Upper Manhattan’s Legendary Stadium
If you were to travel to West 157th street between St. Nicholas and Edgecombe, you’d see a big project, along with a parking space that has this really long set of staircases. It would take you down from Coogan’s Bluff after you’ve probably visited a friend who lived in the projects of Harlem. Little does anyone know that those set of staircases are connected to a history so ingrained in baseball and football. A space that gave a home to the Yankees, the Mets, and the Jets, before they would have stadiums of their own.
I am of course talking about the Polo Grounds.
The Polo Grounds are probably the most famous set of stadiums in all of sports history. Hosting 9 sports teams from 1883 to 1963, they have been solidified in the history of American sports (the one that made its mark was Polo Grounds III built in 1890). The brainchild of tobacco millionaire John B. Day and baseball legend Jim Mutrie, the first one was constructed in 1883. Originally, it was in actually supposed to live up to its name: where the rich aristocrats of Manhattan would come and play Polo. However, since the formation of the National League in 1876, Manhattan baseball was non-existent; people took a ferry to Brooklyn to see their teams play, so the stadium started accommodating baseball teams. Home to the legendary New York Giants (before they moved to San Francisco), the Yankees (back then they were called the Highlanders), The New York Brickley Giants, the New York Jets, and finally, my favorite team, New York Mets in its last years of ‘62-63 (Fun fact: The 1962 New York Mets were THE WORST TEAM IN MLB HISTORY, 40-120). The first two versions of the Polo Grounds were home to the New York Giants and saw their places in history, hosting five World Series games and numerous National League Pennant races.
I have kinda realized as I was writing this article that I was like a fact machine, spitting out tons of information about this stadium. I kept rewriting this piece, yet, I couldn’t handle it! The Polo Grounds were so integral to the early days of the dead ball era of baseball, where home runs were far from common, to the beginnings of integrated teams and relocations, this place was a bearer and witness to that change. Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard Around the World to win the 1951 National Pennant took place there. Willie Mays’ ‘Amazing Catch’ in the 1954 World Series took place there. Fred Merkle’s boner, the most controversial moment in baseball history, took place there. When the Giants left for SF in 1957, and the Polo days were numbered, my 1962 New York Mets, that PAINFULLY bad 1962 team, used it as an interim stadium for Shea, made their start here.
And now, it’s a housing project. The last game that took place there was a 5-1 Mets loss against Philadelphia on September 18, 1963. Things have changed, the Mets are in Queens, the Yankees are no longer the Highlanders, and It’s unique bathtub shape provided terror to anyone who dared chase at a flyball or attempt to get one over the fence. That staircase, dedicated to New York Giants owner John T. Bush, is all there is left. Sometimes, history can just be in the most typical and unassuming of places.