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Wednesday, June 1, 2022

The story of “The Polo Grounds” in New York City - Polo Grounds I / II / III / IV

Hi folks - 

I’d like to try to tell the story of the various New York City ballparks/stadiums known as “The Polo Grounds”. The whole "Polo Grounds I / II / III / IV" gets confusing, so let's try to make it understandable.

I’d also like to point out that over on my Facebook Heritage Sports Stuff page, throughout most of 2022 I am showing aerial views of home ballparks for most of the current MLB franchises, then I am going to showcase NFL home stadiums, followed by NHL home arenas. I'm aiming to post a new team every other day... So tag along throughout 2022 - we have a lot of content to share - almost 400 aerial views in all! These aerial views are a great little glimpse into history and evolution of MLB, NFL and NHL team franchises. Climb aboard and learn a little sports trivia along the way.

Now back to the Polo Grounds.

First off, I’d like to tell the story of the Polo Grounds as it relates to the New York Giants baseball team, because they were the driving force behind the various Polo Grounds and key tenant at each.

Secondly, let’s establish a few dates as they relate to the New York (Baseball) Giants and their use of the Polo Grounds and several other ballparks in/around New York City.

The New York Giants home ballparks have been:

1. Polo Grounds I, New York  1883 - 1888

2. Oakland Park, Jersey City, NJ April 1889 (Two games – April 14 & 15)

3. St. George Grounds, Staten Island NY April - June 1889 (23 games)

4. Polo Grounds ll, New York  July 8 1889 - 1890

5. Polo Grounds lll, New York  1891 - 1911

6. Hilltop Park, New York  April 1911 - June 1911

7. Polo Grounds lV (aka Brush Stadium), New York  June 1911 - 1957 - Circa 1930's

8. Polo Grounds lV (aka Brush Stadium), New York  1911 - 1957 - Circa 1950's

-----------------------------------

9. Seals Stadium, San Francisco  1958 - 1959

10. Candlestick Park / 3Com Park, San Francisco  1960 - 1999 Circa 1960's

11. Candlestick Park / 3Com Park, San Francisco  1960 - 1999 99 - Circa 1999

12. Pac Bell Park (2000-2003) / SBC Park (2004-2005) / AT&T Park (2006-2018) / Oracle Park (2019-Present), San Francisco  2000 - Present

So here goes…


Polo Grounds I

Polo Grounds I was an actual polo field - owned by Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald. It was located in Harlem from 110th Street to 112th Street and stretched from Fifth Avenue to Sixth Avenue - across 110th Street from the Northeast corner of Central Park. This northern portion of Central Park was completed and opened in 1876. The Polo Grounds (I) was a rectangular plot of land roughy 700 feet x 375 feet. For present day New Yorkers, it was located near Duke Ellington Circle.

Bennett brought polo to America in 1876 and he leased his vacant property to the Westchester and Manhattan Polo Clubs. The field was established in 1876. In September 1880, John B. Day rented part of the grounds for his semi-pro baseball team known as the New York Metropolitans. 

When the Manhattan Polo Club decided to move to Jerome Park in the Bronx in the fall of 1882, John Day leapt into action. He bought membership in the American Association for his Metropolitan Baseball Club, then bought the Troy (NY) Haymakers National League franchise and relocated the team to New York. In doing so, Day became the first (and only) man in baseball history to own teams in two competing major leagues at the same time.

And thus baseball's Polo Grounds was born in late 1882 and early 1883. 

I’m not sure if any viewing stands or bleachers or a grandstand was built in 1880-ish to accommodate John Day’s semi-pro Metropolitans ball club, but my hunch is that if anything was built in 1880-1881-1882, it was a modest set of bleachers. And my further guess is that would have changed over the winter and early spring of 1882-83 in anticipation of having two big time professional baseball clubs sharing the same plot of land.

And here's where it gets interesting...

For some strange reason the two teams played on separate but adjacent diamonds (see my hand-drawn image below named "Polo Grounds I Layout").  The National League New York Gothams (they changed their name to the Giants in 1885) used the southeastern diamond and the American Association Mets used the southwestern diamond.  I could speculate that one or both leagues might have demanded that the two competing teams play at separate fields, but that's just a guess on my part.

It was reported that at least for a time, the only thing separating the two diamonds was a canvas barrier. There were some odd scenes during these games when an outfielder from one team would crawl under the barrier, retrieve their ball, throw it over the canvas, and crawl back. The strangest part of all might have been that any ball hit over the canvas was still in play. 

As for the field itself, Jerry Lansche says in his 1991 book "Glory Fades Away" that the American Association Mets field (southwest diamond) was "perhaps the worst major league ballpark in the history of the game. The ground was uneven and stadium planners had used garbage as landfill, prompting pitcher Jack Lynch to say 'a player may go down for a grounder and come up with six months of malaria.'" I don't know if the Giants' field (southeast diamond) had the same landfill/malaria issue or not.

As for seating, as you can see in the 1885 Polo Grounds I Layout image below, in 1885 there were two sets of covered stands - a different set up for each diamond. The Southeast diamond (the Giants field) had the more elaborate and larger of the two sets of covered stands, so when you look at the handful of ballpark images below, I am fairly confident that we're looking at the Southeast diamond (Giants), not the Southwest diamond (Mets).

The viewing stands (Southeast diamond) were reported to be excellent. The double decked wooden grandstand wrapped around from first base to third. Bleachers were located down the left and right field lines, giving the park fairly large seating capacity - perhaps 9000 or even more (October 20, 1888 game vs St. Louis Browns). 

The Metropolitans moved to St. George Grounds on Staten Island for the 1886 and 1887 seasons, then folded, so a further guess on my part is that in 1886 or 1887 the two Polo Grounds diamonds were likely merged into one larger diamond for the 1886/1887/1888 seasons. With just one major league club, the Giants, using the Polo Grounds, the need for two separate diamonds likely disappeared, but perhaps the Southwest diamond remained for amateur and recreational teams.

In keeping with my commitment above to telling the story of the Polo Grounds as it relates to the New York Giants baseball team, John Day's New York Giants National League baseball club (known as the New York Gothams in 1883 and 1884) played at the Polo Grounds (Polo Grounds I) from 1883 to 1888. But just prior to the start of the 1889 season, the city of New York was extending their grid of streets into uptown Manhattan, and using their right of eminent domain, New York City expropriated Mr. Bennett’s property and decreed that that Polo Grounds I was to be demolished to make way for 111th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Have a look at the Polo Grounds I Layout mage below to see how the building of 111th Street removed any chance of having a ballpark at this location.

Polo Grounds II

So in early 1889, the principal owner of the New York Giants, John Day, had to scramble and find a new home for the Giants. He thought he had found that home on a plot of vacant land that became known as Coogan’s Hollow between 8th and 9th Avenue and between 155th and 157th Streets, but the owners of the land, James Coogan and his mother-in-law Sarah Lynch, were driving what Day considered to be an impossibly hard bargain. The property was the last vestige of a farm granted to John Lion Gardner by King Charles 1 of England in the 1630’s. By 1889 the farm was still very owned by the Lynch family, descendants of Gardiner.

Unable to close a deal on the Coogan’s Hollow property, the Giants opened the 1889 season at Oakland Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, playing their first two games there (April 24 & 25, 1889). When the National League ruled that the team couldn’t play in another state, they quickly adjusted and moved their April 29 home game to the St. George Cricket Grounds on Staten Island. After playing 23 home games at the St. George Grounds between April 29 and June 14, the Giants went on an extended road trip. This whole time John Day had been trying to negotiate a favourable lease with Mr. Coogan, and finally, on June 22 1889, they reached an agreement to lease the land for five years at $6000 per year. Of note was the fact that Coogan had offered Day the chance to rent the entire hollow but to keep the rent low, Day only wanted enough land for his ballpark.

Work began immediately on the site, which was named Manhattan Field but was soon more commonly known as the New Polo Grounds, aka Polo Grounds II. A small army of workmen used many materials from the Polo Grounds I and they made a usable, if somewhat unfinished, ballpark in a remarkable three weeks. The Giants then played their first home game at Manhattan Field / New Polo Grounds / Polo Grounds II on July 8 in front of 10,000 fans. A rather remarkable three-week achievement, even more remarkable given that we’re talking about 1889!

Because Day didn’t lease the entire hollow, but instead just enough land to fashion a ballpark, Polo Grounds II was very oddly shaped, and had a significantly steep incline in center and right field. After the 1889 season was over, work was completed on the entire structure and more bells and whistles were added in time for the 1890 season.

Despite being homeless when the 1889 season began, the Giants had a great year. They won the National League, then won a playoff against the American Association Champions. The team also turned a tidy profit and John Day turned down an offer from James Coogan to buy the team for an astronomical $200,000. John Day must have thought he was on top of the world. And then…

And then a rival baseball league was launched for the 1890 season – the Players League. One of the Players League strategies was to entice many National League stars to jump ship by offering them much higher salaries than they were used to. Another strategy was to locate teams in existing National League cities wherever possible so the teams could go toe-to-toe for fans. 

Enter James Coogan and the remaining land that John Day did not lease. Yes, Coogan leased the rest of “Coogan’s Hollow” to the Players Association New York team and they immediately set out to build their own ballpark – Brotherhood Park – with seating for 16,000. It was bigger, grander and had more space than Manhattan Field / New Polo Grounds / Polo Grounds II. And it was separated from Manhattan Field / New Polo Grounds / Polo Grounds II by an outfield fence and a ten foot wide alley.

The 1890 season nearly bankrupt Giants owner John Day, and by the end of the season he had to turn control of the New York Giants over to Edward Talcott, the owner of the Players Association New York team. Talcott immediately signed a 10 year lease for Brotherhood Park, and Brotherhood Park would now become the New New Polo Grounds, aka Polo Grounds III. The Players Association League lasted but one season, but the damage was done to National league owners like John Day.

So what became of the Manhattan Field / New Polo Grounds / Polo Grounds II? The lease for the field was taken over by the Manhattan Athletic Club and part of the lease agreement was that no rival baseball league or team could use the field. It could be used for a variety of other purposes, including college football games, but no major league baseball was to be played there. By 1895 the Giants had a new owner, Andrew Freedman, and by 1901 Manhattan Field lay in disuse – but still a pawn to be used by owner Freedman to get what he wanted from other National League team owners who feared another rival league disaster.

John Brush bought the New York Giants from Freedman in September 1902, and he also bought the lease to Manhattan Field / New Polo Grounds / Polo Grounds II, and between 1902 and 1904 most of the Polo Grounds II stands and structures were dismantled used as spare parts for Polo Grounds III. When a fire ravished much of Polo Grounds III in April 1911, using Manhattan Field wasn’t even an option for the Giants to consider even though they controlled the lease, and they temporarily moved to Hilltop Park, then home to the New York Yankees of the American League. By 1919 Manhattan Field was a “weed filled vacant lot”, and some time in the 1930’s it was paved as a parking lot for Polo Grounds III.


Polo Grounds III

As noted above, Polo Grounds III was built in 1889 and early 1890 - immediately beside (north) of Polo Grounds II. A ten foot alley was all that separated Polo Grounds III from Polo Grounds III. Polo Grounds III was first known as Brotherhood Park but when the New York Giants baseball team moved there for the 1891 season, the ballpark became known as the New New Polo Grounds, aka Polo Grounds III.

On April 14, 1911 there was a major fire at Polo Grounds III and the fire destroyed the major wooden structure surrounding home plate. The fire did not destroy some of the outfield seats nor the outfield clubhouse. While a new concrete and steel structure was being built, the Giants moved to nearby Hilltop Park in New York, home of the New York Yankees. The newly rebuilt Polo Grounds, now referred to as Polo Grounds IV, opened June 28, 1911 - basically 10 weeks after the fire. When it opened on June 28th, Polo Grounds IV seated 16,000 fans. And by the end of the season – when the Giants met the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series, Polo Grounds IV seats 34,000 fans – 16,000 of which were bleacher seats.

The renovated stadium is referred to as Polo Grounds IV. Because it was the same field and some of the same structures as Polo Grounds III, I tend to want to consider Polo Grounds III and Polo Grounds IV as the same ballpark, but most other people think of it as a new ballpark – Polo Grounds IV. So while I’d prefer to continue calling this Polo Grounds III, most people refer to it as Polo Grounds IV, so I will play along.

It's Polo Grounds IV that is the most famous of all the "Polo Grounds". 


Polo Grounds IV

When the Polo Grounds (IV) reopened in June 28, 1911, the ballpark was officially renamed "Brush Stadium" in honour of New York Giants team owner John T. Brush who was the majority owner of the team from 1902 until his death just after the 1912 season ended. The name never really caught on and by 1919 it was back to being called simply "The Polo Grounds", aka Polo Grounds IV. 

From 1911 (really from 1890) to the early 1950’s, Polo Grounds IV expanded – it went from looking like an irregularly-shaped ballpark seating the aforementioned 16,000 to looking like an regularly-shaped enclosed football stadium seating 56,000+ (the baseball Giants record attendance was actually 64,400 in September 1936). As I hope you can see from the photos below, it’s a rather remarkable transformation – it’s as if Edward Talcott, owner of the Players Association New York team in 1890, had a master plan to build an enclosed football stadium all along. I’m 100% sure he didn’t, but the transformation of Polo Grounds IV is fascinating to watch in a progression of chronologically ordered photos.

From the opening of Polo Grounds IV in June 1911 to the early 1960’s, the Polo Grounds IV played home to a variety of teams and sporting events. Primarily it was home to the MLB New York Giants until they left for San Francisco in 1957. It was also home to the New York Giants NFL team from their founding in 1925 until 1955 when they moved to Yankee Stadium. Many college football games were played at Polo Grounds IV. And boxing matches. And many other events – sports and non-sports.

The Polo Grounds had a somewhat sad final decade - on August 19, 1957, the New York Giants officially announced they were moving to San Francisco for the 1958 season. The stadium then sat mostly empty for three years (fall 1957 to fall 1960) when the NFL's brand new New York Titans (now New York Jets) franchise played at The Polo Grounds. The Jets were joined in 1962 by MLB's new New York Mets. Both the Mets and Jets left the Polo grounds after their 1963 seasons and moved to brand new Shea Stadium. The Polo Grounds demolition began in April 1964 and took several months. The site is now home to the Polo Grounds Towers, a public housing project opened in 1968, and managed by the New York City Housing Authority.

If you can find the time, check out this great 50 minute Polo Grounds video tribute first aired in March 1964.  

And that’s the “quick” story of the Polo Grounds I / II / III / IV. I hope the photos below will now make a bit more sense – I have tried to show them in chronological order and hope you can follow along.


Many thanks for reading –

Scott

Note 1: The entire time the New York Giants played at Polo Grounds II / III / IV (from 1889 to 1957), the land under the ballparks - known as Coogan's Hollow - was owned by Jame J. Coogan or his estate - never by the city or the team. And in the end, the Coogan estate was able to sell the land to the New York City Housing Authority. Forget owning a baseball team – owning the land is always smart business.

Note 2: Polo Grounds II / III / IV played host to a lot of different sporting events, but never a polo game.


Please note re the photos and images below. If I give a year plus an "-ish", it means I'm not certain of the year but this is my best educated guess. If I give a year and there is no "-ish", then I am certain or fairly certain of the year.

Polo Grounds 1 Layout - 1885    From the 1885 Atlas of the City of New York

Polo Grounds 1 - 1886 Boston at New York - Opening Day

Polo Grounds 1 - 1886 Boston at New York - Opening Day

Polo Grounds 1 - 1886-ish

Polo Grounds 1 - 1887 poster

Polo Grounds 1 - 1888-ish
Where the crowd has gathered in the outfield is where the canvas banner dividing the two diamonds used to be - much of the outfield crowd (and horses/carriages) are standing in the outfield of the (former?) Southwest diamond
Many thanks to the New York Public Library Maps Division for this image

Polo Grounds 2 (Manhattan Field) - 1892-ish
The field named "Polo Grounds" is actually Polo Grounds 3

Polo Grounds 2 (left) + Polo Grounds 3 (right) - 1892-ish

Polo Grounds 2 - 1893 Princeton vs Yale Thanksgiving game

Polo Grounds 2 - 1893

Polo Grounds 2 - 1893

Polo Grounds 2 - 1896-ish

Polo Grounds 2 - 1896-ish

Polo Grounds 2 - 1896-ish

Polo Grounds 2 - 1896-ish

Polo Grounds 3 - 1891-ish

Polo Grounds 3 (right) + Polo Grounds 2 (left) - 1892-ish

Polo Grounds 2 (left) + Polo Grounds 3 (right) - 1893 to 1900-ish
For other great art like this and far more, please visit the Historic Ballparks website
 

Polo Grounds 3 - 1894 - Temple Cup - NY Giants vs Baltimore Orioles
 
Polo Grounds 3 - 1895-ish

Polo Grounds 3 - 1890 - Reported to be the Giants home opener
We "stitched" this beautiful photo together from two images and lost a sliver in the middle
 
Polo Grounds 3 - 1897-ish

Polo Grounds 3 - 1899-ish

Polo Grounds 3 - 1900
 
Polo Grounds 3 - 1903
 
Polo Grounds 3 - 1904
 
Polo Grounds 3 - May 20, 1905 - Pittsburgh at New York Giants

Polo Grounds 3 - 1905 - World Series

Polo Grounds 3 - 1906-ish

Polo Grounds 3 - 1906

Polo Grounds 3 - Sept 23, 1908

Polo Grounds 3 - Sept 23, 1908
 
Polo Grounds 3 - 1908
 
Polo Grounds 3 - 1908

Polo Grounds 3 - 1908

Polo Grounds 3 - 1908-ish

Polo Grounds 3 - 1909

Polo Grounds 3 - 1909-ish

Polo Grounds 3 - 1909-ish

Polo Grounds 3 - October 13, 1910

Polo Grounds 3 (top) + Polo Grounds 2 (bottom) - 1911

Polo Grounds 4 - 1912-ish

Polo Grounds 4 - 1912-ish

Polo Grounds 4 - 1913

Polo Grounds 4 - 1913-ish

Polo Grounds 4 - 1913

Polo Grounds 4 - July 3, 1914

Polo Grounds 4 - 1917

Polo Grounds 4- 1920 or 1921 or 1922

Polo Grounds 4- 1920-ish

Polo Grounds 4 - 1920-ish - also shows former Polo Grounds 2 to the left - empty field

Polo Grounds 4 - 1921-ish

Polo Grounds 4 - 1921-ish

Polo Grounds 4 - 1921

Polo Grounds 4 - 1921

Polo Grounds 4 - 1922-ish

Polo Grounds 4 - 1923 expansion (note construction going on in photo)

Polo Grounds 4 - 1930-ish - in lower right
Note that Yankee Stadium is in the upper left of this photo

Polo Grounds 4 - 1930-ish

Polo Grounds 4 - 1933

Polo Grounds 4 - 1935-ish

Polo Grounds 4 - 1940-ish - note lights have been added - 1st night game was 1940

Polo Grounds 4 - August 1949

Polo Grounds 4 - 1950-ish

Polo Grounds 4 - 1950-ish

Polo Grounds 4 - 1951

Polo Grounds 4 - 1951

Polo Grounds 4 - 1951 - Joe Dimaggio hitting his last MLB home run

Polo Grounds 4 - 1952 season seating plan
The transformation from an asymmetrical ballpark to a symmetrical football stadium is complete  

Polo Grounds 4 - 1963 - Final MLB home game

Polo Grounds 4 - 1963 - Final MLB home game

Polo Grounds 4 - Final NFL home game

Polo Grounds 4 - 1964 - The End

Please note re the photos and images above. If I give a year plus an "-ish", it means I'm not certain of the year but this is my best educated guess. If I give a year and there is no "-ish", then I am certain or fairly certain of the year.


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Thank you for taking the time to add a comment - all input is welcome, especially the constructive kind! All the best - Scott