Polo Grounds snagging analysis

Last month, after I critiqued Forbes Field from a baseball-snagging perspective, a bunch of people suggested that I do the same thing for other defunct stadiums, so here we go. This time it’s the Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants from 1891-1957 (and home of the Mets and Yankees at various times, too).

My overall assessment is that this stadium would’ve been a nightmare for ballhawks. Take a look at the following aerial view, and then I’ll start explaining why: 
polo_grounds1.jpg
See those little red numbers? Here are the distances to those spots:
1) 279 feet
2) 455 feet
3) 483 feet
4) 449 feet
5) 258 feet
Ordinarily, small dimensions are great for ballhawks — a ton of balls reach the seats — but in this case, because the outfield wall jutted back at such a crazy angle, the dimensions got deep in a hurry. In other words, there were probably some great home-run-catching opportunities down the lines, but the rest of the stadium would’ve been a waste.
Here’s another aerial view (taken after the rail yard was replaced by an apartment complex) that shows a couple interesting things:
polo_grounds2b.jpg
In the photo above, the arrow is pointing at a fabulous corner spot down the left field line. There would’ve been some foul ball opportunities there — before and during games — and if any players DID throw balls to the fans, that clearly would’ve been the place to snag one.
Also, in the photo above, do you see where I’ve placed two red dots in the stands? Do you see the slightly curved white line that connects them? (The line extends past the dots on both sides.) That line is a cross-aisle, and although it appears to be rather narrow, it would’ve been a good spot to run back and forth for foul balls.
In case you can’t tell from the photo above, there was an awful lot of foul territory on the field. Good for the pitchers. Bad for the ballhawks. Check it out:
polo_grounds3.jpg
In the photo above, the arrow is pointing at the low wall in right center field. Granted, this section was a loooooong way from home plate, and the wall was probably a bit too high for fans to reach over and pick up baseballs off the warning track, but there were probably some ground-rule doubles that reached the first few rows. Also, in the photo above, do you see the rolled up tarp down the right field foul line? That was another corner spot. And if you look at the front row just to the right of the tarp, it seems that the railing was pretty low. The fans sitting there probably would’ve been able to reach over and scoop up foul grounders during the game. That was probably the best opportunity of all.
Speaking of wall height, look how ridiculous it was in left field:
polo_grounds4.jpg
One of the most famous home runs of all time landed in the lower deck down the left field line. I’m talking about The Shot Heard ‘Round the World — Bobby Thomson’s blast off Ralph Branca in 1951, which sent the Giants to the World Series.
The next photo is going to show you how unlikely it was for that ball (or any ball) to land in the lower deck. Ready? It shows the upper deck overhanging the field (as seen from foul territory in the left field corner):
polo_grounds5.jpg
Yikes.
The upper deck would’ve been good for home runs, but only near the foul poles.
In the photo above, do you see the chains in the foreground? Those, unfortunately, were not limited to the outfield sections. See here:
polo_grounds6.jpg
Those chains would’ve made it nearly impossible to run for balls.
In the photo above, I have once again drawn two red dots. If you look closely, you can see a dark line that connects them. This is further proof of the existence of a cross-aisle.
Last photo:
polo_grounds7.jpg
The two arrows pointing up show the protective screen, which completely covered the seats behind the plate. (Not good.) But on a positive note, there was a tunnel in the second deck, positioned just to the side of the screen. Although it doesn’t appear that there was much room to run in the second deck, that tunnel probably saw some action when lefties were at bat.
Did foul balls ever fly completely over the grandstand and land outside the stadium? I have no idea, but it sure seems possible. There’s a chance that some home runs (if hit very far directly down the lines) cleared the roof as well.
Anyway, there you have it.
Snagging baseballs at the Polo Grounds.
Not easy, but not impossible.

14 Comments

These are really cool posts.
Side note: I just realized that in April this will be my 5th year reading your blog. Amazing. Keep it up!

polo grounds was crazy. It is probably the most wierd/unique field since the astro dome. Its almost like a fenway with a WAY deeper outfield. anyways great post!
nathan
http://soxfan3224.mlblogs.com

Cool posting, Z. I love all the black & white pics…

Gotta say I’ve loved the first two posts in this ‘series’ Zack. Not just because of the snagging element but also cause I just love ballparks, old and new. Makes me wish sometimes that they hadn’t torn down some of these old places. Got any plans to do one of Ebbets field sometime?

Neil

http://whosyourtiger.mlblogs.com/

Zack, these posts are fun. I went to one game at the polo grounds, to see the Mets in ’63, when I was 8. Didn’t get a ball. Our church had a bus trip on 9-1-63. Braves vs. Mets. I still have the ticket stub. Game went 16 innings…tim harkness hits a 2 run homer in the 16th. Aaron , Matthews, and Joe Torre playing for the Braves. Duke Snider playing for the amazin’s…( the duke of flatbush playing a HOME game at the polo grounds ???? ) If you have a mind to, I’d like to see you do a ball-snagging analysis of the one stadium where I longed to see a game, but never did….Ebbetts Field.
p.s. that game at the polo grounds? only about 10,000, maybe 11,000 fans at the game. how about that as an x factor in ball-snagging at the polo grounds?
p.p.s. have you read the book by brian biegel… “MIRACLE BALL…my hunt for the shot heard ’round the world” if not, get it, read it. it’s a terrific, true story of tracking perhaps the most famous ball in the game.

Hey Zack,
This was great, its really amazing to see how huge those old ballparks where. If you do another one of these I would love to see Comiskey Park.
Thanks
Luke in Kansas City

Zack – very cool, man. Love seeing those pictures.
-Todd
http://cookandsonbats.mlblogs.com

great post! and to answer that last question, babe ruth enjoyed hitting in this park because his home runs (or probably foul balls) sometimes completely left the stadium or landed on the roof.

Great analysis of the Polo Grounds. I hope you continue to review these defunct stadiums for snagging opportunies. On another topic if I may. I’m old enough to remember that players never threw balls into the stands until the 1990’s. Maybe coaches once in a while threw a few foul balls in the stands prior, but in your opinion was it aftermath of the strike of 1994 that encouraged baseball players to throw balls after the third out that started this tradition. Also I’m curious to know what player or team lead the way for other clubs to follow suit. Your opionion matters. Thank you.

BEACH71389-
Thanks. (This will be my fifth year *writing* the blog.)

NATHAN-
I don’t think the Astrodome was weird — at least not the dimensions to the outfield walls. But yes, the fact that it was domed certainly set it apart from everything else when it was built.

VEGANTEMP-
Thank you.

NEIL-
I will definitely do Ebbets Field, but I’ll probably do a non-NYC stadium next. Anyway, I agree with you about the snagging factor; it’s fun for me to analyze these places from a collecting perspective, but mainly, it’s just an excuse for me to gather a bunch of old photos and take a closer look at these forgotten ballparks.

DRIYEFF-
Sounds like you saw an amazing game at the Polo Grounds. Wow. The small attendance there would’ve helped considerably, but that’s the case for any ballpark. Even Camden Yards is terrible when the Red Sox or Yankees are there. As for Ebbets, look directly above at my reply to Neil. I did read “Miracle Ball” and loved it. In fact, I was interviewed on the radio last year with the author. That’s what prompted me to pick up a copy. I knew a couple weeks in advance that I was going to meet him, so I quickly read the book and then got to talk to him about it and had him sign it.

LUKE-
Glad you like it. I’ll definitely do Comiskey, but there are at least a few other old ballparks that I need to do first. Thanks for the suggestion.

TODD-
Is it too late to get some panorama shots there? :-)

KRIMSTEINMILO-
Thanks. There’s nothing the Babe couldn’t do.

PARIS4242-
When I first started going to lots of games in 1992, players were throwing balls into the crowd. I don’t remember 3rd-out balls being tossed up at that time, however. I’m not really sure when that particular thing started. I don’t think I even mentioned it in my first book, “How to Snag Major League Baseballs.” That book came out in 1999, but I wrote it in 1997. I know that the Mets were already trying to be fan-friendly at the start of 1994. They had lost 103 games the year before, so to make the fans happy, in 1994, they started opening Shea Stadium two and a half hours early instead of 90 minutes, which was how it used to be. That was great for me. Players, on a whole, were friendlier after the strike, but I don’t remember a sudden shift in ball-tossing generosity, nor do I remember a certain team leading the way.

FOLLOWING UP RE PARIS4242’s COMMENT-
I think things changed in Seattle after the strike. I went to lots of games at the Kingdome in the 80s and early 90s. In the 80s, it seemed like you had to catch hit balls during BP. I went years before Mickey Brantley bestowed upon me my first “toss up” ball. Also, I remember the ball girls down the foul lines used to catch foul grounders and collect them under their stool. Between innings, they’d run them back to the dugout. I remember being amazed when all of a sudden, the ballgirls started giving away all of the foul balls that they caught during games. And that reminds me of the greatest ball girl moment in about 1995 or 1996. A girl who was actually in some of my classes in college was a Mariners ball girl. She caught a foul grounder down the 1B line, turned toward the crowd, and threw it into the second deck. I think it made it onto the highlights on Baseball Tonight. Anyway, that’s my two cents.

ZACK-
Too late for any from me, but how about this: http://www.zazzle.com/baseball_polo_grounds_photo_1910_poster-228029846832038376

I like it!

As for ballboys and ballgirls giving balls away, I remember watching Braves games on TBS in…I don’t know…I guess the late 80s or maybe even the early 90s. Whenever a foul grounder went down the line, the ballboy would scoop it up and THROW it (pretty hard) back toward someone near the dugouts. I always thought it was stingy of the Braves not to give those balls away. I’m glad that those balls now get given out to kids by all teams throughout MLB.

Hey Zack this is Nick Pelescak, we met in October when you came to the PNC season ticket holder batting practice session. Your analysis of Forbes Field, and the Polo Grounds in relation to ballhawking are awesome. One of the buildings, Posvar Hall that I had some classes in when I went to the University of Pittsburgh sits where Forbes Field was in Oakland then. In the bottom hallway near the entrance home plate of Forbes Field is memorialized. Anyway, hope to see more of those blogs about old parks. Recently I started my blog, if you get a minute check it out sometime, steelcityballhawk.mlblogs.com. Peace

Nick! Great to hear from you. Thanks for the insight on that building. Your blog looks great. Keep it up, and definitely keep in touch.

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