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Past Ballparks of New York City
New York City (Manhattan, Queens & Brooklyn)
September 29, 2007

By Ken Schlapp

After we left Ridgewood, we headed across the border and into Brooklyn for the rest of our tour.  We also stepped further into the past to the historic beginnings of professional baseball in New York.  That first stop in Brooklyn was at the Union Grounds.  William Cammeyer built the Union Grounds on the streets of Williamsburg bounded by Harrison Avenue, Rutledge Street, Lynch Street, and Marcy Avenue.  This was one of the first parks built in which games were played for a paid admission, which started at 10 cents in 1862 and escalated to as much as 50 cents for big games through 1882.  It was also the start of larger grandstands for fans to come watch the highest level of baseball.  In the winter, it was even used as an ice-skating rink.

Many of the best teams in Brooklyn played at the Union Grounds including the Atlantics, the Putnam Club and the Eckfords, which ended up being the first Major League team to play there in 1872 as members of the National Association (a precursor to the National League).  Other Major League tenants of the Union Grounds consisted of the Atlantics from 1873 to 1875, the Mutuals from 1868 through the first season of the National League in 1876, and the Hartford Dark Blues (known as the Brooklyn Hartfords) in 1877.  However, the last Major League game played at the Union Grounds took place on July 26, 1878 between the Providence Grays and the Milwaukee Cream Citys.   Many amateur and exhibition games continued to take place there until it was demolished in 1883 in part to build the 47th Regiment Armory, which remains today.  Again, it is unfortunate that we found no historic marker at the Armory to signify the historic early games of Major League baseball.

The Capitoline Grounds followed the Union Grounds in design and intention as a ballpark to house baseball and other events for a paid admission.  It opened in 1864 in Bedford-Stuyvesant near the Union Grounds.  It was located between Halsey Street and Marcy, Putnam, and Nostram Avenues.  The Capitoline Grounds served as the home of the Atlantic Club from 1864 through 1872, the only season the Atlantics were a member of the National Association (and the only season the Capitoline Grounds was used as a Major League ballpark).  This was also the home of the Excelsior and Enterprise Clubs as well as several base ball games played on ice skates in the winter, but the most important event to take place at the Capitoline Grounds was on June 14, 1870, when the Atlantic Club defeated the Cincinnati Red Stockings 8-7 in 11 innings.  Yes, the first professional base ball team managed by hall of famer Harry Wright.  This was the fabled Red Stockings first ever defeat after winning their first 89 games.  Once the Atlantic Club moved to the Union Grounds in 1873, amateur and lesser matches continued to take place until 1879 and the grounds were demolished in 1880 to build a housing development, which can and was seen today by us.

The added development to our journey was taking place in my car during our drives from site to site.  This was the last weekend of the current baseball season and the Mets were in the midst of blowing a 7.5 game lead over the Phillies over the final 17 games of the season.  On this Saturday, the Mets were playing the Marlins in a must win game and we were starting to notice the fact that John Maine had a no-hitter going.  We would not let this get in the way of our journey, but we were intrigued every time we got back into the car.

As we moved forward in our journey and in a way, time itself, since we were heading back towards the later professional ballparks.  The next park on our list was Eastern Park in East New York, which was located on a lot between Eastern Parkway (now Pitkin Avenue), Vesta Avenue (now Van Sinderen), Powell Street, and Sutter Avenue.  Eastern Park was the home of the Montgomery Ward led Brooklyn Wonders of the Players League in 1890.  However, the Players League folded after the 1890 season and the Wonders combined with Charlie Byrne’s Brooklyn Bridegrooms of the National League, and the Bridegrooms continued to play in Eastern Park through the 1897 Season, before moving back to Washington Park for the 1898 season.  However, the most pertinent aspect of the Brooklyn Club’s tenure at Eastern Park was the transportation hub of trolley and rail lines around the park frequently forced the fans to dodge the trolleys on their way in and out of the park.  Hence, the beginning of the “Trolley Dodger” moniker that was later shortened to Dodgers, which is how the club has been known for most of its history.

Like many of the other ballparks I have been discussing, you would never know that a Major League Park once existed on this site.  Eastern Park was demolished soon after the Bridegroom finished playing the 1897 season.  All that remains today is an industrial area of little renown, next to an elevated subway and train tracks, behind a fence with unkempt grass all around it.  Not at all a place where you could imagine that a major League ballpark once thrived. 

We got back into the car in time to hear about the almost fight in the Mets game between the Mets Jose Reyes and Marlins Miguel Olivo, but Olivo’s punch hit nothing but air, and John Maine continued to work his magic as the Mets piled on runs.  Our next stop would be the former site of Ebbets Field, where the Dodgers played from 1913 (when they were known as the Robins in honor of manager Wilbert Robinson or “Uncle Robbie”) until they abandoned their fans for California after the 1957 season.  The Dodgers were loved by their faithful Brooklyn fans, that were famous for calling the many losing teams “Dem Bums”, but then saying “we’ll get em next year” in the most Brooklyn of accents.  Many of those fans never got over the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn and still hope they will come back.  I have heard stories that my Uncle Walter once threw a radio out the window after a Dodger loss and he never felt the same about baseball after they left.  My Uncle Norman did not go to a baseball game after the Dodgers left until I took him to see the Tampa Devil Rays in 2003!  This was clearly a team with loyal fans that are still heartbroken over the Dodgers departure, which was over a half-century ago.

Some of the more famous idiosyncrasies of Ebbets field included the Abe Stark sign in right field “Hit Sign, Win Suit” that would award any player who hit the sign with a new suit, although it rarely happened.  The ballpark was home to nine pennants and one world championship in 1955, when they finally beat the hated Yankees.  By the mid 1950s, Ebbets Field was getting old, needed repairs, and could not hold as many fans as some of the newer stadiums.  There had been discussions of moving the team to a new stadium near the transit hub of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues and even to Flushing, Queens, where the Mets would eventually play, but neither came to fruition.  Walter O’Malley decided that his best deal was to move the Dodgers to Los Angeles along with the Giants moving to San Francisco, which forever changed the baseball scene in New York, and as I said before, most Brooklyn Dodger fans would never forgive them for their abandonment.

I will also note that the Brooklyn Eagles and the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers of the Negro Leagues also called Ebbets Field home in the 1930s and 1940s.  A few college and professional football teams also played their home games at Ebbets Field at various times.  After the Dodgers left for California, LIU used the ballpark for their 1959 season.  The last professional game believed to have been played in Ebbets Field was Between the Kansas City Monarchs and the Brooklyn Stars of the Negro Leagues (the Monarchs won 3-1), which was followed by a senior game including Satchel Paige, who gave up a homer to Herm Green.  However, as reported in the Post in 2009, 12-year-old Michael Hirsch may have hit the last home run in ballpark history with an inside-the-parker in a Junior championship game later in 1959, but this has not been verified.

Unlike our last few stops, there are some plaques and markers to signify that Major League Baseball was played off the corner of Sullivan Place and Bedford Avenue (and Cedar Place {now McKeever Place} and Montgomery Street) in Flatbush.  When Ebbets Field was torn down in 1960, like the Polo Grounds, it was replaced with the Ebbets Field Apartments.  There is a granite plaque by the entrance to the building indicating that the houses were built in 1962 at the site of Ebbets Field.  I had some fun by having my loyal Dodger fan friend take a picture of me by the plaque wearing my Giants shirt (with Shinjo on the back).  There is also an Ebbets Field sign over the parking lot next to the apartment building.  Jackie Robinson Playground is across the street, with Jackie Robinson High School nearby as well.  Also a beautiful Mural of Jackie Robinson outside is plain to see when driving by.

After visiting the most famous Brooklyn baseball site, we headed back to the car to see how the Mets were doing and were happy to learn that Maine still had his no-hitter going into the 7th and the Mets had built up a 12-0 lead.  Therefore, we had good news on our drive to Prospect Park to see the Parade Grounds.

Prospect Park is Brooklyn’s version of Central Park, and in fact, was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (and Calvert Vaux) in 1859, who also was one of the key designers of Central Park.  Although, the Parade Grounds was originally designed as a military facility,  it ended up being one of the most sought after base ball diamonds in the city, especially considering base ball was not allowed in Central Park at that time.  From 1871 until this day and beyond, baseball (and soccer and other sports) continues to be played on this field.  The biggest game to be played at the Parade Grounds occurred between Charlie Byrne’s Brooklyn Base Ball Club of the Inter-State Association of Professional Ball Players and the Harrisburg Club on May 9, 1883, in which Brooklyn won 7-1.  Meaning, that this was the site of a Professional baseball game.  There is a plaque at the Parade Grounds regarding the history of the field and park, as far as when and why it was built, but no mention of a professional game by a team that would eventually be called the Dodgers.  We were lucky enough to see a youth league game when we stopped by, so we could effectively see the field in action.  Like Central Park today, the Parade Grounds at Central Park is a great place to play and watch baseball.  It is just a shame that the professional game has not been commemorated.

When we got back to the car this time, we were disappointed to learn that John Maine had given up an infield single to Paul Hoover with 2 outs in the 8th inning.  Once again, the Mets attempt for their first no-hitter was foiled, but the Mets did win 13-0, and John Maine only gave up that one hit and struck out 14 Marlins to keep the Mets in a tie for 1st place with the Phillies with one game left in the season.

NYC Ballparks Part V

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