Lovers and Cranks

At the Polo Grounds; Jay Hambidge

At the Polo Grounds; Jay Hambidge

My friend Richard Hershberger called this article to my attention last week, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of June 16, 1884, quoting extensively a story from the New York Sun. I know of no better description of  the activity in the stands at a big-league game–even though its anonymous author casually insults each of the various “types” found at the Polo Grounds. This ballpark, by the way, is not the one at that hosted the Giants or the Mets, beneath Coogan’s Bluff, up at 157th Street. This was the first Polo Grounds, which hosted the New York National League club from 1883 through 1888, at 110th to 112th Street, with the first-base line running along Fifth Avenue. The New York Mets of the rival American Association also used this park in 1883-1885.

In Total Baseball, Phil Lowry added: “The Polo Grounds opened for baseball use September 29, 1880. There was a large flagpole in short center field, with a flag saying “NEW YORK.” There were two diamonds here. The NL Gothams and AA Mets both used the Southeast Diamond, until the Southwest Diamond was completed on May 30, 1883. However, the Southwest Diamond was so bad that the Mets always preferred playing on the Southeast Diamond, and would do so whenever they could, sometimes even playing their game there before a Gothams game just so they could avoid playing on the Southwest Diamond. (Raw garbage was used as landfill to make the infield here, so players also hated this diamond, and the Mets would again play at Southeast Diamond whenever they could avoid playing here. Mets’ pitcher Jack Lynch said you could get malaria by just fielding a ground ball.) Baseball ended at this Polo Grounds when the city built 111th Stret through center and right fields in the fall of 1888. The ballpark burned down in the spring of 1889.

Now, let’s step back to June 1884.


Some of the Familiar Faces Seen at Base Ball Games.

Base-ball crowds are so similar in their style, complexion and personnel that the following article from the New York Sun will be read with considerable interest. The writer has been making pre-Raphaelite observations and his pen pictures will be immediately recognized.

Polo Grounds, 1887

Polo Grounds, 1887

The first thing that impresses one on a visit to the Polo Grounds on any day of the week is the number of spectators. It makes no difference what day it is or which clubs are to compete, there are always crowds on hand to watch a match. On Fridays and Saturdays there are more persons than on other days. But a match between two of the more prominent nines of the League will call out 7,000 or 8,000 persons, no matter what the day may be. The wonder to a man who works for his living is how so many people can spare the time for the sport. They are obliged to leave their offices down town at 2 or 3 o’clock in order to get to the polo grounds in time, and very many of them are constant attendants on the field. The next thing that impresses the visitor is the absolute and perfect knowledge of base-ball which every visitor at the grounds possesses. Nearly every boy and man keeps his own score, registering base hits, runs and errors as the game goes along, and the slightest hint of unfairness on the part of the umpire will bring a yell from thousands of throats instantaneously. The third notable characteristic of the gathering at the polo grounds is the good nature, affability, and friendliness of the crowd. The slim schoolboy ten years of age, and the fat lager-beer saloon proprietor of fifty talk gracefully about the game as it progresses as though they had known each other for years. Men exchange opinions freely about the game with persons they never saw before, and everybody seems good-natured and happy.


are intensely interested in the game. Most of them come well provided with their own cigars, and sedulously evade the eye of the man who peddles “sody-water, sarss-a-parilla, lemonade, pea-nuts and seegars.” There is little drinking of any sort and much smoking. Boys peddling cushions “for 5 cents during the hull [whole] game” and score cards push their way into the crowd. When the afternoon papers come up scores of ragged little urchins invade the grand stand, shriek their wares at the top of their lungs and push in among the seats. The spectators take all these interruptions good-naturedly and languidly make room for the boys, while still keeping up their interest in the game. At times when the umpire renders a decision that does not meet with popular approval, there will be a terrific outbreak, and for the next ten minutes the offending one is guyed unmercifully. Every decision he renders is received with jeers, and sarcastic comments are made upon the play. The good sense of the crowd gets the better of this boyishness, however, and unless the umpire is decidedly biased, which rarely occurs, the crowd soon settles back into its accustomed condition of contentment.

There Were Fans in Those Days, Charles Dana Gibson

There Were Fans in Those Days, Charles Dana Gibson

Any little incident is seized upon by the spectators if it affords any amusing features. The other day a foul ball flew off the bat and lodged in one of the awnings. The man sitting nearest the awning ropes wore & white nigh hat, a spring suit elaborately faced with drab silk, a red necktie and a small mustache. He smoked cigarettes and looked more or less girlish. He rose daintily from his seat and seized the awning rope. As he did so at least two thousand men bawled such sentiments as, “Ah, there!” “Look out, it will bite!” “Treat it gentry, Geawge,” “Careful, baby,” “How very provoking,” “Deah me,” and the like. He grew very red, made the mistake of showing his anger and pulled very hard at the rope. He succeeded in yanking the awn­ing a little, but not very much. A yell went up which fairly shook the building. Then everyone cried at once: “One, two, three—now let her go.” At the final word the dude made one more frightful effort, but again failed; then, gathering all his strength, he gave a final jerk which dislodged the ball from the creases in the awning. The outburst of applause and congratulations made everybody on the field smile.


spun from a bat, directly toward an overdressed and effeminate-looking man, who sat at the western end of the grand stand. As the ball came toward him he jumped away from the rest of the crowd and yelled excitedly. The yell was somewhat shrill, and riveted the attention of the crowd. It happened that the bail struck the chair of the overdressed young man, and he picked it up daintily in his loved hand. As he did so two or three hundred voices shouted as though by preconcerted signal:

“Drop that!”

He did it. Then there was a shout of’ laughter. He looked around foolishly, picked up the ball pettishly, and made a feint to throw it overhand, as women usually throw. As he drew his hand back over his head the crowd again, as though in one voice, cried:

“Hold it!”

The man hesitated for an instant, and then an­grily threw the ball into the field. There was a burst of applause, derision, and comment, above which could be distinctly heard the chorus: “There, you sassy thing!”

Any pretext for a laugh is eagerly seized upon. If any unusually fat man wanders into the grand stand and mates his way blandly to a seat many eyes follow his progress, and the chances are that the time honored “take care will set his heart palpitating, just as he attempts to take his seat. If he is so unfortunate as to break down a chair, or to break the back—which occasionally happens-—the delight of the spectators is unbounded.

Fans, Charles Dana Gibson

Fans, Charles Dana Gibson

Perhaps the most enthusiastic and expert spectators at the Polo grounds are the stockily built young Irishmen, They may be bartenders, light porters, expressmen, clerks, loungers, policemen off duty, or merchants out on a holiday. One of them is a type of a thousand others. He is usually square-shouldered and well built. Probably he has had a taste of athletics himself and plays base-ball in a vacant lot on Sunday mornings even yet. He wears a cutaway coat, turn-down collar, a modest tie, trousers which are close to the leg but bulge at the bottom, and heavy-soled shoes. His hands do not look as though recently operated upon by a manicure, and there is one day’s growth of beard upon a good-natured and typical Irish face. His pocket usually holds some 5-cent cigars, which he is liberal in offering to his neighbors, and he sits forward in his seat, his elbows on his knees, a cigar in his mouth, and his eyes on the field.


in both the nines by name, remembers where Ward and Welch pitched last, where Ewing made his best record, about a ball that McKinnon batted last year, and so on indefinitely, Sometimes he doesn’t bother with a card, keeps the run of the game in his mind, and is as liberal with censure as with applause. He seldom bets upon the game, and he enjoys the sport thorough­ly for the sake of the sport itself. When a man bus­tles in late, steps on his coat tails, leans on his shoul­der, and sits down beside him, he seems utterly un­conscious of interruption, and when the man continues to intrude himself upon notice by thumping him in the ribs, and asking him what the score is, he  turns around with thorough amiability, explains the game in a few words, adds a sentence of criti­cism upon the player who happens to be at the bat, takes a fresh light and resumes his inspection of the play. When the game is over he bounces from his seat and races across the ground with 500 other men. If he patronizes the 10-cent hacks he is always ready to help some man upon the box-seat, and then collects the fare for the driver He is companionable and jolly up the tedious flight of stairs to the elevated railroad, and he talks base-ball in the cars with such animation that the conductor forgets to call out the stations.

Polo Grounds, Opening Day, April 29, 1886, shot from the stands with Kodak's new "detective camera"; Richard Hoe Lawrence.

Polo Grounds, Opening Day, April 29, 1886; Richard Hoe Lawrence.

It has often been remarked that there are at the Polo grounds every day


No one can tell why this is. It is said that men of extraordinary avoirdupois who find it impracticable, inelegant, and more or less sensational to throw hand-springs, steal bases, and run swiftly at 250 pounds weight, enjoy the spectacle of the cat-like and rapid movements of the athletes on the field. A man, in commenting on the prevalence of fat men at the Polo grounds yesterday, said: “I remember, not long ago, there was an extraordinary run of fat women at the Casino. It astonished the managers, demoralized the orchestra and gave rise to derisive comments on the part of the chorus. Fat women swarmed there (it was during the run of “The Merry War), but there was nothing in the opera to ac­count for the patronage of women of tremendous weight. The battalion which was wont a year ago to disport itself in barrel-shaped bathing suits at Coney Island patronized the Casino assiduously. One night it was observed that three particularly large women occupied a box on the south side of the stage, and that they smiled largely and with dimpled and wrinkled satisfaction whenever Perugini came on the stage. They even went so far as to throw bouquets to him. It was evident that Perugini was the attraction of the fat women.

Two Strikes, Charles Dana Gibson

Two Strikes, Charles Dana Gibson

A good many gray heads and gray beards are to be seen on the grand stand. They belong to men who have been base-bail enthusiasts from boyhood up. They enjoy the sport more than they would any play, horse or boat race, and they are full of reminiscences of the game. Scattered in among them are bright-faced boys, who are well dressed, well mannered and intelligent. They are looked upon by the men as of enough importance to war­rant sober treatment, and their opinions are as gravely accepted as those of men. Another pro­nounced type is the young business man. Hundreds of spruce, well-dressed and wide-awake young men, who are apparently clerks, brokers or business men from down town, are to be seen about the grounds. They talk ball and stocks, but principally ball. They may not know as much about it as the school-boys or the solid young Irishman, but they make up in enthusiasm what they lack in knowledge. Their in­terest in the game consists largely in the money they have on it. They always bet freely among them­selves, and return home happy or crestfallen, accord­ing to their winnings.

Fanned Out, Charles Dana Gibson

Fanned Out, Charles Dana Gibson

There are among the ladies who attend ball matches a few, perhaps a dozen in all, who thor­oughly understand the game, and are actually and warmly interested in the sport. Most of them, how­ever, have such a superficial knowledge of the game that they grow tired before the ninth inning is reached, and conceal their weariness when they leave early, by expressing a desire to avoid the crowd. Some of them, though, are profound ad­mirers of ball, and sit every match out. There is one little woman whose excitement is watched with a good deal of amusement by the men who sit near her. She usually comes accompanied by a boy about 19 years of age, and sits on the upper floor of the grand stand. She attempts to keep score, but becomes so excited when there is any lively play that she forgets all about it until the game gets ahead of her, when she copies it from the boy, who in turn gets it from the man next to him. When there is an exciting play she rises in her seat, utters a series of inarticulate and half-smothered cries, claps her hands excitedly, and applauds vigorously when the home team make a point. When they are unsuccessful she departs dejectedly. The New York nine say she gives them luck.


The “Signor Perugini” who seemed to attract full figured women was American-born tenor John Chatterton (1855-1914), whose stage name was “Don Giovanni Perugini.” He starred in the Johann Strauss opera “The Merry War” and later married the full-figured Lillian Russell. At the time of his death he was said to be the best-known of Russell’s numerous ex-husbands.

Excellent gloss, Bruce!

Thank you for this article. I was just recently thinking, after doing some reading on DeWolf Hopper’s fandom, about the average fan/crank at this time. For example as these were all day games, how many cranks attended the games, as people couldn’t take off from work everyday.
Do what know what was the average start time for these games? From this article and my other current readings I have inferred a start time of either 3:30 or 4 pm. So I’m curious to know at what time the games did start.

3:30 was typical, permitting bankers and brokers to get uptown in time for most of the game.

Regarding the start time, this could also vary with the season. In the spring and fall they might have to start a half hour earlier.

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