New York's Polo Grounds
by Stew Thornley
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National League baseball had abandoned New York City -- but the two ballparks, Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds -- remained for several years and were used for a variety of events. Ebbets Field was finally knocked down in February of 1960; the Polo Grounds not only lived on but had a rebirth of sorts.
First, it absorbed a soccer team that had been playing at Ebbets Field. It also obtained a new football tenant, the New York Titans (later renamed the Jets) of the American Football League in 1960. And, by 1962, even baseball had returned. Ironically, by this time, the death warrant for the Polo Grounds had been issued, and it was clear that the stadium was in its final years.
Baseball -- the primary sport associated with the Polo Grounds -- came back when New York was granted a National League franchise. The process began in 1959, when the Continental League was formed as a potential third major league. New York was one of the cities designated for a franchise in the new league, which ended up disbanding (before ever actually operating) after receiving agreement from both major leagues to absorb some of its teams, including New York.
It meant that, starting in 1962, New York would have a team in the National League again, this one taking the name of its American Association predecessor from the 1880s, the Metropolitans (although this team would be known simply as the Mets). Part of the bargain, however, was that the Mets would have a new stadium. In January of 1961, the New York City Board of Estimate approved plans to build a stadium in Flushing Meadow (a portion of the borough of Queens). The stadium wouldn't be ready until at least 1963, which meant the Mets would have to find another place to play in their initial season. They thus sought permission from the Yankees to share Yankee Stadium with them for a year.
The month of March 1961 was an active one in terms of issues related to the Mets, including a scare that left the future of the team in doubt. On Wednesday, March 15, the New York State Assembly -- which had to pass a bill authorizing the city to finance and build the stadium and lease it to the Mets -- fell well short of the two-thirds vote needed for approval. Without passage of the bill, there would be no stadium, and without the stadium, there would be no Mets. The setback didn't last long, though. A number of dissenters were persuaded overnight to change their votes, and the next day the measure necessary for a new stadium to be built was passed by a vote of 119-17.
That crisis out of the way, the long-term plans for the Mets were solidified. Short-term plans, however, remained in limbo as the Yankees made it clear they had no intention of allowing the Mets to share their stadium.
That left the Polo Grounds as the remaining option for the Mets. Although the stadium had continued to be used for other events after the departure of the Giants, baseball hadn't been played there since 1957, and a great deal of work would have to be done to make it suitable for a baseball tenant again. The Mets were willing to incur the expenses for the necessary renovations, but a larger problem loomed.
On March 9, 1961, the New York City Board of Estimate had doomed the Polo Grounds with a decision to demolish the stadium to allow the New York City Housing Authority to erect a low-rent housing project -- consisting of four 30-story towers to house more than 1,600 families -- on the site. (The decision wasn't made with the blessing of the Coogan heirs, who still owned the site. Jay Coogan, who fought the takeover attempt by the city, had earlier appeared before the City Planning Commission with a proposal to convert the stadium into a covered "sports palace," one with a price tag of $45 million. The commission rejected Coogan's plan, though, stating that the need for low-income housing was greater. The value of the land was hotly contested by both sides and wasn't resolved until a decision was issued by the New York Court of Appeals in November 1967, more than three years after the stadium had been razed.)
Since the New York Titans of the American Football League already had a lease to use the Polo Grounds through the end of 1961, it meant that the city couldn't proceed with its plans for a housing project on the site until 1962 at the earliest. Understanding the plight of the New York Mets, who needed a temporary home, the city further delayed the housing project for at least another year.
This was good news for New York baseball fans, particularly those who had learned to loathe the Yankees and had been hungry for another National League team to cheer for. (Some Brooklyn fans, though, still associated the Polo Grounds with the once-hated Giants and made it known they would not attend a Mets game until the team's new stadium, in the neutral territory of Queens, was ready.)
Used by permission of Temple University Press from "The Final Years" as it appears in Land of the Giants by Stew Thornley.
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