John Dereszewski served as the District Manager of Bushwick’s Community Board 4 during the time of the 1977 blackout and has written and lectured extensively about Bushwick’s past and current history.
When you exit the L train at Halsey Street and walk into Bushwick, you pass a very forgettable manufacturing area to your left until you approach the Industry 1332 restaurant at the corner of Irving Avenue. What you may not realize is that you just passed the site of a ballpark that once hosted Major League baseball games. Welcome to the story of Wallace Field.
In 1887, the Brooklyn Bridegrooms of the American Association (AA) – a Major League in its time – began playing their Sunday games at Wallace Field located on the double block situated between Halsey, Irving, Covert and Wyckoff. The Bridegrooms were a very good team and, in 1889, won the league pennant and then played the crosstown National League (NL) champs – the New York Giants – in the World Series. This would have been the first “Subway Series” had subways existed at that time!
A Rocky Road
A number of confusing moves followed. After the Giants won the series, the Bridegrooms did a very unusual thing: they bolted from the AA to the NL. Since the more staid NL did not permit Sunday baseball, Wallace Field no longer figured into the team’s plans.
They left Wallace Field and moved to a new main ballpark situated in East New York that was in the midst of a major traffic hub. The Bridegroom’s fans in order not to have their wives turned into widows learned how to dodge the many trolley cars they had to elude. Thus the name “Trolley Dodgers” – and then just “Dodgers” – was born. Yes, the team we now know as the Dodgers once played its games in Bushwick!
After losing the Bridegrooms, the AA desperately tried to fill the vacuum and organized a new team to play at Wallace Field daily called the Brooklyn Gladiators. However, since it was not an accessible location for weekday baseball and – more importantly – since the Gladiators were really terrible, things did not work out, and the Gladiators abandoned Wallace Field and then ceased to exist well before the end of the season. I guess the verdict on the Gladiators was “Thumbs Down!”
Then in 1904, the newly established American League team that we now know as the Yankees planned to play its Sunday games at Wallace Field. However, since Dodger owner Charlie Ebbetts went ballistic – a word that did not yet appear in the dictionary – at that idea, the proposal went nowhere. And while the final attempt to bring Sunday Major League baseball to Bushwick was unsuccessful, several major league teams would, however, play exhibition games here over the years.
Now, before we take this narrative further, we need to address one question: What is this about Sunday baseball? Well, the answer is that, until 1918, it was illegal in New York State to charge admission for Sunday sporting events. While this was a State-wide law, it was also an attempt to legalize morality and, as such, was viewed by different localities in various ways. In this case while Brooklyn clearly lived up to its name as the “City of Churches” and took a VERY dim view of Sunday baseball, the residents of Queens where Wallace Field was located at the time were somewhat more permissive. To get around the ban of charging admission, the stadiums in Queens would state that entry was absolutely free – but then charge the attendees a program that cost as much as a ticket. If the police did raid the event, they could not stop play but only arrest a few of the major players. The players would then be swiftly transported to a nearby police precinct where a baseball friendly judge would provide bail and enable the players to re-join the game by the third or fourth inning.
Wallace Field’s Finest Hour
When Wallace Field wasn’t serving as the backdrop for major league games, it hosted semi-pro teams. These consisted of highly talented ballplayers who worked Monday through Friday and then played ball on the weekend. (This made the availability of Sunday ball a real necessity.) At the turn of the century, the premier semi-pro team was the Ridgewoods, and they participated in what was Wallace Field’s finest hour.
Just after winning the second modern World Series in 1905, John McGraw’s NY Giants decided to take a victory lap by playing some games against a few lowly semi-pro teams. The Ridgewoods were one of them. But, on October 15 1905 and before nearly 10,000 fans, the underdog Ridgewoods beat the world champs by a 5-2 score. While a perusal of the box score shows that McGraw did not field his “A team” that day, his starting pitcher was Red Ames, who won 22 games that year and would also score 183 victories over a 17 year career.
A New Start?
Ten years later, the Ridgewoods were renamed the Bushwicks and appeared to inaugurate a real golden age for Wallace Field. At that time, the park boasted a capacity of 14,000. While that might not seem very large, it doubled the capacity of the two minor league parks that the Mets and Yankees had established. Also, the initial capacity of Ebbetts Field, which also opened around that time, was only 18,000. So this was a pretty big deal.
Unfortunately, while Ebbetts Field was constructed of steel and concrete, Wallace Field was built of wood, and wood burns. This is exactly what occurred on September 19, 1917 when a devastating fire nearly destroyed the entire grandstand. At first it appeared that this would be the death knell of Wallace Field – and the Bushwicks immediately moved to Dexter Park in nearby Woodhaven – just over the Queens border – where the team would attain epic status through the 1950’s. (For example, Whitey Ford was a Bushwick before he was a Yankee.)
However, the obituaries for Wallace Field proved premature. With a greatly diminished grandstand, it soldiered on for another decade hosting lower level semi-pro games, soccer matches and some of the newly established Bushwick High School’s first football games. However, on April 1 1928 it finally ceased to exist. A number of industrial ventures moved in, and Wallace Field soon disappeared from our memories.
The field’s closing date nearly coincides with the modification of the Brooklyn/Queens border to conform to the street grid. The roadbed of Eldert Street divided the field’s land in half. Previously, most of the site was in Queens. However, since this area was developed for new businesses, the roadbed was never completely opened to traffic. Thus, when in 1977 a business was approved to expand its factory into Eldert Street’s undeveloped roadbed, a building blocked a border that was supposed to follow the road.
While the good people of Woodhaven have celebrated the memory of old Dexter Park – now a low-rise housing development – by placing a plaque near its one-time location, no such recognition has graced Wallace Field. Perhaps this will occur someday. In the meantime, I hope this will provide you with a brief glimpse of what was once a very vital part of this community.
Featured image courtesy Brooklyn Public Library—Brooklyn Collection. The 1906 Brighton Field Club.