Posts Tagged ‘Union Grounds’

Over the Outhouse, By the Pagoda, Around the Tree, and Watch for the Cow Chip

January 18, 2011
 Take a look at a modern baseball stadium. It’s almost awe-inspiring in its size and grandeur. Now take a look at 1860s ball parks. They’re called “parks” for a reason. They look much more like a large green open, or at least semi-open, space where someone stuck down a diamond and yelled “Play Ball.” They have, like many modern stadia, a lot of quirks. Here’s some of my favorite 1850-1870 oddities.
Capitoline Grounds

Capitoline Grounds 1866

 Apparently when the field (home of the Atlantic) was first laid out by Reuben Decker and Hamilton Weed in 1864, there was a round brick outhouse in deep right field (it does not appear in the picture above and I was unable to find a picture of it either on-line or in a book). A player hitting the ball over the outhouse on the fly received a bottle of champagne of his efforts. Now this leads to several questions, and, yes, you know I’m going to ask them. I am going to refrain, however, from any gags involving the phrase “stacked like a brick…”. I wonder if it was cheap or expensive champagne. How big was the bottle? Did the player have to share it with the rest of the team (and even the opponents) or could he take it home? Who paid for it, the player’s team, the opposing team, or the opposing pitcher?  Did you get something extra for doing your Babe Ruth impression and calling your shot? What happened if you hit the roof on the fly, did you get a bottle of wine?  If you hit the front on a bounce, did you get a bottle  of beer? How about he front door? Was that a bottle of scotch? And of  course the most important questions are how many holes in the outhouse and was it co-ed? Don’t you want to know the answer to all these questions? And before anyone asks, the only player I find reference to hitting two over the outhouse on the same day is Lip Pike. I don’t know if he got two bottles or not.

Union Grounds

The Union Grounds, built by William Cammeyer in 1862, held a number of teams, the most famous being the Eckfords, named for shipbuilder Henry Eckford. Having a lot of money, Eckford built the oddity at the Union Grounds. If you look at the far left of the picture above you’ll see a round multi-story building (no it isn’t the Capitoline outhouse moved across town). This building was known in its own era as the “pagoda.” It was built by Eckford as a sort of early “Skybox” luxury suite. It seems Eckford would watch games from the pagoda with some of his friends and colleagues. He was known to conduct business from it, and was not averse to the company of young women in the pagoda during games. Refreshments were available in the pagoda, including alcoholic beverages (type unspecified). Also the grounds were fenced. This allowed the Eckfords to control the crowd, and, of course, charge fans for watching the game. It seems to be the first at least partially enclosed field and thus very significant in paving the road toward professionalism. With more money available to clubs, it wasn’t unreasonable for players to start asking for a cut.

Elysian FieldsElysian Fields 1866

 The Elysian Fields are primarily famous as the home of the “”first baseball game.” But they were used for most of the 1850-1870 period by the Knickerbockers and other teams. The picture above is from 1866, so it doesn’t show one of the great quirks of the park. About ten feet to the left of a right-handed batter there was a big tree. I’ve seen a picture of it in a book, but can’t find a copy on-line. It looks huge and I wouldn’t be surprised if the limbs didn’t hang down over home on occasion. It was instrumental in the Knickerbockers’ view of the foul ball. It got them to change the rule so that a foul didn’t count against the batter if it hit the tree and the fielder had no chance to catch the ball in flight. It seems to have been a very early version of the current rule on foul balls. By 1860 the tree was gone, but the rule hung on.

 Excelsior Grounds

The Excelsior Grounds were set up in the late 1850s. By the 1860s they were being overshadowed by the Captioline and the Union Grounds. But for a few years they were the home of some of the best baseball in the area. Being so early, they were a multi-purpose facility. The hosted baseball games, but in the off-season and during the weeks when the Excelsiors weren’t playing the land was  leased for cattle grazing. There’s even a story about one woman stabbing another over grazing rights (and you thought that only happened in old John Wayne Westerns, didn’t you?) At least it had the advantage of keeping the grass short, but I’m not sure what happened if the ball landed on a cow chip.

There were a lot of other parks in the era, some more famous than others. Even Lowry’s Green Cathedrals doesn’t list them all. These four get my vote for some of the quirkiest things in or about early ballparks.


Excelsior Grounds 1860