What Were the Polo Grounds?
Baseball has long been a staple form of entertainment in Manhattan, and several teams of note have called the island home. In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, however, the sport had not yet gained the popularity it was destined to receive, and so early teams leased space in the Polo Grounds, a polo stadium at West 155th Street and Eighth Avenue. The Polo Grounds were, unsurprisingly, originally intended for use as a polo field, but not long after baseball games started being held there, polo was no longer played on the field. The name, however, stuck, and the stadium, through its several reincarnations, became known as the Polo Grounds.
The most notable baseball teams to play in the Polo Grounds were the New York Giants (later relocated to San Francisco), the New York Metropolitans, the New York Yankees, and the New York Mets. The Mets were the last team to play in the Polo Grounds shortly before their stadium – Shea Stadium – had been completed. The Polo Grounds was a notable field for its odd dimensions. The last version of the stadium – by far the most popular – took on the shape of a bathtub from overhead and featured vast space in the outfield. Left and right field were unusually shallow, which made for a good amount of home runs, but center field was extremely deep, measuring in around 480 feet (147m). No player ever hit a home run to that section of the ballpark, though many came close.
Because left and right field were so shallow, Babe Ruth – a pull hitter by nature – hit many home runs out of the Polo Grounds. When Yankee Stadium was built, many people speculated that the dimensions of right field, which were similarly short, were designed to accommodate Babe Ruth’s home run power. The Polo Grounds also had other quirks: the outfield sloped downward away from the infield, meaning an outfielder pursuing a fly ball was actually running downhill. The left field upper deck overhung the field, sometimes turning catchable fly balls into home runs. And the bullpens, which sat in the left and right field gaps, were in play. The Polo Grounds was eventually closed in 1963 and demolished in 1964 as the stadium decayed beyond feasible repair.
There were four different stadia in Manhattan known as the Polo Grounds and only the first, the one bounded by 5th and 6th Avenues and 110th and 112th Streets, was ever used for polo. This facility was first used for baseball in 1880 by the NY Metropolitans. The other three versions were used for baseball (and other sports such as football and boxing) but never for polo. The final edition is the one that was bathtub shaped; it was located at 8th Ave. and 155th St., directly across the river from Yankee Stadium.
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