Frank Sinatra is one of the greatest if not THE greatest vocalist of all time.
That can always be debated. But it might be a short debate.
At one time or another we have all swooned as Frankie crooned.
His songs were romantic to say the least.
However, Sinatra did record one that might be considered out of character for him.
In 1973, Frank Sinatra issued a song titled, “There Used To Be A Ballpark.”
It was written by Joe Raposo for Sinatra’s album, “Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back.”
That song has often been cited by books that talk about old-time baseball.
Raposo once told Larry King that the song was about the Polo Grounds, which had been the home of the New York Giants until 1957.
The Giants, along with the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to San Francisco and Los Angeles respectively following the ’57 season.
The expansion New York Mets were added to the National League and played their first three seasons in the Polo Grounds before it was demolished and turned into affordable high-rise apartments for those living in the area of the old ballpark at 155th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan.
What’s the point of all this, you ask?
Well, the Polo Grounds meant as much to me, as it did to the fellow who wrote a song for Frank Sinatra.
The Polo Grounds was the launching point for my life, loving baseball first, then the other sports, and devoting my entire career to the reporting of sports in some fashion, mostly as a broadcaster.
I have chronicled my first visit to the home of the Giants in 1951, after my father brought home Bowman baseball cards with a stick of bubble-gum included. The cards were precise drawings from photographs in full color with the players’ names printed on the front. On the back were the facts about the player: position, hometown, which way he hit and threw, and a few paragraphs of what the player had achieved in the previous season and in his career.
The one I remember most was Red Schoendienst of the St.Louis Cardinals who passed away June 6th at the age of 95.
Schoendienst was a Cardinal icon and I have told him the story of how I couldn’t stop looking at his 1951 baseball card, and then saw him in real life standing next to his teammate and best friend, the legendary Stan Musial at the batting cage.
I was 8 years old at the time, and with that snapshot which I have never forgotten, I knew what I wanted to do the rest of my life.
So, the Polo Grounds was where I witnessed my Giants. There were countless regular season games, and a couple of World Series contests as well.
In 1951, after Bobby Thomson hit the “Shot Heard ‘Round The World” to bring the Giants back from a 13 and-a -half game August deficit to beat the Dodgers in the 9th inning of the deciding playoff game, I witnessed the third game of the World Series against the Yankees. It was one of only two games the Giants won in a losing effort.
1951 baseball card
But in 1954, it was a different story.
The Giants captured the World Series, beating the Cleveland Indians in four straight games.
The singular moment happened in Game One.
In a play that has gone down in history, Willie Mays made a running over-the-shoulder catch of a drive by the Indians’ Vic Wertz deep in center field over 400-feet from home plate.
As soon as the ball was hit, my Dad urged his me to stand on my seat to see the play.
I saw it all.
The Polo Grounds was an unusually-shaped ballpark.
It was ideal for football. But for baseball, the distance down the left and right field lines were a mere 157-feet or so, a cheap shot for anyone who lofted a high-fly ball down the line. A fellow named Dusty Rhodes, hit a pinch-hit home run to win that first game in the 10th inning after Mays made his catch with the scored tied in the 8th inning.
Rhodes hit a lazy fly ball down the first-base line that carried to the overhang in right field and landed in the first row for a three-run homer to win the game.
In reality it was a pop fly, but it counted.
There was plenty of room in left and right center field, as well as in deep center, but not down the lines.
There were two aspects to the Polo Grounds that made it unique and never equaled.
To get to the clubhouses, a player had to walk all the way to center field and climb a short flight of stairs. In every other park, there’s a tunnel from the dugout to the clubhouse.
But not the Polo Grounds.
That meant, when a pitcher was ineffective and knocked out of the game, he had to make the long walk to the farthest spot in the ballpark.
You think the fans had fun with that one?
The other, was that the two bullpens were actually in fair territory. No kidding.
Relief pitchers would warm up in either left or right centerfield shaded by an awning.
There was a bench for the hurlers to sit until getting the call.
On occasion, they all had to scatter when batted balls were hit in their direction.
As many baseball fans know, Vin Scully began broadcasting games for the Dodgers in 1950 when they played in Brooklyn. His last year was 2016. The greatest of all in his profession had a 67 year career behind the mike calling Dodger games.
But few may know that Scully grew up as a fan of the Giants.
He told me once that in his home, there was an artist’s rendition of the Polo Grounds, with a wrecking ball about to descend on the old ballpark, paving the way for the construction of the apartment houses.
Symbolically, for this reporter, that wrecking ball represents the end of a too short love affair for a youngster who adored his team, saw some fabulous moments, only to see them flee to a city 3,000 miles away.
It all began in 1951, and ended in 1957.
Yes, too brief a time.
But the memories of the Polo Grounds still linger.
And I remember when there used to be a ballpark right here.
And There Used To Be A Ballpark
Sung by Frank Sinatra
And there used to be a ballpark
Where the field was warm and green.
And the people played their crazy game
With a joy I’d never seen.
And the air was such a wonder
From the hot-dogs and the beer.
Yes, there used to be a ballpark right here.
And there used to be rock candy,
And a great big 4th of July
With the fireworks exploding
All across the summer sky.
And the people watched in wonder
How they’d laugh and how they’d cheer!
And there used to be a ballpark right here.
Now the children try to find it,
And they can’t believe their eyes
‘Cause the old team just isn’t playing,
And the new team hardly tries.
And the sky has got so cloudy
When it used to be so clear,
And the summer went so quickly this year.
Yes, there used to be a ballpark right here.
Songwriters: Joseph G Raposo
There Used to Be a Ballpark lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc
Listen to the song on YouTube: