There Used to Be a BallparkPosted: June 29, 2008
Fans had a great view of the Hudson River and the Palisades from Hilltop Park.
There Used to Be a Ballpark is a song written by Joe Raposo and recorded by Frank Sinatra for Sinatra’s 1973 album, Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back.
The song expresses sadness at the loss of a baseball team and its ballpark, which once gave its fans and players joy. The song is.typically assumed to be about Ebbets Field and the Brooklyn Dodgers, but it could by about any team and any park in any city in America where baseball is played.
There used to be a ballpark in northern Manhattan known as Hilltop Park, the home of the New York Highlanders, a team now known as the Yankees.
Hilltop Park sat on one of the highest points in Manhattan, on a site now occupied as Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, spanning between 165th and 168th streets and between Broadway and Fort Washington Avenue. The park was constructed in only six weeks and was huge by today’s standards. Left field, facing north to 168th Street, was 365 feet from home plate. Center field was 542 feet and right field 400 feet.
A roofed single deck wooden grandstand stood along Fort Washington Avenue; the center field bleachers were on the corner of 168th Street and Broadway. There were no clubhouses, so players had to dress in hotels. Capacity of Hilltop Park was 16,000.
Opening Day, 1903
Officially known as New York American League Park, the playing grounds opened on April 30, 1903. The Highlanders, who began as the Baltimore Orioles before moving to the newly-formed American League, won that first game against the Washington Senators. 6-2. It was one of the few bright spots for the Highlanders from Hilltop Park.
They finished second three times in their 10-year stay, including a heartbreaking loss by 41-game winner Jack Chesbro in 1904. to the Boston Pilgrims (now Red Sox) in a game that decided the American League pennant.
But the most part, the Highlanders played bad baseball. They were last in the American League in 1908, and in 1912 they were last again with a 50-102 record under skipper Harry Wolverton, worst record in the mostly illustrious history of this storied franchise.
Several other memorable moments occurred at Hilltop. In September of 1908, Washington’s Walter Johnson pitched three shutouts over the Highlanders in four days.
And on May 15, 1912, after being heckled for several innings, Detroit outfielder Ty Cobb leaped the fence and attacked his tormentor. He was suspended indefinitely by league president Ban Johnson, but his suspension was eventually reduced to 10 days and $50.
Move to the Polo Grounds
The New York Giants actually played at Hilltop Park for a brief spell after a fire burned the Polo Grounds to the ground in 1911. The Giants built a new, concrete and steel Polo Grounds on the same site at 155th Street and 8th Avenue. The Yankees, as they had become known, moved into the Polo Grounds as co-tenants with John McGraw’s Giants in 1913.
Hilltop Park was demolished in 1914 and replaced by the one-story tabernacle of Billy Sunday, a baseball player turned evangelist. Following the demolition of the tabernacle, groundbreaking ceremonies for Columbia Presbyterian took place in 1925. A bronze plaque, left, in the medical center garden marks the spot where home plate was located.
The armory, which still stands, was built behind the left-field fence in 1909. Three apartment buildings from the Hilltop days remain standing on 168th Street, east of the armory.
On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated at the Audobon Ballroom, corner of 165th Street and Broadway, a spot adjacent to the old Hilltop Park.
After their move to the Polo Grounds, the Yankees eventually wore out their welcome. In 1920 they acquired Babe Ruth from the Red Sox and began to outdraw the Giants in their own park. Forced to move, the Yankees built the magnificent Yankee Stadium across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds, at 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx.
And the rest, as they say, is history.