THE POLO GROUNDS 1957-1962: FROM THE GIANTS TO THE METS
The New York Giants residency at the Polo Grounds ended not with a bang but with a whimper. On August 19, 1957, the Giants had announced that they would be leaving New York for San Francisco, California. By the time that 11,606 of the faithful saw the Giants drop their final game to the Pirates 9-1 on September 29, 1957, it was time to pack up the balls and bats, load the moving vans, and head for greener pastures. How did things ever get this bad? As is usually the case, there were several reasons.
The Polo Grounds had not been well maintained through most of the 1940s and 1950s. Horace C. Stoneham owned the team and the stadium, but not the parcel of land on which it was located. That was owned by the Coogan family, with the heights behind the field known as Coogan’s Bluff. The neighborhood had deteriorated significantly by this time and ticket sales were failing, even during good seasons. Money was tight and scarce.
The football Giants had shared the Polo Grounds but left for Yankee Stadium in 1955. This hit the Giants owner quite hard. He was not a wealthy man and the Giants were his sole source of income. The loss of a football tenant left him with little money for stadium upkeep. The Giants considered several options, including sharing the newer Yankee Stadium with their cross-river rivals before finally deciding that a move to the West Coast was their best option. They would join the Dodgers and head west.
While Ebbets Field was demolished soon after the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers, The Polo Grounds stood stoically as a shrine to baseball in New York. But the only baseball it saw was as a parking lot for Yankee games. Fans could park their cars at the Polo Grounds lot and take the short subway ride over to The Bronx. During the years 1958 and 1959, the stadium was used for religious gatherings, soccer matches, concerts, and even Gaelic football. A quarter mile paved racetrack was installed for modified stock and midget auto racing. None of these events were remotely successful and were never rescheduled or cancelled outright. Troubled times had come to the old Manhattan ballpark.
Finally, in 1960, the Polo Grounds once again had a tenant. The new American Football League had come to town, bringing with it the New York Titans. The Titans attendance averaged only 12,000 over three seasons of mounting financial losses. Wismer sold the team to a group headed by Sonny Werblin in 1963. The team was renamed the Jets and would go on to win the Super Bowl championship on January 12, 1969.
Meanwhile, an attempt was underway to return National League baseball to New York. Lead by attorney William Shea, this group had petitioned the National League for a team. Even though the American League expanded in 1961, the national League did not seem motivated to act in kind. Following the lead of the new American Football League, the Baseball group claimed that they would start a new Continental Baseball League and sue Major League baseball over their antitrust exemption. The National League decided to expand with new teams to be added in Houston, Texas, and New York City.
The new team needed a name and a home. The Mets was chosen as their name, considered to be a shorter version of their actual title, the Metropolitan Baseball Club. The Mets would play in the Polo Grounds until a new multipurpose city owned stadium could be built in Queens. The Mets would spend 1962 and 1963 in this old ballpark. By the time 1964 dawned on the city, both the Mets and Jets had set up their residences at this new field in Flushing Meadows that would come to be known as Shea Stadium.
The final game in the Polo Grounds was played on September 18, 1963, a 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. Demolition began in 1964 using the same wrecking ball that had been used in the demolition of Ebbets Field a few years earlier. The Polo Grounds Towers, a public housing project, now stands on the site of the former historic landmark. Because of its unusual size and shape, The Polo Grounds was referred to by many names such as The Short Porch or The Bathtub. At one time or another, the field probably saw every sport imaginable except for one: Polo. It was never played there. This was the place where I saw my first professional baseball game and football game, both in 1963. By this time, it may have been a rusting dinosaur from another age, but it is the source of nothing but warm memories for me. I hope that it might hold one for you, too.