By Glen Sparks
The fabled Polo Grounds hosted its last baseball game on this date in 1962. A puny crowd of 1,752 people attended the match-up, a 5-1 victory for the visiting Phillies against the Mets. Jim Hickman, the Mets’ first baseman, hit the final home run at the park.
The Polo Grounds, located in the Harlem neighborhood of upper Manhattan, opened in 1911. It was the last of three ballparks built in the area. The Giants played their home games there until leaving for San Francisco after the 1957 season. The Yankees played home games at the Polo Grounds from 1911-57 and the Mets in 1962 and 1963.
More than anything, the Polo Grounds was famous for its funky configuration. The right-field wall was just 257 feet from home plate, and the left-field wall was just a little farther away, 279 feet. But centerfield? That was way far away at 482 feet. It was a place where towering home runs went to die.
One of the most famous plays in World Series history happened on the Ground’s center-field sprawl. Willie Mays went back, back, back and caught up with Vic Wertz’s long drive in Game One against the Cleveland Indians in 1954. To make the play even more spectacular, Mays, his cap flying onto the grass, whirled around after making the over-the-shoulder grab, fired a seed into the infield and kept base runner Larry Doby from advancing home on the tag.
Some people know the Polo Grounds by its other name, Coogan’s Bluff. The bluff stood over parts of the ballpark, and fans sometimes climbed up to enjoy a free view. They were all cheering after the Miracle at Coogan’s Bluff in 1951. Bobby Thomson hit the Miracle home run, a.k.a., the Shot Heard “Round the World, on a 1-1 pitch off the Dodgers’ Ralph Branca. Broadcaster Russ Hodges screamed it to everyone: “The Giants win the Pennant! The Giants win the Pennant.”