The sport of baseball, long played on Southern Field adjacent to the Southern State Parkway, has a long and storied history in New York City. In 1847, Alexander J. Cartwright and members of the New York Knickerbocker Club drafted a set of rules for the “New York game” of baseball, calling for a diamond shaped infield with ninety-foot base paths and a pitchers mound forty-five feet from home plate. The distance to the pitchers’ mound was changed to sixty feet, six inches in 1893, and the rules became standard for baseball across the nation.
The National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs was formed in Grand Central Station in 1876, marking the beginning of Major League Baseball. The New York Giants entered the league in 1883 and would remain in New York until 1957. The New York Metropolitans and Brooklyn Bridegrooms, named because four players had just been married, joined the American Association, which was organized as a rival major league in 1883.
The Metropolitans shut down in 1887 and the Brooklyn Bridegrooms moved to the National League in 1890, becoming the Superbas from 1889-1904 and the Dodgers from 1905-57. In 1900 New Yorkers were the first baseball fans to eat hot dogs and, in 1908, were the first spectators to hear “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The American Association disbanded in 1891 and, in 1901, the American League was formed in New York City as a second major league. The Baltimore Orioles, an American League franchise, moved to New York in 1902 and would be known as the Highlanders until 1912. The team played at Hilltop Park, on the current site of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital between 165th and 168th in Manhattan, until 1913 when they became tenants of the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds at 156th street and were renamed the Yankees. The Yankees would move to their current home, Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, in 1923.
New York was also home to several teams from the Negro Leagues. The Lincoln Giants and the Brooklyn Giants were members of the Eastern Colored League, formed by Nat Stron in 1923. New York Eagles, New York Cubans and New York Black Yankees played in the Negro National League, formed in 1933. The leagues folded shortly after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier on April 5, 1947, an event that took place at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.
In the 1950s, New York established itself as the undisputed capital of baseball. A New York team played in every World Series from 1949 to 1958, including six “subway series” between two New York teams. The Yankees dominated the decade, winning seven of their record twenty-six championships. However, New York’s domination of the major leagues would come to an end in 1957, when both the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers moved to California.
The events of 1957 did, however, lead to the return of baseball in Queens, as the expansion Mets became a member of the National League in 1962 to replace the Giants and the Dodgers. Queens was previously home to several early baseball teams, with The Royal Giants of the Eastern Colored League playing in Dexter Park in Woodhaven from 1923 into the 1940s. The Trolley Dodgers of the American Association also played in Maspeth Ball Grounds in 1890 and in Ridgewood Park on Onderdonk and Elm Avenues in 1889 and 1890. After playing their first two seasons at the Polo Grounds, the Mets moved to their current home at Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in 1964. The Mets captured the hearts of the city in 1969, winning the World Series just seven years after posting the worst record in baseball history.
Today Southern Field is used primarily for the sports of baseball and soccer, the latter continuing to grow in popularity in New York and throughout the United States. In 2000, Mayor Giuliani sponsored a $206,000 renovation of Southern Field, adding new chain link fences around the perimeter of the park to protect cars outside and players within.