Polo Grounds

Most famous for its unusual shape, the Polo Grounds was baseball’s most unique stadium. Built by Giants owner John T. Brush to replace the original Polo Grounds, which burned down on April 14, 1911, the Polo Grounds stood on Manhattan’s West 159th Street, between Coogan’s Bluff and the Harlem River. It was New York’s first concrete-and-steel stadium, and the first 16,000 seats were ready for spectators by June 28, 1911. The stadium wasn’t fully completed until the following season when it was formally dedicated with 34,000 seats in a double-decked grandstand and bleachers.

By 1923 the grandstand had been extended into the outfield in both left and right, leaving bleachers only in dead centerfield, but it was the configuration of the field itself that made the Polo Grounds unique. Often described as ovular or horseshoe-shaped, it is more accurately bathtub shaped with a small square added to one end. Round behind home plate, the sides did not run parallel to the foul lines, but rather to a line drawn from home to second, extending straight into the power alleys before curving toward the middle in deep left and right center fields. The center field wall ran straight across, except for a large cutout square in dead center that was the entrance to the clubhouses. Its back wall was usually 60′ high, 480-500′ from home plate, and no ball ever hit that wall, much less cleared it.

The park’s straight sides made every batter a home run threat, with the foul lines only 279′ and 258′ in left and right, but the fences merely ran away from the plate and were approximately 450′ at the left- and right-center field bullpens, which were on the field and in play. The upper deck in left extended 23′ over the field, intercepting many balls that might have been caught, and the outfield was slightly downhill, meaning a manager in the dugout could not see his outfielders’ legs. At the base of the wall in center stood a five-foot-high memorial to Eddie Grant, a former ML player killed in action during WWI. Like the bullpens, it was in play, but rarely in the way.

The Polo Grounds hosted several World Series as the Giants battled the Yankees for city supremacy, and was the scene of Willie Mays‘s sensational over-the-shoulder catch in Game One of the 1954 WS. Babe Ruth was the first batter to hit a home run over the right field roof, and Luke Easter (in a Negro League game), Joe Adcock, Lou Brock, and Hank Aaron were the only batters to reach the centerfield bleachers.

The Polo Grounds was home to the Giants until they moved to San Francisco in 1958, then stood empty until the Mets arrived in 1962. When Shea Stadium was completed two years later, the Polo Grounds was abandoned and demolished. A housing project (the Polo Grounds Towers) and playground (Willie Mays Field) occupy the site today.