Thursday, September 18, 2014

Last MLB Game Played at the Polo Grounds September 18, 1963

On this day in Baseball History September 18, 1963: The real last MLB game is played in front of 1,752 riveted fans showed up to watch the final home game of the New York Metropolitans of the 1963 season against the Philadelphia Phillies. Why do I say real?

The New York Giants played the first last MLB game at the Polo Grounds on September 29, 1957. They marked the occasion with a 9-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The arrival to the New York Metropolitans for the 1962 season meant that the Polo Grounds would be given a second lease on baseball life while the Mets waited for Flushing Meadows Park Municipal Stadium later rechristened Shea Stadium (in honor of William A. Shea) was finished being built in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens.

The Mets were set to play at the shiny new ballpark to begin the 1962 but delays pushed that back. Then the Mets were supposed to begin playing at the new stadium for the 1963 season. The second final MLB game was played at the Polo Grounds during the record setting 40-120 season by the 1962 Mets. The Mets defeated the Chicago Cubs on September 23, 1962 by a score of 2-1 to bring the history of the old Ballpark in Harlem to an end on a winning note. But alas, it was not to be so.

Photo Courtesy of Peter Putnam/New York Times
The book Shea Stadium by Jason D. Antos describes what was happening at Shea Stadium in terms of construction delays:
On April 28, 1960, the green light was given to contractors P.J. Carlin and Thomas Crimmons to begin construction. On January 18, 1961, Wagner now announced that the new Flushing Meadows Municipal Stadium, now budgeted at $16 million, would be ready for the Mets' inaugural season of 1962. City Controller Lawrence E. Gerosa responded negatively, "Even if construction started last fall, they would still have to work overtime to finish it in time for the 1962 season." One week later construction was delayed.

Three months later on March 15, the assembly in Albany vetoed the measure that authorized the city to finance and build the new ballpark. Wagner pleaded in front of the assembly and won. The lease for the new ballpark was approved on October 6, 1961. Under the terms of the lease, the ballpark would pay $450,000 in rentals the first year with it decreasing to $300,000 in seven years. The Mets were able to lease the stadium for 30 years with an option for renewal of 10 additional years. Finally, on October 28, 1961, Wagner along with Robert Moses and the New York Parks Department president Newbold Morris attended the official groundbreaking ceremony.

Construction was further delayed because of loose girders and broken beams that needed to be repaired, and opening was moved to April 1964...As the construction progressed, the cost of stadium was rising faster than the ballpark itself. An extra $1.7 million was needed, causing the grand total to become $26 million. Finally, the official dedication ceremony took place on April 16, 1964.
Based on that and the bad weather in the winter of 1962-1963, the Metropolitans would play their 1963 home games at the Polo Grounds. Fast forward to the last home game of the season where the Mets fell in lackluster defeat to the Phillies 5-1. That must have been the fastest clean-up by the grounds crew at the Polo Grounds. How much of a mess could 1,752 fans really make.

Here is the boxscore from the last MLB game at the Polo Grounds from the September 19, 1963 edition of the New York Times:

The Polo Grounds would meet the same fate as Ebbets Field six days before Shea Stadium was dedicated. On April 10, 1964, the same wrecking ball that was used to demolish Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, was used to bring down the Polo Grounds. As with Ebbets Field, a housing development was built on the site of the old ballpark in Harlem.

Until Then Keep Playing Ball,
Baseball Sisco

For Further Reading:

- Click here to access the article Polo Grounds, and Its Former Tenants, Emerge From the Shadows by Richard Sandomir from the New York Times dated January 19, 2011
- Click here to access the article Memories of Polo Grounds on Anniversary of Final Opener by Ken Belson from the New York Times dated April 8, 2013
- Click here to access the article Did They Ever Play Polo at the Polo Grounds? by Toby von Meistersinger from the Gothamist dated July 21, 2008 
- Click here to access the PDF of the report THE POLO GROUNDS CASE (part II) by John Hogrogian from THE COFFIN CORNER: Vol. 12, No. 1 (1990)  
- Click here to access the article The Last of the Polo Grounds: New York City Will Repair a Forgotten Staircase by Chris Epting from the National Trust of Historical Preservation website dated  March 6, 2009
- Click here to access the article Polo Grounds (New York) by Stew Thornley from the SABR Biography Research Project.

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