Here's the story:
Until 1957 there were three major league baseball teams in New York. The Yankees, the Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. My dad was kind enough to take me to see games at Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds before those teams sailed off to sunny California. Therein lies a tale of how the world has changed since the ‘50’s.
Ebbets Field, home of the Dodgers, was unremarkable in its dimensions. It was a baseball field, built and used only for baseball. It had a short right field line, and a deep center field, but those things were very common in those old baseball stadiums. There was nothing common about the shape of the field at the Polo Grounds.
The dimensions at the Polo Grounds were:
Left Field Line: 279 (Ebbets Field: 348)
Left-Center Field: 450 (351)
Center Field: 483 (484)
Right-Center Field: 449 (344)
Right Field Line: 258 (297)
Go over and look at some Google images of the Polo Grounds, it’s amazing. Those power alleys go on forever. There’s enough space on the field to play any sport known to man. It looks like you could put a golf course out there. Maybe the Giants knew that they’d be losing Willie Mays soon, and who else could cover all of that ground? Maybe they figured, let’s move now and we never have to find out.
Those were different times, and not just in baseball.
Now we read frequently about parents getting in trouble for falling short of the standard of care regarding their children. Last year a woman got dinged for allowing her nine year old son to go a nearby park on his own. It wasn’t always like that.
My boyhood, in the ‘50’s, was spent largely outside of parental supervision after the age of four or five. They even trusted us to travel to places alone, sometimes places far away.
For the trip to Ebbets Field, my dad got tickets for a Saturday game and we went together. For the game at the Polo Grounds, though, we had tickets for a weekday. My dad worked in downtown Manhattan, and he just gave me my ticket and directions to the Polo Grounds. He was going straight up from work; I was to meet him at our seats. This was a considerable trip from our house in Queens. A bus, and one, two, three subway lines. I had to change trains twice and then find the stadium. I was nine years old, and I’d never done anything like that before.
Changing trains the first time went fine, but I screwed up the second change. The last train was the “A” train, I’m pretty sure, and I found the “A” train okay but I took it going in the wrong direction. Before long I was in Brooklyn, on my way to Coney Island or something, and I was starting to get suspicious. I got off the train. As I was wondering whether I should ask somebody I noticed a trio of sailors, in their whites, talking to a cop. I sidled up to them and sure enough, I overheard the cop telling them how to get to the Polo Grounds. They had made the same mistake that I had. Slick as James Bond I quietly followed them, and I got there fine. Finding the stadium was easy, I mean it’s as big as Dallas. Finding the seat was no problem.
My father asked me how I’d made out with the trip, and I told him the story. He thought it was all great, with the self-correction and all.
These days, if that happened, and if I had asked the cop for directions, my father and mother would be in big trouble and I’d end up in foster care. But parents used to pose these confidence building tests for us all the time back then. In an extreme example, Orson Wells’ parents sent him to Europe by himself on an ocean liner when he was ten. If I recall, they handed him a wad of cash and some luggage and told him to come back when the money ran out. He made out fine too.*
So now a nine-year-old can’t go to the park by himself? No wonder kids today seem to take forever to grow up, if they bother to grow up at all.
*Did that really happen? I seem to remember him telling the story on a talk show one time.