Saturday, September 18, 2010

September 18, 1963: No more Polo

NEW YORK - It was a sad, undeserving end to a stadium that had seen so much. The stadium that had played host to 14 World Series was now host to one of the worst teams to ever grace the Major Leagues, the glories of the past nothing but a distant memory.

Baseball was first played on the corner of 110th and 5th in Upper Manhattan in 1880, when the New York Metropolitans converted an old polo field into a baseball stadium. In a nod to the site's former use, the stadium was called the Polo Grounds. Because of fires and renovations, four different stadiums stood at the site, or across the street, in the 1880s before the final structure took shape for the 1890 season.

From then, the Polo Grounds was the primary home of the New York Giants, and in that capacity hosted 47 World Series games and 2 Major League All-Star games. Many of the most famous games in baseball history were played on the distinctive bathtub-shaped field set underneath Coogan's Bluff.

But it wasn't just the Giants who called the Polo Grounds home. The Yankees played there for a few years before Yankee Stadium was built directly across the Harlem River in the Bronx. The New York Giants, New York Titans, and New York Jets of the NFL all played there at some point, and many of the Army football team's most famous games happened there.

When the Giants moved to San Francisco for the 1958 season, the Polo Grounds stood mostly empty. The expansion Mets moved in for th 1962 season, but it was apparent that they had to play somewhere else. In reality, the Polo Grounds were a temporary home for the moribund franchise.

The end for the Polo Grounds came on September 18, 1963, as the Mets, on their way to 111 losses - which was actually an improvement over the previous year - hosted the Phillies for the final home game of the season. Clearly, the nostalgia had worn off, as less than 2,000 fans showed up for the final game. The Mets Jim Hickman hit the last home run into the short porch in the 4th inning, but it was the only run the Mets would get, losing 5-1. As Ted Schreiber grounded into a double play to end the game.

The Polo Grounds was torn down the next year using the same wrecking ball that had dismantled Brooklyn's Ebbets Field. In its place went a public housing project.

Giants fans watching the World Series at the Polo Grounds from atop Coogans Bluff

The view from Coogan's Bluff today

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