metropolitans and the newly defunct Troy Trojans, and entered it in the National League, while bringing what remained of the Metropolitan club into the competing American Association. For this purpose the ownership built a second diamond and grandstand at the park, dividing it into eastern and western fields for use by the Giants and Metropolitans respectively. Polo Grounds I thus hosted its first Major League Baseball games in 1883 as the home stadium of two teams, the American Association Metropolitans and the National League Gothams. The dual-fields arrangement proved unworkable because of faulty surfacing of the western field, and after various other arrangements were tried, the Metropolitans and Giants alternated play on the eastern field in later years until the Metropolitans moved to the St. George Cricket Groundsmarker on Staten Islandmarker in 1886.

Earliest known image of Polo Grounds I, from 1882
An early highlight of Giants' play at the Polo Grounds was Roger Connor's home run over the right-field wall and into 112th Street; visitors to the site today can judge for themselves that this was an impressively long home run for its time or any time. Connor eventually held the record for career home runs that Babe Ruth would break in 1920.

The original Polo Grounds was used not only for polo and professional baseball, but often for college baseball and football as well -- even by teams outside New York. The earliest known surviving image of the field is an engraving of a baseball game between YaleUniversity and Princeton University on Decoration Day (May 30), 1882.: Yale and Harvard also played their traditional Thanksgiving Day game there on November 29, 1883 and November 24, 1887. (See "American football" below.)

Polo Grounds II

The original Polo Grounds ceased to exist in 1889 when New York City, in the process of turning the theoretical street grid that had existed on maps for years into a reality in its uptown reaches, extended West 111th Street through the grounds of the park. City workers are said to have shown up suddenly one day and begun cutting through the fence at the appropriate point for the new street. There was significant sentiment in the city against this move (the Giants had won the National League pennant the year before and had a very enthusiastic following), and a bill was even passed by the state legislature to give the Giants a variance on the grid extension and allow the park to stand; but sitting governor David B. Hill, who had campaigned for office on a "home rule" pledge, vetoed the bill on the grounds that whatever he might think of the forced destruction of the park, the will of the city government was to be respected. The loss of their park forced the Giants to look quickly for alternative grounds.

The Giants opened the 1889 season at a ballfield in Jersey City called Oakdale Park, playing their first two games there. Four days later, they moved to the St. George Cricket Grounds (where the Metropolitans had continued to play until their demise in 1887), as an interim home for the next couple of months.

The Giants finally located another site within Manhattan, and moved uptown to the far terminus of the then Ninth Avenue Elevated at 155th Street and Eighth Avenue. (For the Ninth Avenue Elevated and its terminus at 155th Street and Eighth Avenue see abandoned subway stations (nysubway.org); see also IRT Ninth Avenue Linemarker.) After closing out the St. George Grounds on June 14, the Giants played on the road for the next three weeks, and finally opened their new facility on July 8. Despite their vagabond existence in 1889, the Giants managed to win the pennant and the World Series for the second consecutive year.

All the later Polo Grounds were located at 155th Street and Eighth Avenue (now Frederick Douglass Boulevardmarker) at the northwest corner. The site, on which a public housing project now stands, is overlooked to the north and west by a steep promontory known as Coogan's Bluff. The ballpark itself was thus in the bottomland, or Coogan's Hollow. Polo Grounds II was located in the southern portion of Coogan's Hollow. The land remained in the Coogan estate, and the Giants were renters for their entire duration at the ballpark. The grandstand of the second Polo Grounds had a conventional curve around the infield, but the shape of the property left the center field area actually closer than left center or right center. This was not much of an issue in the "dead ball era" of baseball.

The Brooklyn Dodgers played a pair of home series at this ballpark in late July and early August of 1890.

After the National League version of the New York Giants moved into Polo Grounds III in 1891, Polo Grounds II was referred to as Manhattan Field, and was converted for other sports such as football and track-and-field. It still existed as a structure for nearly 20 more years. Babe Ruth's first home run as a Yankee, on May 1, 1920, was characterized by the New York Times reporter as a "sockdolager" (i.e. a decisive blow), and was described as traveling "over the right field grand stand into Manhattan Field". Bill Jenkinson's modern research indicates the ball traveled about 500 feet in total, after clearing the Polo Grounds double decked right field stand. Manhattan Field was a playground or vacant lot by then. Some years later, the area was paved over, to serve as a parking lot for the Polo Grounds.

Polo Grounds III

The "third" and "fourth" Polo Grounds were actually the same ballfield. The 1890 structure, Polo Grounds III, initially had a totally open outfield bounded by just the outer fence, but bleachers were gradually added. By the early 1900s, some bleacher sections encroached on the field from the foul lines about halfway along left and right field. Additionally, there was a pair of "cigar box" bleachers on either side of the "batter's eye" in center field. The expansive outfield was cut down somewhat by a rope fence behind which carriages (and early automobiles) were allowed to park. By 1910, bleachers enclosed the outfield, and the carriage ropes were gone. The hodge-podge approach to the bleacher construction formed a multi-faceted outfield area. There were a couple of gaps between some of the sections, and that would prove significant in 1911.

Polo Grounds III opened for business in 1890 as the home stadium for a second New York Giants franchise, the Players' League version. The Players' League was a creation of Major League Baseball's first union, the Brotherhood of Professional Base-Ball Players. After failing to win concessions from National League owners, the Brotherhood founded its own league in 1890. The Players' League Giants played in a new stadium called Brotherhood Park, located in the northern half of Coogan's Hollow, next door to the old Polo Grounds II, otherwise bounded by rail yards and the bluff. Brotherhood Park hosted its first game on April 19, 1890. For one year the two editions of the Giants were neighbors, with the National League Giants still playing in Polo Grounds II. If the teams played on the same day, fans in the upper decks could watch each others' games, and home run balls hit in one park might land on the other team's playing field. After only one season the Players' League folded and the Brotherhood's members went back to the National League. The National League Giants then moved out of Polo Grounds II and into Brotherhood Park, which was bigger. They took their stadium's name with them, turning Brotherhood Park into the Polo Grounds--Polo Grounds III. They stayed there for 67 seasons.

Polo Grounds IV

On Friday, April 14, 1911, a fire of unknown origin swept through the horseshoe of the grandstand portion of Polo Grounds III, consuming the wood and leaving only the steel uprights in place. The gaps between some sections of the stands saved a good portion of the outfield seating, as well as the clubhouse, from destruction. Giants owner John T. Brush decided to rent Hilltop Parkmarker from the Yankees while rebuilding the Polo Grounds with concrete and steel.

The stadium's reconstruction was sufficiently far along to allow the Polo Grounds to re-open on June 28, 1911, the date from which later baseball guides dated the structure, now sometimes retronamed as "Polo Grounds IV." The new structure was the sixth concrete-and-steel stadium in the majors (and the second in the National League, behind Forbes Fieldmarker). The new seating areas were rebuilt during the season while the games went on. The new structure stretched in roughly the same semi-circle as before from the left field corner around home plate to the right field corner, and was also extended into deep right-center field. The surviving bleachers were retained pretty much as they were, with gaps remaining between the bleachers and the new fireproof construction.

The Giants rose from the ashes along with their ballpark, winning the National League pennant in 1911 (as they also would in 1912 and 1913). As evidenced from the World Series programs, the team tried to rename the new structure Brush Stadium in honor of their then-owner John T. Brush, but the name did not stick, and it died with him. The remaining old bleachers were demolished during the 1923 season when the permanent double-deck was extended around most of the rest of the field and new bleachers and clubhouse were constructed across center field.

Polo Grounds ca.1922
Polo Grounds ca.1923
This version of the ballpark had its share of quirks. The "unofficial" distances (never marked on the wall) down the left and right field lines were 279 and 258 feet respectively, but there was a 21 foot overhang in left field, which often intercepted fly balls which would otherwise have been catchable and turned them into home runs. Contrasting with the short distances down the lines were the 450-some foot distances in the gaps, with straightaway center field 483 feet distant from home plate; the corners of the bleachers on either side of the clubhouse runway were about 425 feet. The catch that Willie Mays made in the 1954 World Series against Vic Wertz of the Cleveland Indians would have been a home run in many other ballparks of the time. The bullpens were actually in play, in the left and right center field gaps. The outfield sloped downward from the infield, and people in the dugouts often could only see the top half of the outfielders.

The New York Yankees sublet the Polo Grounds from the Giants during 1913–1922 after their lease on Hilltop Parkmarker expired. After the 1922 season, the Yankees built Yankee Stadiummarker directly across the Harlem Rivermarker from the Polo Grounds, a situation which spurred the Giants to expand their park to reach a seating capacity comparable to the Stadium, to stay competitive. However, since nearly all the new seating was in the outfield, the Stadium still had a lot more "good" seats than did the Polo Grounds, at least for baseball. At that point, the Polo Grounds most notably became better suited for football than it had been previously.

The Giants' first night game at the stadium was played on May 24, 1940.

centre


Football

While somewhat awkwardly laid out for baseball, the various incarnations of the Polo Grounds were well-suited for football, and hundreds of football games were played there over the years.

Yalemarker played football in the original 110th Street Polo Grounds in the 19th century, for some games which were expected to draw large crowds, including the Thanksgiving contests in 1883 and 1887. (See also List of Harvard-Yale football games).

In the 20th century, both the New York Giants of the National Football League and the New York Jets (then known as the Titans) of the American Football League used the Polo Grounds as their home field before moving on to other sites. The Giants moved initially to Yankee Stadiummarker in 1956 while the Jets, founded in 1960, followed the New York Mets to Shea Stadiummarker in 1964.

The grounds were also used for many games by New York-area college football teams such as Fordham and Army. An upset victory by the visiting University of Notre Dame over Army in 1924 led to Grantland Rice's famous article about the Irish backfield, which he called "The Four Horsemen". The field was also the site of several Army–Navy Games in the 1910s and 1920s.

The football Giants hosted the 1934, 1938, 1944, and 1946 NFL championship games at the Polo Grounds. In addition the Boston Redskins moved the 1936 game from Boston to the Polo Grounds, as part of their transition in relocating to Washington.

Boxing

The Polo Grounds was the site of many famous boxing matches as well, most notably the legendary 1923 heavyweight championship bout between Jack Dempsey and Luis Firpo.

Soccer

The Polo Grounds has held its fair share of international soccer matches as well over the years. In 1926, Hakoah, an all-Jewish side from Viennamarker, Austriamarker, "drew the largest crowds ever to watch soccer in America up to that time: three successive games drew 25,000, 30,000, and 36,000 spectators. The highlight of the tour was a May 1, 1926 exhibition game between Hakoah and an American Soccer League all-New York team which drew 46,000 fans to the Polo Grounds in New York." (The ASL team won 3–0.)

The first soccer played at the Polo Grounds was as far back as 1894 when the owners of the various major Baseball clubs thought it would be a great way to fill their stadiums in the off season. Six famous baseball franchises of the era formed Association Football sections and fans were told that many would be fielding their baseball stars on the Football field in the opening season. The New York Giants soccer team took the field in an all white kit with black socks and played six games before the threat of a rival baseball league being formed diverted the owner's attention away from their new venture and caused it to be suspended mid-season. The Giants lay third in the league after six games with two victories, having played their matches in midweek in front of attendances in the high hundreds paying 25 cents a game. Although the owners remained positive about the venture and wanted to run it again the following season this never happened and the Giants' soccer team were no more.

On May 19 1935, the Scotland National Football Team toured the United Statesmarker, and in their first game played against an ASL All-Star squad which was unofficially representing the United States. Scotland won 5–1 in front of 25,000 people at the Polo Grounds. In 1939, the Scots returned to America for another tour, and played at the Polo Grounds twice. In their first game at the Polo Grounds on May 21, 1939, Scotland tied the Eastern USA All-Stars 1–1 in front of 25,072 fans. In their second game at the Polo Grounds on June 18, 1939, Scotland beat the American League Stars 4–2.

Following World War II, on September 26, 1948, the USA beat Israel 3–1 in their first ever game since independence before 25,000 fans at the Polo Grounds. On June 9, 1950, a crowd of 21,000 fans came to the Polo Grounds to watch a 'International Dream Double Header'. Beşiktaş J.K. of Turkeymarker defeated the American Soccer League All-Stars 3–1, and then Manchester United defeated Jönköpingmarker (the top amateur team in Swedenmarker) 4–0. On May 17, 1960, Birmingham City of Englandmarker played Third Lanark of Scotlandmarker and lost 4–1 at the Polo Grounds in New York City. On August 6 of the same year, 25,440 patrons showed up at the Polo Grounds to watch the inaugural International Soccer League Final which saw Bangu of Brazilmarker edge out Kilmarnock FC of Scotland 2–0. The following year, 1961, may have been the last year documented that soccer was played at the Polo Grounds. The second edition of the International Soccer League held most of its game at the Polo Grounds, with a few games held in Montrealmarker. On July 16, 1961 Shamrock Rovers beat Red Star Belgrade 5–1, on August 9, Dukla Prague beat Everton 7–0, and 4 days later on August 13, Dukla Prague beat Everton again 2–0, thus winning the Dwight D. Eisenhower Trophy. The combined attendance for both games at the Polo Grounds was 31,627. In domestic league soccer, the Polo Grounds was the home to the New York Nationals of the American Soccer League in 1928.

Gaelic football

On September 14, 1947, the Polo Grounds hosted the final of the All-Ireland Senior Gaelic Football championship between Cavan and Kerry. It was decided that New York would host this match as a commemoration of the 1847 Irish famine which forced a large number of Irish people to emigrate to America. This novel location for the game was chosen for the benefit of New York's large Irish immigrant population. It was the only time that the final has been played outside of Irelandmarker.

Center field

Willie Mays, The Catch and the 483 sign in 1954.
In Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, Giants outfielder Willie Mays made a sensational catch of a fly ball hit by the Cleveland Indians' Vic Wertz into deep center field, a catch which, in the words of radio announcer Jack Brickhouse, "must have looked like an optical illusion to a lot of people", and which turned the tide of that Series in the Giants' favor.

Babe Ruth hit many of his early signature blasts at the Polo Grounds, reaching the center field seats on several occasions. His longest blast at the grounds, over the right-center upper deck in 1921, was estimated at over 550 feet. Had Ruth played regularly in the remodeled Polo Grounds, he would have been capable of hitting the clubhouse if conditions were right. Neither he nor anyone else ever did, but a few came close.

After the 1923 remodeling, only four players ever hit a home run into the center field stands:

Brock, a member of the Chicago Cubs at the time, is the surprising name on that list (accomplishing the feat on his 23rd birthday), as he was noted mostly for hits and stolen bases (especially after being traded to the Cardinals in 1964), but he displayed power-hitting capability from time to time, and one season hit 20 home runs, with a personal high of 21 in 1967.

The final years

Part of the problem was that the stadium was not well maintained from the late 1940s onward; while the baseball Giants owned the stadium, they did not own the parcel where it stood. Also, the neighborhood around the stadium was in decline by the early 1950s. All of this combined to severely hold down ticket sales, even when the Giants played well. In 1954, for instance, the baseball Giants only drew 1.1 million fans (compared to over 2 million for the Milwaukee Braves) even as they won the World Series.

The football Giants left for Yankee Stadium following the 1955 NFL season, and the baseball Giants' disastrous 1956 season (most of which they spent in last place before a late-season surge moved them up to 6th) caused a further drag on ticket sales. The Giants' 1956 attendance was less than half of the figure for the Giants' World Series-winning 1954 season. That meant little to no money for stadium upkeep.

Frustrated with the subsequent obsolescence and dilapidated condition of the Polo Grounds and the inability to secure a more modern stadium in the New York area, the Giants announced on August 19, 1957 that they would move following that season, after nearly three-quarters of a century, to San Francisco, Californiamarker. The Giants, who won five World Series championships in the Polo Grounds, have won zero World Series after making the move to San Francisco.

The ballpark then sat largely vacant for the next three years, until the newly-formed Titans and then the newly-formed Mets moved in, using the Polo Grounds as an interim home while Shea Stadium was being built. (As a 1962 baseball magazine noted, "The Mets will have to play in the Polo Grounds, hardly the last word in 20th Century stadia.")

In 1961, the city of New York decided to claim the land under eminent domain, for the purpose of condemning the stadium and building high-rise housing on the site. The Coogan family, which still owned the property, fought this effort until it was finally settled in the city's favor in 1967. (Stew Thornley, Land of the Giants, p.116)

In the 1992 book The Gospel According to Casey, by Ira Berkow and Jim Kaplan, it is reported (p.62) that in 1963, Mets manager Casey Stengel, who had bittersweet memories of his playing days at the Polo Grounds, had this to say during a rough outing to pitcher Tracy Stallard, whose greatest claim to fame had been giving up Roger Maris' 61st homer in 1961: "At the end of this season, they're gonna tear this joint down. The way you're pitchin', the right field section will be gone already!"

The final incarnation of the stadium was indeed demolished in 1964, and the Polo Grounds Towersmarker public housing project opened on the site in 1968. Demolition of the Polo Grounds began in April of that year with the same wrecking ball (painted to look like a baseball) that had been used four years earlier on Ebbets Fieldmarker. The wrecking crew wore Giants jerseysmarker and tipped their hard hats to the historic stadium as they began the dismantling. It took a crew of 60 workers more than four months to level the structure.

Timeline and teams

  • Polo Grounds I
  • Polo Grounds II (otherwise known as Manhattan Field)
    • Giants (NL), 1889-1890
  • Polo Grounds III (originally called Brotherhood Park)
  • Polo Grounds IV (also known as Brush Stadium from 1911 to 1919)
    • Giants (NL), 1911-1957
    • Yankees (American League), 1913-1922
    • Giants (NFL), 1925-1955
    • Bulldogs (NFL) 1949
    • Titans/Jets (AFL), 1960-1963
    • Mets (NL), 1962-1963


Dimensions

Diagram of the Polo Grounds drawn in 1951


Compiled from various photos, baseball annuals, The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball (Turkin & Thompson, 1951) and Green Cathedrals by Phil Lowry.

1890
  • Left Field Line - 335 ft. (not posted)
  • Center Field - 500 ft. (not posted)
  • Right Field Line - 335 ft. (not posted)


1911-1922
  • Left Field Line - 277 ft. (not posted)
  • Center Field - 433 ft. (not posted)
  • Right Field Line - 258 ft. (not posted)


1923-1957 1962-1963
  • Left Field Line - 279 ft. (not posted - sometimes listed as 280)
  • Left Field Upper Deck Overhang - about 250 ft.
  • Shallow Left Center - 315 ft.
  • Left Center 1 - 360 ft.
  • Left Center 2 - 414 ft.
  • Deep Left Center - 447 ft. left of bullpen curve
  • Deep Left Center - 455 ft. right of bullpen curve
  • Center Field - approx. 425 ft. (unposted) corners of runways
  • Center Field - 483 ft. posted on front of clubhouse balcony, sometimes 475 ft.
  • Center Field - 505 ft. (unposted) sometimes given as total C.F. distance
  • Deep Right Center - 455 ft. left of bullpen curve
  • Deep Right Center - 449 ft. right of bullpen curve
  • Right Center 2 - 395 ft.
  • Right Center 1 - 338 ft.
  • Shallow Right Center - 294 ft.
  • Right Field Line - 257 ft. 3 3/8 in. (not posted - sometimes listed as 258)
  • Backstop - 65 ft. sometimes also given as 74 ft.


The disparities in some of the posted distances, notably straightaway center, have not been fully reconciled by researchers. The closest object in straight center field was the Grant Memorial, followed by the post supporting the overhang of the clubhouse (above which the 483 or 475 signs were posted), and a roll-up door several feet behind the overhang at ground level. The roof of the protruding part of the clubhouse sloped back and met the vertical wall of the larger part of the clubhouse. The exact objects referred to by the numbers 475, 483 and 505 can be speculated but remain unconfirmed.

Seating capacity

1911-1922
  • 34,000


1923-1957 1962-1963
  • 56,000


See also



References

Bibliography

  • Benson, Michael. Ballparks of North America.
  • Bergin, Thomas G. The Game: The Harvard-Yale Football Rivalry. Yale Press, 1984.
  • Harper's Young People. "A Game of Base-Ball at the Polo Grounds, New York City, on Decoration Day — Yale vs. Princeton." , v. III (1882), p. 524.
  • Lowry, Philip J. Green Cathedrals.
  • Thornley, Stew. Land of the Giants: New York's Polo Grounds.
  • Ziegel, Vic (text), New York Daily News (photos), Guglberger, Claus (ed.) Summer in the City. pp.8,71,126,184 provide good documentation of the distance-markers on the walls


Notes

  1. SABR Biography
  2. Harper's Young People, v. III (1882), p. 524.
  3. Bergin, The Game, p. 308
  4. Oakdale Park
  5. St. George Cricket Grounds
  6. 1889 game log
  7. 1890 Brooklyn Dodgers schedule
  8. http://1920yankees.blogspot.com/2006/12/may-1st-yankees-6-red-sox-0.html
  9. Schedule for 1890 Players' League Giants
  10. Polo Grounds at ballparks.com
  11. http://www.rsssf.com/usadave/alpf.html
  12. Soccer at the Polo Grounds
  13. Baseball Almanac: Polo Grounds


External links




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