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My Polo Grounds Memories

Barry DuchanSunday, February 11, 2007
By Barry Duchan

Editor's Note: We will publish a post from Barry Duchan every Sunday covering some aspect of Mets history. - M.S.

Before Shea Stadium was built, the Mets played 2 full seasons at the Polo Grounds, which was right across the river from Yankee Stadium. I went to a handful of games and over 40 years later, these are the memories that linger.

First, there was the Memorial Day doubleheader against the Dodgers that attracted a packed house and although I had never sat in the bleachers before and didn't plan to that day, I had no choice if I wanted to get into the ballpark. Well, the bleachers were very, very, far out and this happened to be an unusually foggy day, so at times, all I could see was centerfielder Jim Hickman's head. I think Sandy Koufax pitched one game and I'm pretty sure the Mets lost both ends.

Another time, I asked for a seat "downstairs" and got this seat in the lower deck in rightfield that actually faced AWAY from the field, so I had to twist my neck all game to see the action. I think I left after 6 innings with the Mets 8 runs down.

Polo GroundsBad seats were very common in the Polo Grounds. If you were lucky enough to get one that wasn't behind a post, there's a good chance that it would be broken. Maybe if you could afford $3.50 for a box seat and bought it in advance, you didn't have to put up with this, but it always seemed that I did - oh well, suffering was definitely a part of being a Mets fan!

The player I remember most vividly was Jim Hickman. In retrospect, he probably symbolized the entire history of the Mets as well as any player could. He played more than any other outfielder because he had decent range and could hit the long ball, but struck out too much and appeared disinterested and lazy much of the time. Most Mets' fans were convinced that as soon as the Mets dumped him, he'd be back in AAA where he belonged. Surprisingly, Hickman later became an all-star and a .315 hitter for the Chicago Cubs. I attended a game where he hit for the cycle for the Mets - single, double, triple, homerun in that order in a game he started at third base to make room for newly acquired centerfielder Joe Hicks.

My final memory of the Polo Grounds occurred in one of the last games ever played there, late in the 1963 season. Near the end of the game, the Mets inserted a very young player named Cleon Jones into centerfield. The immediate reaction was "who?", but as an avid reader of The Sporting News, I knew Jones just had a solid season at Class B Raleigh and was touted as a top prospect. Was he ready ? No, it would be at least a couple of years, but of course, once Cleon arrived for good, he became the first real hitting star developed by the Mets and forty years later, still remains one of the best.

Note: More of Barry Duchan's writings can be found on his own Metscentric blog.

About Barry Duchan: I've been following the Mets since 1962. Have to admit I was a Yankee fan as a kid, but I found it to be so much more interesting to see how a young team could build itself up rather than following a team where the season didn't really begin until October. I remember them all - Casey, Marv, ChooChoo, Don Bosch, The Stork, etc. As the years went on, I became more and more of a Mets fan, and a Yankee hater once Steinbrenner and Billy Martin entered the picture.   Read More -->

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Comments (4)

The first game I ever went to was at the Polo Grounds. It was a doubleheader on September 15, 1963, the last weekend games ever played in the stadium and the very first Banner Day. What I remember most vividly were all of these people, mostly men, crying at the end of the second game. It was very moving, and to a nine-year-old very strange. I had never seen so many men crying and I wouldn't again except for the day two months later when the president was shot. You realized how important a place this was to so many people. Prepare for some significant waterworks in October of 2008.

The Polo Grounds, as I remember, was very strangely shaped, as parks are that have to fit into dense urban sites. It was something like 472 feet in center and less than 300 feet down either of the lines. If somebody hit a less than 300 foot home run, the announcers gave it the racist name of a "Chinese home run." I'm not sure what that meant, but of course you never heard the term again after the Mets moved to Shea. Thanks for these memories.

Fog, bad seats and whatever else, I envy you for what you saw. Or twisted your neck to see. Or didn't see.

Ah, you know what I mean.

Keep these Sunday pitches coming. They're wonderful.

Does anyone else remember Homer? He was a beagle who was considered the Met's mascot and had his own seat at the Polo Grounds or maybe at Shea. I seem to remember that Mrs. Payson was fond of him.

I went to the Polo Grounds when I was a small boy to see the Mets during the Homer The Dog-Miss Rhinegold days in 1962 and 1963. When I was watching the game, I turned to see a man in a military officer's uniform sitting next to a man in a sailor suit. Knowing this was odd (officers and enlisted people do not go out to see ballgames together), I looked again, and notice that the officer was tethered to the sailor...in HANDCUFFS! (I quickly asked my father about this, but the officer handed me the spyglass from his Cracker Jack Box and found another seat. (Only In Harlem....)

How well I remember that "Rhinegold" scoreboard with the flags flying off of it, the bullpens in fair territory; center field that went on forever, the grandstands painted Met blue, and the funky billboard signs. You could not beat it!

I remember Homer very well. (And as Stengel said, "the placards are terrific!"

Goodnight Joe Hicks, wherever you are!

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