There used to a ballpark where?

Just more than 6.700 fans attended the final Dodgers game at Ebbets Field, Sept. 24, 1957. (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Just more than 6.700 fans attended the final Dodgers game at Ebbets Field, Sept. 24, 1957. (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

By Glen Sparks

Tim McCarver, the former catcher and long-time talkative baseball analyst, cleared his throat on a broadcast the other day and recited a few lines from the song “There Used to be a Ballpark.”

And the summer went so quickly this year.

Yes, there used to be a ballpark here.

Joe Raposo wrote this nostalgic ditty. (Raposo also composed the Kermit the Frog anthem “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green” and “C is for Cookie” for Sesame Street. He wrote the theme song to the 1970s sitcom Three’s Company and Halloween Is Grinch Night. Raposo, who died of died of cancer in 1989 at the age of 52, was a talented guy.)

Legendary crooner Frank Sinatra recorded “There Used to be a Ballpark” for his 1973 album Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back. The album soared nearly to the Top 10 on the Billboard chart.

Anyway, McCarver insisted that the song laments the demolition of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, home of the Dodgers, and the loss of baseball in that proud borough following the 1957 season. From what I’ve read, that seems to be a popular opinion. It fits in with the old-fashioned feelings of baseball, Brooklyn and the Bums. Producers of The Brooklyn Dodgers: Ghosts of Flatbush used “There Used to be a Ballpark” in that HBO documentary.

Supposedly, though, Raposo told retired yackmaster Larry King that the song is about the Polo Grounds, the old home of the New York Giants, located in upper Manhattan. The article that mentions this does not offer any sources, however. (This accompanying YouTube video takes a decided pro-Ebbets stance on this issue.)

Now the children try to find it.

And they can’t believe their eyes

‘Cause the the old team just isn’t playing,

And the new one hardly tries.

Ebbets Field hosted its final Dodgers home game on Sept. 24, 1957. The Dodgers knocked off the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0 in front of 6,702 dedicated fans. Soon after, Brooklyn’s beloved team left for the sunshine of Los Angeles and the Memorial Coliseum.

A wrecking ball finally crashed—again and again–into Ebbets Field in the late winter of 1960. This most romanticized of ballparks, christened on April 9, 1913, sat in rubble. The Ebbets Field Apartments (later renamed the Jackie Robinson Apartments) opened in 1962.

Northwest of Brooklyn, up near famous Coogan’s Bluff in Washington Heights, sat the Polo Grounds. Built in 1890 as the third park named the Polo Grounds (and, yes, designed to play the game of polo), this oval-shaped stadium hosted Giants baseball and football games for decades.

The Polo Grounds opened in 1890 as a site for polo pony matches.

The Polo Grounds opened in 1890 as a site for polo pony matches.

Baseball attendance at the cavernous Polo Grounds (The Grounds expanded to 55,000 seats by 1923.) rarely met the expectations of ambitious owners. In 1947, average attendance topped 20,000 fans (just barely at 20,790) for the first and only time. By 1956, yearly attendance slipped to 629,179 (8,171 fans per game). Owner Horace Stoneham decided to follow Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley to California. His team also left after the 1957 campaign, bound for windy, cosmopolitan San Francisco.

So, which stadium was it? Ebbets or the Polo Grounds? The song may offer a few clues. Some lyrics remain ambiguous, though, perhaps purposely so. These words, for instance, probably describe any fun day at the ballpark of your choice:

And the people watched in wonder

How they’d laugh and how they’d cheer.

But what about these aforementioned lyrics?

‘Cause the the old team just isn’t playing,

And the new one hardly tries.

The old team just isn’t playing. Neither team was playing at its old park by time Sinatra sang Ramposo’s song. And the new one hardly tries. Well, this is interesting. The Polo Grounds sat mostly vacant for the first few years following the Giants’ flight to the west coast. (The NFL’s Giants took their football and exited for Yankee Stadium in 1956.) The expansion-club New York Mets moved in for the 1962 season and promptly became a 40-120 laughingstock. And the new one hardly tries.

In 1964, workers gathered at the Polo Grounds. They brought the same wrecking ball that pummeled Ebbets Field. Painted to look like a baseball, this instrument made a quick wreck out of the Polo Grounds.

Yes, there used to be a ballpark here.

Maybe the song really is about the Polo Grounds. Or, yes, Ebbets Field. Maybe it is simply about that sense of nostalgia that we all carry. Maybe it is about every long-ago, long-lamented field of play.

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