Earlier this year, I took myself on a field trip to the site of Ebbets Field. Today, I decided to go find the site of another important spot in New York baseball mythology: the Polo Grounds.
As a Dodger fan, there’s something that felt a little uncomfortable about venturing into old-school enemy territory. Whether or not it’s logical, I do feel a connection to the team’s Brooklyn incarnation. With that comes a connection to the New York incarnation of their greatest rival (albeit a connection of disdain, not love). However, my passion for all things baseball history was strong enough motivation to try and find the place that had been the home of baseball’s New York Giants.*
As soon as I got off of the subway, a sign reading “Welcome to Polo Grounds Towers” caught my eye, providing a nice bit of reassurance that I was in the right place. After a bit of walking around (and some frantic Google Mapping), I came across a playground marked by a New York Parks Department sign that said “Coogan’s Bluff.” Now I was actually in the spot where the old ballpark once stood.
What I was really looking for, however, was a particular set of stairs, the first step of which bears the inscription “THE JOHN T. BRUSH STAIRWAY PRESENTED BY THE NEW YORK GIANTS.” Brush was the long-time owner of the New York Giants, and the stairway with his namesake was used by ballpark patrons to get to the stadium. As you can see, it is currently undergoing renovations, which was unfortunate for me today but is ultimately a good thing. I’m glad that a concerted effort is being made by New York’s Parks Department to preserve this spot. It’s certainly more of an effort than has been made with Ebbets Field.
While this trip felt nowhere near as personal as my trip to Ebbets Field did, it still prompted quite a bit of introspection for me. With the strands of “There Used to be a Ballpark" running through my head (which was written about—hey!—the Polo Grounds, NOT Ebbets Field, as is a common misconception), I experienced an abridged version of the emotional cycle that one might go through upon the loss of a physical sanctuary. It’s difficult to talk about it without waxing sentimental to the point of corniness, so you’ll forgive me for a moment if I do just that.
A baseball stadium, this site of the greatest elation and the most profound sadness, can be destroyed with even more ease than it took to build it. This place that offered a seemingly perpetual promise of renewal can just be taken away forever, leaving loyal believers with nothing but their memories, the good and the bad.
So let’s focus on some of those memories.
The Dodger fan in me views the Polo Grounds as Ebbets Field’s counterpart in the first chapter of baseball’s best rivalry. Countless impassioned moments transpired between the two teams there. It was the site of the shot heard ‘round the world,** one of the most painful and embarrassing events in Dodger history, something the Giants commemorate today with a “Remember ‘51” sign hanging in left field at AT&T Park. (Note: For an excellent, detailed look at the history and numbers of the Dodgers/Giants rivalry, check out http://dodgers-giants.com/.)
Then there is the baseball lover in me, who can’t help but acknowledge how significant the Polo Grounds are to baseball history, period. It was there that greats like Christy Mathewson, John McGraw and Mel Ott had their days in the sun. It was the Polo Grounds that inspired the song “Take Me Out To the Ballgame.” Fourteen World Series were played there (in fact, for two straight seasons, every single World Series game was played there, as the Yankees and Giants faced off in both 1921 and ‘22). It’s the site of The Catch.
As you can see, this was a special, important place for any baseball fan. I’m glad I got the chance to see what few traces are left of it.
*Yes, it also served as home to the Yankees for ten seasons, the Mets for two seasons, and even the Dodgers for two series in 1890.
**Fun fact—Ralph Branca, the guy who gave up that fateful home run to Bobby Thomson, is an alumnus of NYU, along with Al Campanis. Of all the prominent guys in Dodger history for me to share an alma mater with, huh?