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Remembering the Polo Grounds

Jan 19, 2011, 10:02 AM EDT

Polo Grounds

There’s a great story by Richard Sandomir of the New York Times today, looking back at the history of the Polo Grounds.  Like many of the people quoted in is story, I was always struck by pictures of those wacko dimensions:

What stands out to fans and historians nearly 47 years since its demolition are its outfield dimensions, some of which changed with regularity. It was short down the lines (no more than 280 feet to left and 259 to right, and still shorter to the second decks); distant in the alleys (as much as 449 to one bullpen and 455 to the other); and as long as 505 to center field.

“That made it a strange ballpark,” said Jerry Liebowitz, a fan who began attending games there in 1943. “Someone like Johnny Mize hits it 450 to center field and it’s nothing but an out, but guys who couldn’t hit a damn were hitting pop-fly home runs to left and right.”

I used to play an old version of High Heat Baseball on my PC. There was a home run derby function on it, and you could choose the ballpark.  I would pick the Polo Grounds every time and use Barry Bonds, doing my best to yank line drives down the line.  It was wonderful.

My video game war stories aside, the Polo Grounds’ dimensions are important to keep in mind whenever people talk about the game being “transformed” by what went down in the 1990s.  The game has always had weird stuff about it, not the least of which have been oddball ballparks, rendering historical comparisons more of an art than a science.

  1. heiniemanush - Jan 19, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    I went looking for the Polo Grounds site a few years ago and never found it. I couldn’t even tell if there was a “Coogan’s Bluff” anymore. It’s hard to find a hill in a sea of projects. I wish some of the newer parks were more asymmetrical. The old Baker Bowl in Philly and League Park in Cleveland seemed like really bizarre and fun places to see a game, as well.

    • yankeesfanlen - Jan 19, 2011 at 10:48 AM

      Wish I could find the link, there was a newscast on during the last year of a “walking tour” of where the Polo Grounds was, and it included one rather large stairway that led to the primary entrance. Of course, the area is totally unrecognizable from what it was in the 1950s.
      Separately, there is a school of thought that has some reference that it was Robert Moses who ran both the Giants and Dodgers out of town. The Giants because the Polo Grounds made a large space for public housing which was all the rage in the time period, the Dodgers because Moses wanted a new stadium up on the World’s Fair site instead of Atlantic Yards.
      This means that the void after the prime of New York baseball was destroyed by political means by a supposed non-politician, not just owner greed.

      • simon94022 - Jan 19, 2011 at 3:11 PM

        Even though I grew up a west coast Giants fan, I believe baseball should have found a way to keep the club, and the Dodgers, in NY. A more enlightened policy would have elevated the SF Seals and LA Angels to the National League as expansion teams.

        That said, Giants owner Horace Stoneham was in a real bind and desperately needed to get out of the Polo Grounds. In 1956 a fan was shot and killed by a sniper. There were armed robberies in the box seats. From the early 50s on they had to print disclaimers on tickets stating that club was not responsible for robbery of patrons during the game. Attendance was poor even though the Giants won a World Series in 54. Moses and the city was no help, even in securing a site for a new ballpark. So there was a lot more than ownership greed involved.

      • yankeesfanlen - Jan 19, 2011 at 3:40 PM

        Please re-read my post. The last line refudiates the long held notion that it was the owners left willingly for “greener pastures”, it was the stonewalling of allowing more safe and modern facilities to be built.
        New York currently should still be a 3 team market, instead of a one.Alright, I’ll rescind that harsh statement. Upon a competitive NL franchise being re-instated.

      • bigharold - Jan 19, 2011 at 6:19 PM

        The Dodgers and Giants relocated for a lot of reasons. Money, .. sure. Moses, yeah he played a part in it. But, it was also inevitable. New York clearly was having a hard time supporting three teams as evidenced by not only the Giants attendance but the Dodgers too. One just couldn’t leave for the west coast it had to be both. The Dodgers and Giants moving to the west coast is allegory for manifest destiny. Baseball was headed west because the country was growing there, .. it was inevitable.

        The shame of it is that these legendary ballparks are not only gone but even fans that went to games there would be hard pressed to pinpoint where those ballparks were once located if they found themselves in that area. Too bad! To me, one of the great things about the old Yankees Stadium is that where the old stadium stood is now in the process of becoming ball fields. Anybody will be able to walk near there and point to the site and say that is where the Old Yankee Stadium once stood, .. where baseball history was made and more importantly where people still play ball.

  2. marshmallowsnake - Jan 19, 2011 at 10:46 AM

    I play games there and at Sportman Park too…on MLB 10 for PS3 – let me tell you…lefties rake at both fields with those short porches.

    • sdelmonte - Jan 19, 2011 at 11:39 AM

      My fave is the LA Coliseum, with that insane short porch to left (and the netting to make it just a little harder).

      • marshmallowsnake - Jan 19, 2011 at 12:42 PM

        That used to be on my old copy of Earl Weaver Baseball…back in 1989!

  3. Brian - Jan 19, 2011 at 11:05 AM

    I really wish our modern parks had some of the old-style quirkiness. Yes, these newer “retro-sensible” ballparks and beautiful and great places to play games, but they lack the uniqueness of a Fenway or Wrigley…or the Baker Bowl/Polo Grounds/whatever. Part of baseball’s beauty is it’s uniqueness, and I’m sad to note that it’s becoming more and more homogenized with each passing generation.

    • The Dangerous Mabry - Jan 19, 2011 at 11:21 AM

      I’m with you. And yet, the Mets build CitiField, which isn’t even THAT quirky, and all you ever read about the park is how they should change it. Bring in the fences and lower them. Get rid of the asymmetry. There’s a lot of resistance to having any unique characteristics of a ballpark nowadays, and they’ll often get blamed if a team or player is having a rough season.

      • fribnit - Jan 19, 2011 at 5:09 PM

        The Mets got the park right and the field wrong. It is a great place to watch a game and the amenities are second to none. The food is better than at Yankee Stadium (by far) and I say that as a life long Yankee fan. But the field layout is awful. Stupid deep to right center, stupid HIGH wall at left. Park Right, Field wrong.

  4. simon94022 - Jan 19, 2011 at 11:22 AM

    San Francisco’s AT&T Park has nowhere near the extreme dimensions of the Polo Grounds (which would not be allowed under modern MLB rules). But it’s in part an homage to the Giants’ NY roots, with the very short right field line and the gargantuan right-center field where home run balls turn into triples or fly outs.

    My understanding is that the SF dimensions required a special waiver from the Commissioner’s office, which was only granted because of the site constraints.

  5. fribnit - Jan 19, 2011 at 11:30 AM

    For want of new ballparks NYC lost both the Dodgers and the Giants. Robert Moses was not a fan of sports, but was a fan of the automobile. When the Dodgers wanted to build a new stadium near public transportation Moses blocked it because he wanted a new stadium in Flushing Queens, near the highways he had built. The Dodgers woudl not be forced in to Queens so they left for California, after convincing the Giants to go as well.

    So NYC ended up with the Mets. Another blight on the land from Robert Moses.

  6. apbaguy - Jan 19, 2011 at 11:40 AM

    AT&T also has some quirks aside from dimensions, if you recall Ichiro’s All-Star game line drive bouncing wildly off the fence due to the brickwork and the angle. Some of the new parks have some small bit of quirkiness due to fence angles, or low fences, etc. Certainly nothing like the old days. You see a bit of that with Fenway. My recollection of Griffith Stadium in DC as a very, very young boy was it was almost a mirror image of Fenway, with a “monster” in right. And Yankee Stadium was designed with Ruth in mind, with an accessible right field porch for him.

    • umrguy42 - Jan 19, 2011 at 5:24 PM

      Didn’t Ruth put out a couple homers to the center of the Polo Grounds, when nobody said it could be done? (Seriously… my memory is fuzzy, and most of it comes from John Goodman’s turn in “The Babe”…)

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