On June 15, 1940, New York Giants catcher Harry Danning hit for the cycle in a game against Pittsburgh. His home run was an inside-the-park home run that landed 460 feet on the fly in front of the Giants’ clubhouse, wedged behind the Eddie Grant memorial at the Polo Grounds. Pittsburgh center fielder Vince DiMaggio was not able to free it in time to catch Danning rounding the bases.
Having shared the Polo Grounds with the Giants since 1913, the Yankees began construction on their ballpark in the Bronx on May 22, 1922. The stadium would become known as the ‘House that Ruth Built,’ due to Babe Ruth’s popularity and influence.
William DeWolf Hopper was an American actor, singer, comedian, and theatrical producer during the late-19th and into the early-20th centuries. Born in New York Citty, DeWolf Hopper grew to become a star of vaudeville and musical theater, but he became best known for performing the popular baseball poem “Casey at the Bat.”
A lifelong baseball enthusiast and New York Giants fan, Hopper first performed Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s then-unknown poem “Casey at the Bat” to the Giants and Chicago Cubs on August 14, 1888. Co-performer Digby Bell called Hopper “the biggest baseball crank that ever lived. Physically, of course, he is a corker, but when I say big I mean big morally and intellectually. Why, he goes up to the baseball [Polo] grounds at One Hundred and Fifty-fifth street after the matinees on Saturday, and he travels this six miles simply to see, perhaps, the two final innings, and any one can imagine the rapidity with which he must scrape off the makeup and get into his street clothes in order to secure even this much. But he says the Garrison finishes are worth it, and he is perfectly right. Hopper always was a baseball crank, long before the public knew anything about it.”
Hopper helped make Thayer’s poem famous and was often called upon to give his colorful, melodramatic recitation, which he did about 10,000 times over the course of his career.
On September 16, 1922 (some sources have the year down as 1923), Cincinnati Reds pitcher Adolfo Luque became so angry over the bench jockeying coming from the Giants bench that he set the ball and his glove down on the mound, then charged straight into the New York dugout. Luque punched Casey Stengel, believing Stengel to be the primary instigator behind the taunting. Luque was ordered to return to his bench by the police, who were attempting to subdue the reaction of the Polo Grounds crowd.
You know how the foul poles at a ballfield have those screen extensions sticking out of them? Those screens were born on July 15, 1939. National League president Ford Frick ordered the two-foot screens affixed inside all foul poles following a dispute between Billy Jurges of the Giants and umpire George Magerkurth. It seems that Jurges and Magerkurth spit at each other after a disputed call down the left-field line at the Polo Grounds. The American League would install the screens on the foul poles in their own ballparks shortly thereafter.
On January 22, 1913, the New York Giants agreed to share the Polo Grounds with the New York Highlanders, who would later become known as the Yankees. Since 1903, the Highlanders had played their home games at Hilltop Park, located at 168th Street and Broadway. The last big league game played at Hilltop Park was on October 5, 1912, and the venue would be demolished in 1914.
Here’s a delightful little documentary about the Polo Grounds. I’ve always loved the metaphor of a baseball stadium as a church or cathedral. I feel the same way about Kauffman Stadium every time I attend a Royals game.
It’s always a shame when stadiums like this get torn down. I understand that progress sometimes dictates the need for such things, but so much history gets lost in the process, too.
George Rolfe Humphries was born in 1894, the son of Jack (John) Humphries, an 1880s professional baseball player. Rolfe Humphries grew up to write poetry, translate literature, teach Latin, and coach athletics, but naturally, his interests also gravitated towards baseball. “Polo Grounds” is his tribute to New York Giants baseball — as well as, it appears, to his father.
Time is of the essence. This is a highly skilled
And beautiful mystery. Three or four seconds only
From the time that Riggs connects till he reaches first,
And in those seconds Jurges goes to his right,
Comes up with the ball, tosses to Witek at second,
For the force on Reese, Witek to Mize at first,
In time for the out—a double play.
(Red Barber crescendo. Crowd noises, obbligatio;
Scattered staccatos from the peanut boys,
Loud in the lull, as the teams are changing sides) . . .
Hubbell takes the sign, nods, pumps, delivers—
A foul into the stands. Dunn takes a new ball out,
Hands it to Danning, who throws it down to Werber;
Werber takes off his glove, rubs the ball briefly,
Tosses it over to Hub, who goes to the rosin bag,
Takes the sign from Danning, pumps, delivers—
Low, outside, ball three. Danning goes to the mound,
Says something to Hub, Dunn brushes off the plate,
Adams starts throwing in the Giant bullpen,
Hub takes the sign from Danning, pumps, delivers,
Camilli gets hold of it, a long fly to the outfield,
Ott goes back, back, back, against the wall, gets under it,
Pounds his glove, and takes it for the out.
That’s all for the Dodgers. . . .
Time is of the essence. The rhythms break,
More varied and subtle than any kind of dance;
Movement speeds up or lags. The ball goes out
In sharp and angular drives, or long slow arcs,
Comes in again controlled and under aim;
The players wheel or spurt, race, stoop, slide, halt,
Shift imperceptibly to new positions,
Watching the signs according to the batter,
The score, the inning. Time is of the essence.
Time is of the essence. Remember Terry?
Remember Stonewall Jackson, Lindstrom, Frisch,
When they were good? Remember Long George Kelly?
Remember John McGraw and Benny Kauff?
Remember Bridwell, Tenney, Merkle, Youngs,
Chief Meyers, Big Jeff Tesreau, Shufflin’ Phil?
Remember Mathewson, Ames, and Donlin,
Buck Ewing, Rusie, Smiling Mickey Welch?
Remember a left-handed catcher named Jack Humphries,
Who sometimes played the outfield, in ’83?
Time is of the essence. The shadow moves
From the plate to the box, from the box to second base,
From second to the outfield, to the bleachers.
Time is of the essence. The crowd and players
Are the same age always, but the man in the crowd
Is older every season. Come on, play ball!
The first ‘Ladies’ Day’ in major league history took place on June 16, 1883 when the New York Gothams (later known as the Giants) offered free admission to all women, both escorted and un-escorted, at the Polo Grounds. The lucky ladies had the opportunity to watch their Gothams defeat the Cleveland Spiders, 5-2.
On May 24, 1918, right-hander Stan Coveleski pitched 19 innings in the Indians’ 3-2 victory over the Yankees at the Polo Grounds. Smoky Joe Wood hit a home run in the top of the 19th for the Tribe that proved to be the difference. Coveleski gave up 12 hits and 6 walks with 4 strikeouts over the course of the game.