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Polo Grounds

The Polo Grounds before the 1911 fire
 
The rebuilt Polo Grounds in 1912

New York, New York

Polo Grounds I Polo Grounds II Polo Grounds III
Tenant: New York Giants New York Giants New York Giants
Opened: 1883 1889 April 22, 1891
Last game: 1888 1890 April 14, 1911
Capacity: n/a n/a n/a
Location: Northern edge of
Central Park
between 5th &
6th Aves. from
110th to 112th Sts.
Southern half of
Coogan's Hollow
between 155th
and 157th Sts.
Northern half of
Coogan's Hollow
between 157th
and 159th Sts.
Fate: Abandoned when
NYC confiscated
the property
Giants moved to
larger field to the
north when the
Players League
abandoned it
Burned down

San Francisco Giants & New York Yankees tickets:

Polo was played in the 1870s on a site just north of Central Park bound by 5th & 6th Avenues and 110th & 112th Streets. The site became know as the Polo Grounds. By 1883, baseball had taken over the site. The New Yorks (later called the Giants) of the National League played in the southeast corner of the park and the Metropolitans of the American Association played in the southwest corner. In 1889, when the Giants were evicted from the original Polo Grounds, they moved uptown to a stadium on the southern parcel of Coogan's Hollow. Also known as Manhattan Field, from the beginning it was called the New Polo Grounds (Polo Grounds II).

The Players League built a stadium called Brotherhood Park on the northern parcel of Coogan's Hollow for the 1890 season. After one season the league collapsed, and in 1891 the Giants moved into Brotherhood Park and changed the name to the Polo Grounds (Polo Grounds III). The third incarnation of the Polo Grounds burned down on April 14, 1911 and a fourth version was built on the same site with temporary stands for 1911. The infield stands were rebuilt with concrete for 1912, and the outfield concrete double deck was finished in 1922. The bleachers in left-center and center were of wood remaining from before the fire.

Polo Grounds IV

Polo Grounds Matinee

Tenants: New York Giants (NL) 1911-1957; New York Yankees (AL) 1913-1922; New York Mets (NL) 1962-1963
Opened: June 28, 1911
First night game: May 24, 1940
Last game: September 18, 1963
Capacity: 34,000 (1911); 55,000 (1923)
Demolished: April 10, 1964

Architects: Henry B. Herts and Osborn Engineering (1911)
Construction: n/a
Owner: New York Giants
Cost: $100,000.00 (1911)

A.K.A.: Brush Stadium (1911 to 1919), Coogan’s Bluff, Coogan’s Hollow, Matty Schwab’s house, Harlem Meadow.

Location: Center field (SE), Eighth Avenue, then IRT elevated tracks, Harlem River, and Harlem River Drive; third base (NE), West 159th Street and IRT Rail Yards; home plate (NW), Bridge Park, then Harlem River Speedway, Coogan’s Bluff, and Croton Aqueduct; first base (SW), West 157th Street trace; same site as Polo Grounds (III); in the norther half of Coogan’s Hollow, 115 feet below Coogan’s Bluff.

Dimensions: Left Field: 277 (1911), 286.67 (1921), 279.67 (1923), 279 (1930), 280 (1943), 279 (1955); Left Field, second deck: 250; Left center, left of bullpen: 447; Left center, right of bullpen: 455; Front of clubhouse steps: 460; Center field: 433 (1911), 483 (1923), 484.75 (1927), 505 (1930), 430 (1931), 480 (1934), 430 (1938), 505 (1940), 490 (1943), 505 (1944), 448 (1945), 490 (1946), 484 (1947), 505 (1949), 483 (1952), 480 (1953), 483 (1954), 480 (1955), 475 (1962), 483 (1963); Bleacher corners: 425 when center field was 475; Right center, left of bullpen: 449; Right center, right of bullpen: 440; Right field: 256.25 (1921), 257.67 (1923), 257.5 (1931), 257.67 (1942), 259 (1943), 257.67 (1944); Right field, second deck photographers' perch: 249; Backstop: 65 (1942), 70 (1943), 65 (1944), 70 (1946), 74 (1949), 65 (1954), 74 (1955), 65 (1962); Foul territory: very large.

Fences (1911-22): Left to center: 10 (concrete); center: 20 (tarp); right-center: 10 (concrete); right field: 12 sloping to 11 at pole (concrete).

Fences (1923-63): Left field: 16.81 (concrete); left-center: 18 (concrete); point where left-center wall ended at bleachers: 12 (concrete); center-field bleachers wall: 8.5 (4.25 wire on top of 4.25 concrete) on both sides of clubhouse runway; center-field hitters’ background: 16.5 on both sides of clubhouse runway; center-field clubhouse: 60 high and 60 wide—50 high in 1963; center field, top of Longines Clock: 80; center field, top of right side of scoreboard: 71; center field, top of left side of scoreboard: 68; center field, top of middle of scoreboard: 64; center field, top of five right scoreboard windows: 57; center field, top of four left scoreboard windows: 55; center field, bottom of five right scoreboard windows: 53; center field, bottom of four left scoreboard windows: 48; center field, bottom of clubhouse scoreboard: 31; center field, top of rear clubhouse wall: 28; center field, top of front clubhouse wall: 19; center field, top of 14 lower clubhouse windows: 16; center field, bottom of 14 lower clubhouse windows: 11; center field clubhouse floor overhang: 8; center field, top of Eddie Grant Memorial: 5; center field, width of little office on top of lower clubhouse: 10; right-center: 12 (concrete); right field: 10.64 (concrete).

Fans before a game at the Polo Grounds
 
Osborn Engineering photograph of the Polo Grounds grandstand

Trivia:

  • Originally named for owner John T. Brush.
  • The phrase "Hot Dog" was coined by NY Journal sports cartoonist Tad Dorgan when he couldn't remember how to spell the word "dachshund" in describing the "red hot dachshund sausages" served at a game here in April 1901.
  • Second deck in right had 9-foot photographer’s perch overhang, 60 feet from the foul pole out into right-center.
  • Bullpens in fair territory in left-center and right-center.
  • The Polo Grounds Towers (four 30-story apartment buildings) now stand where the field used to be. Willie Mays Field (an asphalt playground with 6 basketball backboards) is where center field used to be; a brass historical marker notes the spot.
  • There was no line on the 60-foot-high center-field clubhouse above which a ball would be a home run.
  • The outfield was slightly sunken. A manager, standing in his dugout, could see only the top half of his outfielders. At the wall, the field was 8 feet below the infield.
  • The left-field second-deck overhang meant that a homer to left was easier than a homer to right, even though the wall in left was 279 feet and the wall in right was 258. The overhang was 21 feet, but it effectively shortened the distance required for a pop-fly homer to the second deck in left to 250 feet because of the angle involved.
  • The overhangs here and at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium and Philadelphia’s Shibe Park have more significance than one might suspect, according to research published by the American Physical Society, the professional society for physicists. The batted ball’s trajectory consists of two component vectors: horizontal and vertical. The vertical deceleration is constant over time because of gravity, but the horizontal deceleration increases over time because of wind resistance and atmospheric drag. Near the end of its flight, the ball comes down sharply rather than arcing down in the way that it arched up, as would occur in a vacuum. Therefore, many outfielders have watched helplessly as a ball they thought they could catch dropped into the second deck.
  • Hitter’s background extended beyond the end of the bleacher wall, several feet into the clubhouse gap.
  • The field sloped in a "turtle back" shape just beyond the infield dirt. It sloped down 1½ feet to drains about 20 feet into the outfield, then back up again.
  • Right-center wall sloped gradually from 11 feet at pole to 12 feet at the bleachers.
  • Left-center wall sloped from 16 feet, 9.75 inches at the pole to 18 feet in left center, then abruptly fell to 16 feet and then to 14 feet and sloped gradually to 12 feet at the bleachers.
  • When billboards were removed in the 1940s, the abrupt changes in height in left-center disappeared.
  • Fred Merkle's blunder occurred here on September 23, 1908, resulting in the infamous Cubs-Giants October 8, 1908 replay of the game. The Cubs protested on September 23rd that Harry McCormick should not have been allowed to score from third base because Fred Merkle, who was on first, had not touched second base on Al Bridwell's game-winning single to center. Umpire Han O'Day had witnessed infielder Johnny Evers recover the game ball and stand on second base to record a force-out. Late that night, O'Day upheld the Cubs' protest, and NL president Harry Pilliam upheld O'Day's ruling. The game became, in effect, a National League pennant playoff because the teams were tied and the season was over. An estimated 250,000 people showed up, but only about a fifth that many could get in because of the limited number of seats. Pandemonium ensued as a mob of irate fans tried to storm their way into the stadium. Most of the people were dispersed, but about 40,000 remained throughout the game and watched from Coogan's Bluff and from the tops of telephone poles, trees and subway platforms. A fireman by the name of Henry T. McBride fell from a pillar on the elevated train platform and was killed.

Aerial view of the Polo Grounds from above Yankee Stadium
 
Early picture of the Polo Grounds from Coogan's Bluff

  • In 1914 there were two bends in the wall in right-center.
  • In 1917 the fans exited the field through gates under the center-field bleachers.
  • Morris Jumel Mansion, on Coogan’s Bluff, overlooked the ballpark.
  • Brush Stairway led down from Coogan’s Bluff to the Speedway and the ticket booths behind home plate.
  • Coats of arms of all the teams in the National League were displayed on the top of the grandstand until they were removed in the 1920s.
  • Dedicated on May 30, 1921, to a former Giants player killed in World War I, the Eddie Grant Memorial stood in center at the base of the clubhouse wall. It was 5 feet high.
  • The Memorial reads: In Memory of Capt. Edward Leslie Grant / 307th Infantry-77th Division / A.E.F. / Soldier-Scholar-Athlete / Killed in action / Argonne Forest / October 5, 1918 / Philadelphia Nationals / 1907-1908-1909-1910 / Cincinnati Reds / 1911-1912-1913 / New York Giants / 1913-1914-1915 / Erected by friends in Baseball, / Journalism, and the Service.
  • In the winter of 1922-23, the concrete double decks were extended all the way to either side of the new concrete bleachers in center, housing the clubhouse. Unfortunately, the Roman Coliseum facade frescoes were removed during that winter also.
  • The bleachers in center were remodeled in 1923.
  • In 1929 the first attempt was made to wire umpires for sound and connect them to the PA System. It didn’t work very well.
  • A speaker was placed above the Grant Memorial in 1931.
  • Site of the All-Star game in 1942 and 1934.
  • Field raised 4½ feet in 1949 to help with drainage. On 1609 and 1874 maps, the location is shown to be underneath the Harlem River. The water table was only 2 to 6 feet below the playing surface, and drainage was complicated by rainwater cascading off the 115-foot-high Coogan’s Bluff down onto the site.
  • During the 1950s, groundskeeper Matty Schwab and his family lived in an apartment, built for him by owner Horace Stoneham, under Section 3 of the left-field stands. The apartment was the main bait in Mr. Stoneham’s successful offer to grab Mr. Schwab away from the hated Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950.
  • A 2-foot-square section of sod from center field was removed and taken to San Francisco (where the Giants moved to) in the fall of 1957.
  • Home plate was moved out toward center several feet by the Mets in the winter of 1961-1962.
  • During the Mets’ stay in 1962 and 1963, Johnny McCarthy and his crew of groundskeepers painted Schwab’s four rooms pink, installed a shower and plywood on the floor and lockers, and called it their "Pink Room."
  • In 1962 and 1963 the Howard Clothes sign on the outfield wall promised a suit to any player hitting it.
  • Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard Round the World" homer occurred here at 4:11 PM on October 3, 1951 against the Dodgers and ended the "Greatest Game Ever Played."
  • Demolition started on April 10, 1964, using the same wrecking ball that had demolished Ebbets Field.

Recommended Reading (bibliography):

  • Land of the Giants: New York's Polo Grounds by Stew Thornley.
  • Babe Ruth Slept Here: The Baseball Landmarks of New York City by Jim Reisler.
  • Take Me Out to the Ballpark: An Illustrated Tour of Baseball Parks Past and Present by Josh Leventhal and Jessica Macmurray.
  • The Ballpark Book: A Journey Through the Fields of Baseball Magic (Revised Edition) by Ron Smith and Kevin Belford.
  • City Baseball Magic: Plain Talk and Uncommon Sense about Cities and Baseball Parks by Philip Bess.
  • Diamonds: The Evolution of the Ballpark by Michael Gershman.
  • Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebration of All 273 Major League and Negro League Ballparks by Philip J. Lowry.
  • Lost Ballparks: A Celebration of Baseball's Legendary Fields by Lawrence S. Ritter.
  • Roadside Baseball: A Guide to Baseball Shrines Across America by Chris Epting.
  • The Story of America's Classic Ballparks (VHS).

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IMAGES:

The Polo Grounds before the 1911 fire courtesy of the Franklin Digital Collection.
The rebuilt Polo Grounds in 1912 courtesy of the Franklin Digital Collection.
Polo Grounds Matinee © 1996 by Andy Jurinko.
View of fans before a game at the Polo Grounds by Munsey & Suppes.
View of the grandstand in 1913 © 1996 by Osborn Engineering.
Aerial view of the Polo Grounds courtesy of the New York Yankees.
The Polo Grounds from Coogan's Bluff courtesy of Detroit Publishing.

Updated July 2007

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