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The Great Subway Race
2007-04-05 09:45
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

By Jon Kay

"The next stop is 161st Steet, Yankee Stadium."

It won't be long before many of us get to hear those sweet, automated words as the 4 train rumbles to The House that Ruth Built.

There is a longstanding link between professional baseball in New York City and its transit system. Ballparks past and present have all been built next to subway lines.

April 14th, 1906 was the date of Yankee opening day in Hilltop Park on 168th street and Broadway. A sellout crowd of 15,000 watched the Yankees defeat the Boston Americans 2-1 in 12 innings.

This date was also opening day for the 168th street subway station which is now served by the 1 train. The New York Times estimated 10,000 fans passed through the brand new station on their way to the ballpark. The subway crowd was too much for the station's elevators which took riders from the platform, 125 feet underground, to the surface. Hundreds of fans had to make their way up to the street on foot via the stairs.

These hearty fans were rewarded with a pitchers' duel between Happy Jack Chesbro for the Yankees and Cy Young for Boston. An unearned run in the 12th sealed the win for New York. Set up men, loogys and closers were not required as each starter pitched a complete game.

The Times reported the bleacher creatures gave Young a good pre-game razzing and Chesbro's spitball was in peak form. It is safe to say the post-game walk down to the subway was a much more enjoyable one than the pre-game hike up 12 flights.

When the Yankees moved to the Polo Grounds in 1913, the 9th Avenue El became the train of choice for Yankee fans. The 9th Avenue line was one of the city's original train lines dating back to 1867. In 1880, the line was extended to 155th street, the future site of the Polo Grounds. In 1918, the 9th Avenue line was connected to the Woodlawn line in the Bronx via an existing railroad bridge operated by the Putnam branch of the New York Central. This extension was the precursor for what would become the Polo Grounds Shuttle and passed near the future site of Yankee Stadium.

The most popular song in baseball history, Take Me Out to the Ballgame was inspired by a ride on the 9th Avenue El. In 1908, Jack Norworth was riding the el past the Polo Grounds. He saw a sign, "Baseball Today – Polo Grounds", which prompted him to write the famous lyrics. It may have been the most productive ride in mass transit history.

In 1921, Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert had to look no further than the 4 train when scouting potential locations for a new ballpark. It was The House that Ruth Built but it was the IRT that decided where The House would be.

Over the years, Yankee fans have been well served by the 4 train as well as the B and D IND lines which were added in 1933. These three trains are given proper respect at every Yankee home game via the great subway race. I usually root for the 4 train, but being a Bronx native, I have to confess to occasionally rooting for the Bx1 bus.

The new Yankee Stadium, currently under construction, is already steeped in transit lore.

The new Stadium will sit along the route of the old Polo Grounds shuttle. In 1940, the 9th Avenue El was shut down. Construction of the underground IND line had made the 9th Avenue El obsolete. Shuttle service was maintained between the Polo Grounds on 155th street and the 4 train stop on 167th street. After the Giants left town in 1958, the shuttle was closed for good.

If you walk to River Ave and 162nd street, you can still see a small piece of the shuttle's structure. My good buddy, and Bronx historian, Dave Levy pointed out the remnant of the shuttle to me a few years back. It was a Bronx boy's version of an archeological dig.

Parking facilities for the new Stadium are being built on the site of Macomb's Dam Park. Anyone who presently takes the ferry to the Stadium sails by the former location of Robert Macomb's dam. Back in 1813, Macomb was allowed to build a dam in the Harlem River and collect tolls. The dam caused flooding uptown and shippers refused to pay the toll. In 1838, a judge deemed it a public nuisance and ordered it removed. In spite of all of this, a park and a bridge were named after him.

I was pleased to hear the new Yankee Stadium would make transit history with a Metro North station. This is a great idea which should have been done 30 years ago. Unfortunately, recent news about the station is not good. We can only hope that Metro North will be included in the subway race for many years to come.

Jon grew up in the Bronx and is a lifelong Yankee fan. He can often be spotted on the 4 train on his way to upper reserved seats at the Stadium.

Comments
2007-04-05 10:30:40
1.   Alex Belth
Great job, Jon. I need to go take a walk and see the remaining bit of the shuttle. Judging from Cliff's Opening Day shots, the construction of the new park will be an indelible part of going to watch a game up in the Bronx for the next two seasons.

I agree about the Metro North station too. That will be huge.

2007-04-05 10:36:41
2.   jkay
1 Thanks Alex and great job on the photos, Cliff.
2007-04-05 11:57:35
3.   Sliced Bread
Cool piece, jkay.

Ferry is definitely the way to go for day games, especially if you're shlepping from NJ.
My dad and I take it a couple times a year from Hoboken, and this year my young sons will join us for the first time. I would have done it sooner, but when you go by boat it's a loooonnng day, which is tough on little ones.

I was living in Los Angeles in the mid-late 90's as L.A.'s new subway was being built. The trains are clean. The stations are immaculate. But the subway doesn't go to Dodger Stadium. I'll never understand how that happened. (has that ridiculous flaw been fixed yet, Angelenos?)

There's no better way to get to/from a ballgame than squeezing into a train car, or boat with your fellow fans.

2007-04-05 12:26:01
4.   Alex Belth
I've never done the ferry thing. I should make a point of it though. Sounds unique.
2007-04-05 12:36:38
5.   Sliced Bread
4 If you take it, definitely go on a sunny day, and try to go from Hoboken. Departs about 11am for 1pm games. You get great views of the Statue, Ellis Island, and the harbor before it stops at the So. St. Seaport.
Cruises under the East River bridges (as opposed to the more awkward over the bridge boat locomotion), stops at the 34th St. heliport, Gracie Mansion, and next stop da Stadium.
Ferry departs Stadium precisely 30 minutes after the last out if you're going round trip.
2007-04-05 12:37:46
6.   Sliced Bread
5 no need for a city slicker like yourself to go round trip on the ferry.
2007-04-05 13:38:09
7.   BenYankee
Love it. Love it.

Subways and baseball: My two loves of New York City.

That's why I'm doing the Second Ave. Sagas blog. I wrote about the Yankee Stadium stop a few weeks ago. Good stuff on the Banter as usual.

2007-04-05 15:04:06
8.   yogifan
The subway in LA still goes nowhere Dodger Stadium, or the airport, for that matter. Politics uber alles. But you can take a commuter train to Angel Stadium.
2007-04-05 16:32:27
9.   claybeez
Thanks for the post. It's nice to get a little history thrown in with the banter.
2007-04-05 21:21:48
10.   BruceR
Head over to Bronx Banter and a Random Game Callback (RIP) almost breaks out. Like 'em both.

BTW, yogifan's commuter train to Anaheim Stadium continues south and after a transfer (and another couple of hours) you're within a leisurely stroll along the harbor of PETCO Field.

2007-04-05 22:02:56
11.   weeping for brunnhilde
What 7 said.

Beautiful little piece, Jon, thank you!

Speaking of the Bronx, you ever see "Five Corners?"

Somehow, your refernce to Macomb made me think of that movie. You should see it if you've not, it's with John Turturro, Jodie Foster and what's-his-name, Robbins. Tim Robbins.

It's a great Bronx movie.

2007-04-06 15:05:12
12.   jkay
11 Five Corners is now on my Netflix list.

Thanks all for the kind words.

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