Polo Grounds, Manhattan, NY, June 1, 1962 – A while back during the World Series, I was doing research on the bullpens at the Polo Grounds in that they were stationed in the outfield in fair territory, and as quite often the case I stumbled on this wonderful photo taken in a game during the New York Mets unforgettable period at the Polo Grounds. And while I was studying it with great detail I could see that Willie Mays was kneeling in the on deck circle so the Mets were playing the Giants.
And it suddenly hit me.
Could this photo been taken during the Giants’ first game back at the Polo Grounds since they left for the West Coast after the 1957 season? And right before Mays was going to bat in the Polo Grounds for the first time in almost five years?
I dug up the June 1st box score from the Giants first game back to their old ballpark and several things right away stuck out and in my favor:
- The game was played at night and the photo shows the ballpark lights are on even so it’s not totally night time yet. So maybe photo was taken at the beginning of the game at dusk.
- The Mets pitcher that night was right-hander Roger Craig, the pitcher in the photo was right handed.
- The Giants number two hitter that night was a young Willie McCovey who batted lefty. The batter in the photo was lefty. And BIG. McCovey is 6’4”.
- According to the box score the attendance was 43,742 and from the looks of the photo not many empty seats.
Good start, but needed more. I forward the photo to MLB Historian John Thorn to get his thoughts and he concluded that my deductions were solid and not only that but added that he could see the ballpark clock showing it was 8:10pm which at dusk in early June would offer plenty of light. Also in his opinion that was Roger Craig pitching.
John further noted that the other games in that series were all played during the daytime and none of the other games that season with the Giants visiting matched anything in the photo.
And in further research I found the June 1st game had a 8pm start to it, which along with John’s observation of the time on the ballpark clock, would put this photo in the top of the first inning.
Now my only concern is 1963. The Mets played two seasons at the Polo Grounds before moving into Shea Stadium in 1964. So on checking on the Giants-Mets games played for that season I did run into a bit of a problem – on May 3rd the two teams did play a night game in front of 49,431, the Mets starting pitcher that was a right hander in Jay Hook and the batter preceding Mays was, once again, McCovey.
So now I got two games from each season that fits the facts of the photo. I needed something to separate the two and the only thing I could think of was the outfield wall advertisements. It stand to reason sponsors change year to year, well maybe the ads did too.
And there I struck gold.
I was able to find an image from the legendary photographer Neil Leifer of the Polo Grounds dated April 21, 1963:
And as I hoped the ads from the outfield walls are much different than the photo we are time stamping as June 1, 1962 as we can see here:
Cropped image from the 1962 photo
Cropped image from the 1963 Neil Leifer photo
That sealed it, we have located and time stamped a photo of the historic return of the legendary Willie Mays and his San Francisco Giants to the Polo Grounds. And not only that, but right before his first at bat at the Polo Grounds since 1957. As this photo was being shot, the buzz in the crowd had to be growing in anticipation as New York was ready to greet its legendary hero back to where it all began for him and where he performed magic.
As for the game itself, the Giants were to grab an early 1-0 lead as McCovey shortly after the photo taken would homer off Craig. Mays would follow by lining out to Mets third baseman Felix Mantilla. After grounding out in the third inning, Mays in his third at-bat in the fifth inning would delight his old fans with his 17th home run of the season off Craig. By the seventh the Giants had built a comfortable 9-1 lead, but the scrappy Mets did rally in the ninth but falling short and only scoring five runs and losing 9-6.
-Ron A. Bolton