New York's Polo Grounds
by Stew Thornley
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As highlights and lowlights punctuated the 1962 season, construction on the stadium in Flushing was underway. The 1962 Mets program said: "When the stadium opens in 1963, it will have a seating capacity of 55,000 which will eventually be raised to 85,000. At the time of the installation of the additional 30,000 seats, the stadium will be domed in so that it will be an all-weather stadium and rain checks will be a thing of the past."
Neither the additional 30,000 seats -- nor the dome -- were ever added to the new stadium. There were already enough problems with keeping construction of the basic design on track. Hampered by labor disputes and problems with subcontractors, the project was behind schedule in August 1962 and slowed further by harsh weather over the winter of 1962-63. Still, when the Mets concluded their regular season in 1962, they fully expected to be in their new home for the opening of the next season. In fact, the New York Times headline of Monday, September 24, 1962, read, "Mets Beat Cubs, 2-1, in Farewell to Baseball at the Polo Grounds." A crowd of 10,304 attended what they thought would be the stadium's final baseball game.
However, the Polo Grounds received still another reprieve. When it became clear the Flushing stadium wouldn't be ready, the Mets resigned themselves to at least another partial season beneath Coogan's Bluff. It turned out to be a full season at the Polo Grounds, with the final game played before only 1,752 fans -- the smallest crowd to see the Mets at that location. "Maybe the fact that there had been two previous 'last games' [the 1957 Giants finale and final home game in 1962] at the Polo Grounds took a bit from the occasion," wrote Gordon S. White, Jr., in the New York Times. "It is hoped that no more Mets games will be played at the Polo Grounds -- if only to put an end to the string of finales."
This was the final finale, with the Philadelphia Phillies beating the Mets, 5-1. The end came at 4:21 P.M. on Wednesday, September 18, 1963, with New York's Ted Schreiber hitting into a double play to end the game. Jim Hickman provided the Mets' only run in the fourth inning with a home run, the last ever hit at the Polo Grounds.
In January 1964, the Mets moved their offices out of the Polo Grounds and into the new stadium in Queens, which became known as Shea Stadium. That April, demolition of the Polo Grounds started with the same wrecking ball that had been used four years earlier on Ebbets Field. The wrecking crew wore Giants jerseys and tipped their hard hats to the venerable stadium as they began the dismantling. It took a crew of 60 workers more than four months to bring the venerable structure down.
New Yorkers in general seemed to witness the end of the Polo Grounds with a sense of detachment rather than nostalgia. "The Polo Grounds was a magnificent relic of the past that thrived on its own individual characteristics, which some of us at the time did not fully appreciate," wrote George Tinker, a longtime fan, more than 20 years after the stadium closed.
However, Roger Angell, the celebrated writer for the New Yorker, had earlier provided a fitting eulogy for the Polo Grounds with an article written in the spring of 1963:
The Polo Grounds, which is in the last few months of its disreputable life, is a vast assemblage of front stoops and rusty fire escapes. ...Old-timers know and love every comer of the crazy, crowded, proud old neighborhood: the last-row walkup flats in the outermost lower grandstands, where one must peer through girders and pigeon nests for a glimpse of green; the little protruding step at the foot of each aisle in the upper deck that trips up the unwary beer-balancer on his way back to his seat; the outfield bull pens, each with its slanting shanty roof, beneath which the relief pitchers sit motionless, with their arms folded and their legs extended, like so many park bums; and the good box seats just on the curve of the upper deck in short right and short left-front windows on the street, where one can watch the arching fall of a weak fly ball and know in advance, like one who sees a street accident in the making, that it will collide with that ridiculous, dangerous upper tier for another home run.Angell concluded by envisioning a conversation that might take place a few years later among fans who used to come to the Polo Grounds: "Funny, I was thinking of the old place today. Remember how jammed we used to be back there? Remember how hot and noisy it was? I wouldn't move back there for anything, and anyway it's all torn down now, but, you know, we sure were happy in those days."
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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