The Polo Grounds was the name given to
four different stadiums in Upper Manhattan, New York City, used by many
professional teams in both baseball and American football from 1880
until 1963. In baseball, the site was home to the New York Metropolitans
from 1880 until 1885, the New York Giants from 1883 until 1957, the New
York Yankees from 1912 until 1922, and the New York Mets in their first
two seasons of 1962 and 1963. In football, the fourth Polo Grounds was
home to the New York Giants of the National Football League from 1925 to
1955. Later, it was home to the New York Jets of the American Football
League from the league's inaugural season of 1960, when the team was
known as the New York Titans, through the team's first season as the
Jets in 1963. It also hosted the 1934 and 1942 Major League Baseball
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 Fifth and Sixth (Lenox) Avenues, just uptown of Central Park,
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 Francisco
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.
The Polo Grounds' end
was somewhat anticlimactic, especially compared to other "Jewel Box"
parks. 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 had gone to seed 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 across the Harlem River 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, California,
following the Dodgers to the West Coast. The Giants had won five World
Series championships in the Polo Grounds. 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.
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 Towers 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 Field. The wrecking crew wore Giants jerseys
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
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