The Polo Grounds was the name given to four different stadiums in New York City used by Major League Baseball's New York Giants from 1883 until 1957, New York Metropolitans from 1883 until 1885, the New York Yankees from 1912 until 1922, and by the New York Mets in their first two seasons of 1962 and 1963.
The original Polo Grounds was built in the 1870s for the sport of polo, thus accounting for its name. The field was originally referred to in newspapers simply as the polo grounds, and over time the designation became a proper name. 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 the Giants used until they moved to San Francisco after the 1957 season, and which the Mets used until Shea Stadium was completed in 1964, was the most famous, and the one most people mean when they refer to the Polo Grounds. It hosted many events over the years, though never an actual polo match.
The park 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 which extended out over the field (after its 1923 extension), reducing the distance from 279 feet (85 meters) to about 250 feet (76 meters). 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 in 1951.
Not surprisingly, no fly ball ever reached the 483-foot (147-meter) distant CF 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 used to list 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 original Polo Grounds was located at 110th Street and Sixth Avenue (now Lenox Avenue), just outside the north edge of Central Park and occupied by buildings for several generations now. The other three were all located at 155th Street and Eighth Avenue (now Frederick Douglass Boulevard). The latter 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. The land remained in the Coogan estate. The Giants were renters for their entire duration at the ballpark.
The first Polo Grounds had two grandstands, and the field was divided into east and west for use by the Giants and by the Metropolitans (of the American Association) respectively. The original Mets played there for a few years and then fled, as the Giants were the more popular team.
The second Polo Grounds was at the northwest corner of the 155th and Eighth intersection. Its grandstand 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. After one season alone at that site, the new Players' League team built their "Brotherhood Park" directly to the north, bordering the second Polo Grounds and otherwise bounded by rail yards and the bluff. As with the first Polo Grounds, 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. This amusing situation lasted for just one season, the Players' League being a one-year wonder, and the Giants moved into the more spacious neighboring field, taking the "Polo Grounds" name with them. The original ballpark was then referred to as "Manhattan Field", and was converted for other sports such as track-and-field. It still existed as a structure for nearly 20 more years. Even in the early 1920s, one of Babe Ruth's deeper blasts was said to have landed "in Manhattan Field". The field was a vacant lot by then. Some years later, it was paved over, to serve as a parking lot for the Polo Grounds.
The "third" and "fourth" Polo Grounds were actually the same ballpark. The 1890 structure had initially had a totally open outfield bounded by just the outer fence, but bleachers had been gradually extended around during the subsequent 20 years until the entire field was enclosed with seating. Early in the 1911 season, fire destroyed the main grandstand and part of the right field bleachers. Those sections were rebuilt in a steel and concrete double-deck, with the rest of the bleachers left as they were. The new 1911 structure is the point in time from which the Giants dated the opening of the final (i.e. "fourth") version of the Polo Grounds. The remaining old bleachers were demolished during 1923 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.
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 foot distances in the gaps, with straightaway centerfield 483 feet distant from home plate; the catch that Willie Mays made in the 1954 World Series against the Cleveland Indians would likely have been a home run in almost any other ballpark of the time. Only four players have hit a home run into the CF bleachers: Luke Easter (when he was in the Negro Leagues), Joe Adcock, Lou Brock, and Henry Aaron. The bullpens were actually in play, in the left and right centerfield gaps. The outfield was lower than 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 Park expired. After the 1922 season, the Yankees built Yankee Stadium directly across the Harlem River 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.
In football, both the New York Giants and New York Titans/Jets used the Polo Grounds as their home field until moving on to other sites. It was also used for many games by New York-area college football teams such as Fordham and Army. It was the site of many famous boxing matches as well, most notably the legendary 1923 heavyweight championship bout between Jack Dempsey and Argentine Luis Firpo.
On September 14, 1947 the Polo Grounds hosted the final of the All-Ireland Senior Gaelic Football championship between Cavan and Kerry. This novel location for the game was chosen for the benefit of New York's large Irish emigrant population. It was the first, and only, time that the game has been played outside of Ireland.
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.
After the 1923 remodeling, only four players ever hit a home run into the center field stands:
- Luke Easter in a Negro League game in 1948
- Joe Adcock in 1953
- Hank Aaron and Lou Brock on consecutive days in 1962.
The final stadium was demolished in 1964, and a public housing project was erected on the site. The Polo Grounds had once been held in the kind of fame and esteem that later gravitated to Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, the life of the Polo Grounds ended on a couple of sour notes, first when its beloved Giants abandoned it to move to the West Coast, and then when the newly-formed and woefully inept Mets resuscitated it for two seasons before opening Shea Stadium.
In the 1992 book The Gospel According to Casey, by Ira Berkow and Jim Kaplan, it is reported that in 1963, the Mets manager Casey Stengel had this to say to Tracy Stallard during a rough outing, a pitcher 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 pitching, the right field section will be gone already!"
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)
- Giants (Players' League), 1890
- Giants (NL), 1891-1911
- Polo Grounds IV (also known as Brush Stadium in the 1920s)
Compiled from various photos, baseball annuals, and Green Cathedrals by Phil Lowry.
- Left Field Line - 335 ft. (not posted)
- Center Field - 500 ft. (not posted)
- Right Field Line - 335 ft. (not posted)
- Left Field Line - 277 ft. (not posted)
- Center Field - 433 ft. (not posted)
- Right Field Line - 258 ft. (not posted)
- Left Field Line - 279 ft. (not posted)
- 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)
- Backstop - 65 ft. sometimes also given as 74 ft.
- Green Cathedrals, by Philip J. Lowry
- Ballparks of North America, by Michael Benson
- Land of the Giants, by Stew Thornley