Eastern Park

Charlie Byrne, president of the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, was offered the option to purchase a plot of land in East New York for his team in late 1887. The plot was bounded by Eastern Parkway (now Pitkin Avenue), Vesta Avenue (now Van Sinderen), Powell Street, and Sutter Avenue. However, because of the possibility of the city extending Junius Street and Belmont Avenue through the plot, he declined the chance.

When the newly formed Brotherhood team needed a park for the 1890 season, Monte Ward jumped at the chance to lease the same plot from the Ridgewood Land and Improvement Company, a syndicate of businessmen headed by George W. Chauncey, which bought the space for $88,000. A palatial grand stand was soon commissioned by the Ridgewood Company and designed by Walter Coutts. It was shaped as a partial oval, 433 feet long, and cost $24,950. As construction began, the Brooklyn Eagle boasted that "Brooklyn is to have the finest base ball grounds in the country." The new stadium was originally to be dubbed Atlantic Park, in honor of the former champion Brooklyn team, but in deference to the many bar owners who had already taken similar names for their establishments, the more prosaic moniker of Eastern Park was chosen. The press also referred to the park as the Brotherhood Grounds.

Foul weather and strikes constantly hampered construction and field work, however, and Eastern Park was barely ready for the 1890 season. Complaints of severely muddy conditions were regular in the ground's early history, especially because the playing area was so large. As the Eagle put it: The hardest hitter could not send a fair ball to the right field fence, nor within 100 yards of the fence at center field. On April 11, the Brooklyn Elevated Railroad team visited for a practice game with Ward's men, and were not appreciative of the layout of the new field:

The general verdict of the good men and true who made up the Brooklyn L team that crossed bats yesterday with the Brooklyn P.L. nine was that Atlantic Park is altogether too large. The number of miles the outfield had to travel during the one and three-quarter hours that the game lasted was enormous, and the probabilities are that had Captain Ward not requested his heavy hitters to let up a little on the amateurs the trainmen would have been so worn out that a day off to recuperate would have been necessary.

After several such practice games against amateur nines - other professionals being banned from taking on Players League teams - the Wonders made their major league home debut on April 28 against Philadelphia. Eastern Park's official beginning was an auspicious one, too. For eight scoreless innings, "the game was a succession of brilliant double plays, hard earned catches, and magnificent stops." The Wonders finally broke through for three runs in the ninth, and Philadelphia came up short, scoring just once in reply. On April 30, 4,000 fans were present for the formal opening ceremonies, and Ward was presented with bouquets of flowers before Brooklyn defeated New York, 10 to 5.

An early plan of Eastern Park

Work remained to be done to make Eastern Park as fine as planned, and while Ward's Wonders were on a road trip in May, paths were leveled out, the second level of the grand stand completed, locker rooms fitted with plumbing and lockers, and a permanent ticket office installed.

The Brooklyn Brotherhood squad provided good entertainment throughout 1890, eventually finishing in second place in the new league. But after that single season, the Players League disbanded and Ward's Wonders were folded into Byrne's National League club. The club inherited the lease on Eastern Park and remained through the end of the 1897 season, despite Byrne's declaration during merger negotiations that he "did not purpose to desert so good and popular a ground as Washington Park for the furtherance of other people's real estate schemes."

Eastern Park, late 1890, as set up for baseball and for football
Baseball diagram courtesy Allen Schery

As the combined Brooklyn team performed well below expectations at the start of the 1891 season, so, in Byrne's view, did Eastern Park. In mid-May, to improve the views of those in the upper deck and the back of the grand stand, he had the diamond moved 25 feet further out from the stand. Not content with this, he turned the diamond clockwise to lengthen the left field foul line from 260 to 315 feet, reasoning that "people had got tired of having the ball knocked over the left field fence every three or four innings." This necessitated moving the right field bleachers, now in play, to left field. General improvements were also made to the grand stand, especially to improve air flow according to the weather, and provide a ladies' waiting room and a new press box.

Byrne again oversaw substantial renovations at Eastern Park before the 1892 season. Most of the old grand stand from Washington Park was moved, and rebuilt as a shaded pavilion opposite first base. The bleachers near third base were enlarged and elevated for a better view, and renamed "field seats" with a new price of 25 cents, half the old rate. Pavilion seats cost 50 cents, and grand stand seats 75 cents. According to the Eagle, the three price system "worked to a charm." Not all the grand stand seats were profitable, however - a system of patronage was in place where a great many politicians demanded complimentary annual passes, and, as Chadwick wrote in the Eagle, "the majority of the political passes in question get into the hands of too rough an element to please the class of grand stand patrons who support the club by their money."

A rare photograph of Eastern Park on opening day, 1894
Photograph courtesy John Thorn

Despite these investments, however, the magnates were never happy with the move to East New York. Ferdinand Abell, especially, had one eye on finances and low attendances, and desired a move back to South Brooklyn. Rumors constantly circulated of a return to Washington Park from 1894, and in February, 1897, the Evening Telegram reported:

The owners of the Brooklyn Baseball Club made a prospecting tour through the City of Churches yesterday, looking for a site for new grounds.

They visited the place of the Brooklyn club's former greatness - Washington Park - and were impressed by the pensive manner in which the turf seemed to chide them for ever leaving such a favorable location. The site back of the old grounds was visited, also Ambrose Park, some plots on the Nassau Railroad line, and other sections of real estate that may be graced this summer by the plaintive moan of the kicking ball player and the derisive howl of the lordly umpire.

It is barely possible that not sufficient inducements can be made to cause the management to leave the present location at Eastern Park. However, it is maintained that it will not take much to get the team away from the rasping saw mills of Jamaica Bay.

Although Eastern Park was far from most of Brooklyn's population, East New York was a hub of various rail and trolley lines. Reputedly because of the adventures this caused for anyone who walked to the ground, the Trolley Dodger nickname became associated with Byrne's team, around 1896. This name would eventually stick, but little else is worthy of note about the Dodgers' stay in East New York, which was marked by a steady slide into base ball mediocrity, with a third place finish in 1892 the best result. The high point came early - Tom Lovett pitched a no-hitter to defeat the Giants 4-0 on June 22, 1891, making fools of their vaunted hitters and sending the New York cranks home in style. The Eagle reported that even Byrne and Ebbets were smiling after the game.

On June 1, 1894, Hank Gastright nearly repeated the feat, setting Cap Anson's Chicago squad down with just a single hit in a 5-0 win. Ed Stein went one better the next day, allowing no hits while Chicagoing the Chicagos, in a game shortened to six innings by heavy rain. (Editorial note: Major League Baseball's decision not to recognize Stein's feat as a no-hitter beggars belief in the view of this writer. One, it's none of the league's business to decide how historians record history, and two, Ed Stein allowed no hits in a game that was declared official and finished. To that end, it is the official policy of this site to label Ed Stein's game a no-hitter.)

During the National League days at Eastern Park, a harbinger of the Dodgers' distant future stood in the distant outfield by Sutter Avenue - a Brooklyn Daily Eagle sign. Any player hitting the ball into the sign would win $10. But only one ever managed the feat, catcher Tom Kinslow.

Eastern Park saw the first ever professional game with four umpires, due to Secretary Brunell of the Players League making a scheduling error, and sending two crews to the same game on July 14, 1890. Manager Ward requested that the spares be put to good use, installing one umpire behind the bat and one at each base. Ferguson started the game at home plate, with Knight, Jones, and Holbert at the bases in that order. After each inning all four umpires moved forward 90 feet to a new position. The Brooklyn Wonders defeated Pittsburg, 6 to 2, and the umpiring drew no complaints.

Yale vs Princeton, Thanksgiving Day 1890

Eastern Park also hosted many football games during its history. The local Crescent Athletic Club called it home for football matches, and college games were held there too. The much anticipated Princeton-Yale football game on Thanksgiving Day in 1890 was played at Eastern Park, with seats provided for 12,000 and another 18,000 admitted to find a place to stand. There was a great deal of speculation on tickets, and the one dollar seats were very hard to find at face value. The game itself was best remembered for a near tragedy - one of the temporary free stands collapsed, resulting in injuries to at least 50 people and a great deal of legal trouble for the Ridgewood Land and Improvement Company. For the record, Yale won 32 to 0 over a disappointing Orange squad.

In 1893, Eastern Park was also fitted with a cycling track. The first meet was the annual races of the Kings County Wheelmen on June 30. This amateur affair was followed six days later by a professional get together, the highlight being the five mile handicap, with a prize of $200 on offer for first place. Darntge won from Ashinger, Berlo, and Albert in a thrilling finish. On August 27, base ball and cycling shared the park, with Brooklyn defeating Chicago 7 to 5, and Wheeler winning the five mile handicap in track record time. 6,500 patrons cheered both sports loudly. The grounds also saw high school track and field, and in 1894 Secretary Ebbets even arranged an outdoor bowling contest for himself and his fellow members of the Prospect Bowling Club.

In October, 1894, an association foot ball league was formed by the base ball magnates in six cities, including Brooklyn. Byrne was confident in the venture, saying, "The new sport is creating considerable interest, and I think it will be a success." Byrne's eleven lost its first game in Boston, then won five in a row before the league disbanded after just two weeks. On October 16, Brooklyn "butted, kicked and dribbled" their way to an 8-1 defeat of Philadelphia at Eastern Park, with Pemberton scoring four goals, Bannister three, and Harrington one. Bannister, a small player, was said to be "worth any two of the big men."

The magnates finally got their way, and the Trolley Dodgers moved to a new Washington Park for the 1898 season. On October 2, 1897, in the final major league game at Eastern Park, Brooklyn defeated Boston 15 to 6, finishing a mediocre seven year stay on a high note. In January, 1898, when the end was apparent, nearly a thousand locals signed a petition:

Hon. Charles H. Ebbets, President Brooklyn Base Ball Club, Eastern Park, Brooklyn:

Dear Sir - We, the undersigned business men and residents of the Twenty-sixth Ward, having read in the daily papers that you are thinking of leaving Eastern Park, herewith most respectfully request that you renew your lease of said park. We are fully aware that the business of the Brooklyn Club has not for some time past been very encouraging, but we fully believe that the Brooklyn Ball Club, with its home at Eastern Park, under your management will be a grand success. It is unnecessary for us to go into details as regards the railroad facilities to reach Eastern Park. With this you are thoroughly familiar. We should like to state, however, that this part of Greater New York is growing very fast and within five years will contain a population in itself sufficient to support a ball club handsomely.

If agreeable we would be pleased to have our committee wait upon you, and are willing to do everything in our power to retain the Brooklyn Ball Club at Eastern Park.

The effort was in vain, however, and the park was sold off and demolished soon after the Brooklyns left. Today, the Eastern Park site is an aging industrial area, featuring spare tire dealers, piles of rusted car parts, among other unattractive sights. As Byrne feared, streets have been driven through the site, also. It scarcely seems believable that eight seasons of major league baseball were played at this spot, and that kids would part with a hard earned dime to be allowed onto neighboring rooftops to watch the action.

Eastern Park today - lower photos courtesy Allen Schery

Some old pictures and maps on this page were lifted with permission from Paul Luchter's Amazing Sports Lists.

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