The first post of this series explored the baseball stadiums of Chicago. In this post we can enjoy the maps of another city rich in baseball history: New York City!
Home to two iconic baseball teams, New York City today hosts the New York Yankees (American League) and the New York Mets ( National League). Both teams have the support of a very loyal fan base and play in ultra-modern stadiums. But over the years, New York has been home to multiple baseball teams that have played in various stadiums throughout the city and which can be found on historic maps!
Washington Park and Ebbets Field
Brooklyn, New York was home to numerous baseball clubs in the mid-1850s and was one of the first cities to create a professional enclosed baseball field. In 1883, succeeding numerous amateur Brooklyn teams, the Brooklyn Grays were formed as a professional team and a new park named Washington Park was built, so named due to its proximity to General George Washington’s headquarters during the Battle of Brooklyn. The Grays, originally a member of the American Association, joined the National League in 1884. Many nicknames were used for the team through the years, including the Atlantics, Bridegrooms or Grooms, Ward’s Wonders, the Superbas, the Robins, and the Trolley Dodgers. It was this last name that eventually stuck and the team became known as the Brooklyn Dodgers. The field, as shown on the 1888 map below prepared by the Sanborn Map Company, was constructed entirely out of wood. In 1898, the Dodgers moved to a larger space, which was also called Washington Park.
As game attendance continued to grow, the Brooklyn Dodgers built an even larger ballpark in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, which was known as Ebbets Field, where they played from 1913 to 1957. The manuscript map below came from the Papers of Arthur Mann in the Library’s Manuscript Division. Mann was a prominent New York sports writer and Assistant to the Brooklyn Dodgers President, Branch Rickey. The map was prepared sometime between 1920 and 1930.
Interestingly, as can be seen in the map, the park favored left-handed sluggers over right-handed batters. The short right-field fence that provided that advantage was merely a reflection of the irregularly shaped block in which Ebbets Field was built. Had home plate been placed at any of the other three corners, it would have been difficult to configure as large a playing field while providing as many good seats.
At the end of the 1957 baseball season, the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, CA, and became the Los Angeles Dodgers. In that same year, their cross-town rival, the New York Giants, moved to San Francisco, California. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants, once cross-town rivals in New York, became cross-state rivals in California.
The Polo Grounds
Three different stadiums in upper Manhattan were named the Polo Grounds, mainly used for professional baseball and American football from 1880 until 1963. As the name suggests, the field was first used for polo when the original stadium was built in 1876 but was converted into a baseball field in 1880 for use by the New York Metropolitans. This first Polo Grounds was used by the Metropolitans until 1885 and also by the New York Giants until 1888. The second Polo Grounds was only used for a couple of years before the third stadium was built.
The third Polo Grounds, built in 1890 and renovated after a fire in 1911, saw a lot of baseball action over the years! Noted for its bathtub shape, the field had very short distances to the left and right field walls and a very deep center field. This stadium was used mainly by both the New York Giants until the team moved to San Francisco in 1957, but also for about a decade by the New York Yankees (1913-1922). It was also used in 1962 and 1963 for the first two seasons of the newly minted New York Mets until Shea Stadium was completed.
Interestingly, the Polo Grounds can be seen on the 1921 Aerial Survey of Manhattan published by the Fairchild Aerial Camera Company (detail of map below). Made from 100 aerial photographs taken at an altitude of 1000 feet, the map is a fascinating look at Manhattan and the Bronx and shows many historic structures. Paired with the 1939 Sanborn fire insurance map, which shows that the stadium was constructed out of steel supports, had concrete floors, and contained “iron chairs with wooden slats”, we can get a truly unique perspective of the Polo Grounds.
The New York Yankees, known first as the New York Highlanders from 1901 to 1912, officially adopted the moniker Yankees in 1913 when they also first started played at the Polo Grounds. In 1923 the team moved to their own stadium, named Yankee Stadium, at the intersection of East 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx, the first stadium in the United States to have three tiers of seating. This stadium, home to the Yankees until 2008, hosted 6,581 Yankees regular season home games.
The stadium went through many alterations over the years with a major renovation that closed the park from 1974-1975 park which significantly changed the layout and appearance of the stadium. The layout of the stadium from the 1950s, before the major renovations, can be seen in the 1951 Sanborn map below which identifies the structure as the “American League Base Ball Park” and is spread across two pages. By 1951, the park had a seating capacity of 70,000 and was built with a steel skeleton and concrete flooring, both of which were likely used for their strength and “fire proof” features.
While only three New York stadiums were discussed here, there are various others throughout New York’s history. For those interested in searching, many historic maps, especially the large scale fire insurance maps published by the Sanborn Map Company, show unique construction and design features of baseball stadiums. When coupled with historic photographs, help both serious researchers and casual fans relive early baseball history!