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Thursday, October 2, 2008

New York's Lost Ballparks

With the end of the season for both the New York Yankees and the Mets, both Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium are coming down.

This is, of course, not the first time New York has lost classic stadiums. On tours of Harlem and Brooklyn Heights, baseball fans often ask us about the fate of Ebbets Field--home of the Brooklyn Dodgers--and the Polo Grounds, once home to the baseball's Giants and Yankees as well as football's Giants and Jets.

As the name suggest, the Polo Grounds were originally built for polo matches, though other sports were played there too. The original stadium was on 110th Street, just north of Central Park and it was the first home of the New York Gothams, who soon changed their name to the Giants. In the 1890s, the Giants moved to a new stadium on Coogan's Bluff at the terminus of the 9th Avenue Elevated Railroad and a year later into the stadium next door that had once belonged to the short-lived rival Players' League. Expanded after a fire in 1911, it was this stadium that remained the Polo Grounds until 1964.

The Polo Grounds was home to one of baseball's most famous games; on October 3, 1951, the Giants won the National League pennant with Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World," a home run off the Brooklyn Dodgers' Ralph Branca, launching them into the World Series (which they subsequently lost to the Yankees).

The Yankees played at the Polo Grounds from 1913 to 1922 and it was home to the NFL Giants from 1925 to 1955. The New York Jets and the New York Mets were the stadium's last occupants. Both played there until Shea Stadium opened in 1964. The Polo Grounds were demolished that year and a public housing project built in there place. A sign hangs on the wall of one of the buildings in the housing project where home plate once stood.

Ebbets Field suffered as similar fate. The stadium was built in the Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn in 1913 to be home to the Brooklyn Dodgers, then owned by Charles Ebbets. It was here Jackie Robinson broke the color line when he joined the team in 1947.

However, in the 1950s the team's owner, Walter O'Malley, began putting intense pressure on the city to build the ball club a new, improved stadium. When New York balked at O'Malley's demands, the Dodgers followed through on what many had considered an empty threat and moved the team to Los Angeles in 1957. That same year, the Giants left the Polo Grounds for San Francisco, suddenly taking New York from being a city of three world-class baseball teams to a city with just the Yankees. Many in Brooklyn have never forgiven O'Malley--or the team--for their desertion.

In 1960, Ebbets Field was demolished and, like the Polo Grounds, was replaced by public housing. The housing project, originally called the Ebbets Field Houses, was renamed the Jackie Robinson Apartments in 1970s.

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