early environment of baseball games was that of a gentlemen's affair
marked by the absence of spectators except for those invited by the
teams. What spectators there were lolled about on the grass or sat on
chairs or benches. The umpire was generally attired in tails and a tall
black top hat, and in those early years he seated himself at a table
along a baseline. Circa 1860, the general public became more and more
involved as spectators, and winning replaced gentlemanly ways as
baseball's operative factor.
Cincinnati Red Stockings began play in 1876 in the National League. To
get to the ball game, fans had to ride on special trains or in
carriages. Crowds of 3,000 were common and considered a good payday for
the team. When the National League came into being, the White
Stockings played their home games in a rickety wooden park on Dearborn
between 23rd and 24th streets on Chicago's West Side.
During the 1880s and 1890s most parks were
surrounded by wooden stands and a wooden fence. Some of the stands were
partially protected by a roof, while others were simple wooden seats of
sun bleached boards. That is how the word bleachers came to be. When
those parks were filled to capacity, fans were permitted to stand
around the infield or take up viewing perches in the far reaches of the
B. Day transferred the Troy National League franchise to New York in
1883; arrangements were made early on for games to be played on the
polo field of James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New
York Herald. For most of the 1880s, the team played its games on a
field at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue, across from Central Park's
northeast corner. In 1897,a game between Boston and Baltimore drew more
than 25,000 fans, the overflow crowd was permitted to stand just a few
feet behind the infielders, creating a situation where any ball hit
into the throng was ruled an automatic ground-rule double .
1899, the Giants moved to New York City plot 2106, lot 100, located
between 155th and 157th streets at Eighth Avenue in upper Manhattan.
The location was called "the new Polo Grounds," a horseshoe-shaped
stadium with Coogan's Bluff on one side, the Harlem River on the other.
The Polo Grounds seated 55,897, the most of any facility in the
National League. A four-story, misshapen structure with seats close to
the playing field and overhanging stands, it was an odd ball park that
afforded fans the opportunity to be close to the action. There were
4,600 bleacher seats, 2,730 field boxes, 1,084 upper boxes, 5,138 upper
reserved boxes, and 2,318 general admission seats. The majority of
those who came to the Polo Grounds sat in the remaining lower general
visitors' bullpen was just a bench located in the boondocks of left
center field. There was no shade from the sun for the visitors or
protection from Giant fans who pelted opposing pitchers with pungent
projectiles. The upper left field deck hung over the lower deck;
and it was virtually impossible for a fly
ball to get into the lower deck because of the projection of the upper
The overhang triggered many arguments, for if a ball
happened to graze the front of the overhang it was a home run. The
double decks in right field were even. The short distances and the
asymmetrical shape of the convoluted ball park resulted in drives
rebounding off the right field and left field walls like billiard
shots. And over the years hitters and fielders on the New York Giants
familiar with the pool table walls of the ball park had a huge
advantage over opposing teams.
and progress would make steel and concrete replace the wood and timber
of the nineteenth century ball parks. The idiosyncratic dimensions of
stadiums, the marching bands, even the real grass in many instances-all
of these would ultimately become footnotes to baseball history.
As late as
1900 some clubs even allowed fans to park their automobiles or
carriages in the outfield. The environment at those games made it
difficult for fans to follow the action clearly. Even though scorecards
and programs were sold, no public address system existed, and there
were no names or numbers on the players' uniforms.
were sometimes pressed into service to double as ticket takers. And
during breaks in the action on the field, the dull moments were
enlivened by the festive performances of brass bands.
Louis National League entry was known as the Browns and then the
Perfectos, an odd name for a club with a not so perfect track record.
The team left the National League twice, then returned and finished
twelfth twice, eleventh three times, tenth once, ninth once, and once
in fifth place in the years 1892-99. To attract customers to Robinson
Field, St. Louis owner Chris Von der Ahe transformed his ball park into
what he called "the Coney Island of the West." He installed
chute-the-chutes (tubs that plunged with their riders into a pool),
night horseracing, a Wild West show.
popular tunes of the day were played by the Silver Cornet Band-an
all-female aggregation bedecked in long striped skirts and
elegant blouses with leg-of-mutton sleeves and broad white sailor hats.
1899, Chris Von der Ahe changed the uniforms around in his zest for
more color-the new garments featured red trim and red-striped
stockings. The new uniforms brought new nicknames for the St. Louis
team - Cardinals or Redbirds, they were called, and so they would
remain, one the last vestiges of that long ago time.