Saturday, March 27, 2021

Giant Women of Baseball - Women Owned the Polo Grounds


Baseball has long been considered, for the most part, a “man’s” sport.  Or at least a “manly” sport – remember, “there’s no crying in baseball!”[i] 

But that hasn’t kept women out of baseball.  During and after World War II, for example, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, as famously portrayed in Penny Marshall’s classic, A League of Their Own, played ball for twelve seasons. 

In a more obscure sequence of events in 1900, Mary Van Derbeck was briefly believed to be the new owner of the Detroit Tigers.  She was awarded the team in lieu of $8,000 alimony during contentious divorce proceedings from her husband, George Van Derbeck, who founded the team in 1894.  But her brief “ownership” wouldn’t last.   An appeals court quickly nixed the deal because it severely under-valued the team, which would have cheated George out thousands of dollars of value and awarding his ex-wife thousands of dollars more than the $8,000 she was due.  Instead, George was permitted to auction off the team on the open market, netting more than $12,000, which enabled him to pay his alimony debt and pocket the difference.[ii]

A longer lasting and more significant example of women’s involvement in professional baseball is found in the history of New York’s Polo Grounds – not the stadium or field itself, but the grounds on which they were built.  Through eighty-four years, four successive stadiums called the “Polo Grounds,” on three separate plots of land, hosting five major league baseball franchises (the original Mets, the Giants, the modern Mets, and the Yankees, the land beneath the feet of all of the baseball greats who played in those stadiums was owned by a woman.


Polo Grounds I, 1887.[iii]

Polo Grounds I

Mary G. Pinkney owned the original Polo Grounds, situated between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and 110th and 112th Streets, from 1880 through 1888.[iv]  She was the sole owner of large plots of land in upper Manhattan familiarly known as the “Watt Estate.”  She purchased the land from her step-father, Archibald Watt, for about $40,000 cash in 1843.  He had acquired most of the land as part of a scheme to build a canal connecting the East River to the Hudson River.  Coincidentally, she was nearly the owner of a portion of the land under the New York Yankee’s first stadium in 1903; leases were signed, land was purchased, and landscaping begun before the deal was sabotaged by the former owner of the New York Giants.[v]


Polo Grounds II

Sarah Lynch owned the land under the Polo Grounds II and Polo Grounds III, situated along the Harlem River between 155th and 159th Streets, and bounded on the west by Eighth Avenue (now Frederick Douglass Boulevard).  Her husband, a tea merchant named William Lynch, is said to have purchased the land as a farm in 1836[vi] when (according to census records) he would have been just sixteen years old.  She owned the land in her own name following his death a few years before leasing the grounds for the construction of the Polo Grounds II.

The location of the stadium and the high ground overlooking the stadiums became known as Coogan’s Hollow and Coogan’s Bluff, respectively, a reference to Mrs. Lynch’s son-in-law, James J. Coogan, a prominent furniture dealer and local politician who played an active role in the development and day-to-day management of the property.


Polo Grounds III, 1894.[vii]

Polo Grounds III 

In 1890, Sarah Lynch leased an adjacent piece of land for construction of a second baseball field and stadium, for the New York entry in the short-lived Players’ League.  When the Players’ League folded after one season, the New York Giants took over their lease, moved next door and rebranded the new stadium the “Polo Grounds.”  The Polo Grounds II became known as Manhattan Stadium, and remained in operation for many years hosting various sporting events and horse shows, and briefly served as the home field of the Manhattan Athletic Club.

Sarah Lynch eventually signed over ownership of the Polo Grounds, and most of her other real estate holdings, to her daughter, Harriet Coogan, to protect the property from the risk of being lost in litigation stemming from the contentious dissolution of the Coogan Brothers’ furniture dealership.  James J. Coogan’s brother Edward claimed partial ownership of the land as the result of unpaid loans the Coogan Brothers purportedly made to Sarah Lynch before the firm folded.  His claims were ultimately denied, leaving the land in Harriet’s hands, and under sole female ownership for several more decades. 


Polo Grounds IV

Harriet Coogan still owned the property in 1911 when the Polo Grounds burned to the ground.  She took the fire in stride, immediately building the fourth iteration of the Polo Grounds on the same spot.  Her husband’s family was, after all, familiar with fire.  The Coogan Brothers furniture company had suffered three major fires over a ten-year period a few decades earlier.  Coincidentally (?), her Newport Rhode Island mansion, Whitehall, burned to the ground one month before the Polo Grounds.  But unlike the Polo Grounds, she never rebuilt Whitehall, famously leaving it in disrepair, uninhabited and uninhabitable for decades in one of the best neighborhoods in Newport, to the consternation of her tony Newport neighbors. 

Harriett Coogan died in 1947, leaving the land to her four children equally, three sons and her only daughter Jessie, leaving the stadium grounds under one-quarter female ownership for the remainder of its existence.  Jessie still held her interest in the property when the stadium was demolished in 1964.  Jessie never married, which fueled rumors that her mother had abandoned their Newport mansion in retaliation for Newport’s high society refusing to attend Jessie’s debutante ball.  That story is almost certainly untrue.  She and her mother were regular fixtures in the Newport social scene before and after the fire, and before and after her debutante season. 

But it is true that ground on which all four versions of the New York Giants' Polo Grounds stood, during every minute of their collective 84-year history, was owned by a woman.



[i] Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own.”

[ii][ii] “Angels and Tigers and Ducks – a Baseball Biography of George A. Van Derbeck,” Early Sports ‘n’ Pop-Culture History Blog, April 5, 2019.

[iii][iii] The polo grounds. New York. , ca. 1887. Apr. 23. Photograph. .

[iv] “Mets Might Be Giants – an Alternative History of the New York Giants,” Early Sports ‘n’ Pop-Culture History Blog, October 31, 2019.

[v] “Pinstripes and Plaid – why the New York Americans became Highlanders and Yankees,” Early Sports ‘n’ Pop-Culture History Blog, March 23, 2021.

[vi] The New York Evening World, February 12, 1889, page 4.  Sarah Lynch’s son-in-law, James Coogan, who managed the property, also made comments consistent with the property having purchased as a farm by William Lynch when there was a dispute about ownership of part of the property.  Other sources, however, suggest she may have inherited her land from her mother’s side of the family, who were related to the Gardiner family that still owns Gardiner’s Island on the eastern edge of Long Island, the largest privately-owned island in the United States.  Her daughter Harriet was said to have been born on Gardiner’s Island, and Harriet named one of her sons Gardiner, so there may be some connection.  But earlier in her life, she was referred to as “Gardner,” not “Gardiner,” which does not mean that she was not connected to that family, because a genealogical book about the family refers to different branches of the family who spelled the name differently.  There were wealthy Gardiners in New York City, including President Tyler’s young bride, Julia Gardiner, who married Tyler while he was in office in 1844.  If Sarah Lynch (nee Gardner) were closely connected to Julia Gardiner, a First Lady of the United States, it seems likely that someone somewhere would have written about the connection.  In any case, although it is possible that she did inherit some property from the Gardner/Gardiner side of her family, the land that was leased to built Polo Grounds II, and eventually Polo Grounds III, appears to have been purchased by William Lynch in 1836.

[vii] Boussod, Valadon & Cie, Printer, and Henry Sandham. A baseball match / Hy. Sandham, Boston. , ca. 1896. Paris: Boussod, Valadon & Co. Photograph. .   

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Pinstripes and Plaid - why the New York Americans became Highlanders and Yankees


In 1903, Ban Johnson’s American League brought a team to New York City to compete directly with the National League’s New York Giants for fans in the lucrative New York City baseball market.  The new team found a home in the New York Giants’ backyard in upper Manhattan. 

In its earliest days, the team did not have a nickname; they were simply the “New Yorks.”  At the time, all teams were frequently referred to by the plural of the town name, even when an alternate nickname was available. 

A firmer hold was taken on first place by the New Yorks in the National League fight.  The locals defeated the Philadelphias, while the Pittsburgs were being thrashed by St. Louis.  Cincinnati managed to win another game at Chicago’s expense and the Brooklyns were downed by Bostons.

The Morning Call (Paterson, New Jersey), April 29, 1903, page 3.

Philadelphia Inquirer, April 28, 1903, page 10.

 They were also frequently referred to as the “New York Americans,” which distinguished them from their National League neighbors, the Giants, who were frequently referred to as the “New York Nationals.”  Teams in the other two-league cities of Boston and Philadelphia received similar treatment.  And when the city or team at issue was understood in context, any one of those teams might simply be referred to as “Americans” or “Nationals.”

The Boston Globe, May 27, 1901, page 8.


The Boston Globe, May 20, 1901, page 8.

The New York Times, April 12, 1903, page 16.

Baseball fans abhor a vacuum, so when a new team appears without a nickname, one or more inevitably appear.  But those nicknames were not tested by focus groups, protected by intellectual property managers, and promoted by a marketing department.  They were selected at the whim of fans or sportswriters, and appeared, disappeared and reappeared as fan preference, editorial policy or circumstances dictated.  Teams could change nicknames every few years or carry more than one nickname at a time. 

In 1911, for example, most of the teams in both leagues had multiple nicknames.

Boston, Hops and Rustlers; New York, Giants[i]; Philadelphia, Phillies; Pittsburg, Pirates, or Buccaneers[ii]; Cincinnati, Reds; St. Louis, Cardinals, or Cards[iii]; Chicago, Cubs; Brooklyn, Trolley Dodgers[iv], or Bridegrooms.  The above are the names of the teams in the National League.

In the American League the nicknames are: Boston, Red Sox, Speed Boys; New York, Highlanders, Kilties, and Yankees; Philadelphia, Athletics, or White Elephants[v]; Washington, Senators, or Nationals; Cleveland, Naps, Naplanders, Indians, or Blues[vi]; St. Louis, Browns; Chicago, White Sox; Detroit, Tigers.[vii]

The Washington Times (Washington DC), June 8, 1911, page 9.

Several other widely used team names had come and gone within the previous decade or two, including the Brooklyn Superbas, Chicago Colts[viii] and Chicago Orphans,[ix] St. Louis Perfectos,[x] Boston Beaneaters and Philadelphia Quakers. 

Allentown Democrat (Allentown, Pennsylvania), April 18, 1911, page 6.

Fans and writers quickly suggested several nicknames for New York’s new American League team,[xi] the two most prominent of which were the “Highlanders” and the “Yankees.”  Two lesser nicknames, the “Invaders” and “Porch Climbers,” referred to the new team invading or stealing the New York Giants’ market share (“porch climber” was a slang term for a burglar).  Other nicknames were variations on the theme of “Highlanders;” “Kilties,” “Hilltoppers” and “Hillmen.”  


The name “Highlanders” resonated with the team in two ways, referring both the location of their new stadium and the name of their President.  The stadium was located on high ground in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, and the President’s name, Joe Gordon, called to mind the name of a renowned Scottish military regiment, the “Gordon Highlanders.”  


New York Evening World, April 15, 1903, page 8.

This initial suggestion appears in what purports to be a conversation overheard at the ballpark construction site, in which the decision to name them the “Highlanders” was reached.  But reads more like an Oliver & Hardy comedy sketch, featuring a “Fat Fan” and an “Elongated Enthusiast.”  The “Elongated Enthusiast” suggests the name “Islanders” for the team, because they overcame National League opposition and found a stadium on Manhattan Island.

“Didn’t Brush  do his best to keep ‘em off Manhattan Island? And haven’t they grabbed their slice of little old Manhat right under his nose? They’re the Islanders, sure.”

The “Fat Fan” disagreed, countering with “Highlanders.”

“Highlanders is the name,” he said, with deep firmness.  “Ain’t this pretty near the highest spot in town? And ain’t Gordon the boss of the team? And isn’t there a world-beating crowd across the pond that they call the Gordon Highlanders? There’s the name for you – fits like the cover on a brand-new ball.  That team’s going to be called the Highlanders.”

A fight is averted when interrupted by a man who had overheard them.  The stranger guides them through a Socratic dialogue of sorts that demonstrates the superiority of “Highlanders” as a nickname.

“Excuse me, friends – just a minute – but what are you going to call the people down there?”

He waved his hand toward the Polo Grounds far beneath them.  The Fat Fan and the Elongated Enthusiast looked at him in commiseration.  They they gazed at each other and grinned.

“Why, said they in a breath, “they’re the Lowlanders!”

“Right,” said the third man.  “But I’ll tell you how to settle that other name.  You fellows think Griffith’s men are going to land near the top, don’t you?”


Well, then, they’ll be the Highlanders.”

And the others agreed the name was likely to stick.

New York Evening World, April 15, 1903, page 8.[xii]

This comedy routine does not appear to be the origin of the name.  The name appeared without fanfare or explanation in a report from spring training a week earlier.

Reports from Atlanta, Ga., where the Gordon Highlanders, otherwise the New York American League team, are training, fail to tell of any wonderful batting feats by Willie Keeler. . . . Harry Howell, the other Brooklyn boy with the Highlanders, has shown up well and promises to be one of Griffith’s mainstays in the box.

The Brooklyn Citizen, April 4, 1903, page 6.   


The meaning of the name “Yankees” is more straightforward.  It was a variant of the more conventional name, “New York Americans.”  Since “Yankee” is a common nickname for Americans, the “New York Yankees” was an appropriate substitution. 

 Name for the American New Yorks.

To The Editor of The Sun -- Sir: If the new baseball team is to have a name that is in keeping with the "Giants," does it not seem reasonable that if they are the "New York Americans" they might be called the "Yankees" or "Yanks"?

Patterson, N. J., May 4. Jersey Rooter.

The Sun (New York), May 7, 1903, pg. 8.[xiii]

“Highlanders” was initially the dominant nickname, and remained so through the 1912 season.  Other than the initial suggestion, there are no known examples of “Yankees” in print during the 1903 season.  But there is some indication that the name may have been familiar to fans that season, as it appeared in print again even before the following season began. 

The earliest known example was in a headline announcing the team’s departure from Spring Training, in the New York Evening Journal on April 7, 1904.[xiv]

One week later, the name appeared in a report of a Sunday exhibition game at Ridgewood Park, Brooklyn.[xv] 

Ebbets evidently got worked up over the success of last Sunday’s game at Ridgewood Park, where more than 12,000 spectators saw the Yankees drub Ridgewood at 25 cents per score card.[xvi]

Pittsburgh Press, April 14, 1904, page 14.          

Even before opening day, the name “Yankees” was no longer confined to local fans or newspapers.  It appeared a continent away in an article about the upcoming opening day games in the American League, and quickly spread elsewhere across the country.

The Yankees will have, too, the biggest attraction in the American League as their opponents.  The world’s champions, the famous Bostons, will hold forth in American League Park . . . .

The Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1904, page 11.

The New York Americans have been dubbed the Yankees, the youngsters even shortening on this by calling them Yanks.

Detroit Free Press, April 16, 1904, page 3.


Detroit Free Press, April 20, 1904, page 9.

An article distributed to multiple outlets by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, mentioned the name in a story about the Yankees’ manager, Clark Griffith.

 Ban Johnson is said to be responsible for the placing of the little fellow at the head of the New York American, variously dubbed “Highlanders,” “Yankees,” etc.  Whoever picked him out did a wise thing.

The Fort Wayne News (Fort Wayne, Indiana), April 21, 1904, page 8.


Highlander vs. Yankee

The use of “Yankees” increased steadily and consistently, year-over-year, finally surpassing the use of “Highlanders” in 1913.  “Highlanders” went into an abrupt, steady decline beginning in 1913, just as “Yankees” was took the lead with a dramatic increase in 1913 over 1912.


Data compiled from searches on digital newspaper archive.

The presumed reason for the decline, as described years after the fact, is that it was either a conscious editorial decision by influential local newspapers to use a name with fewer letters, saving valuable headline and copy space in newspapers, or the first year in which the team chose an “official” team nickname.[xvii]  Neither one of these versions of events, however, tells the whole story. 

They did not choose an “official” nickname that season.  The team owner and manager in 1913 disliked nicknames, any nickname, preferring instead the generic “New Yorks.”  

President Frank J. Farrell of the New York Americans may change the name of the club.  He doesn't want the team called the Yankees, Highlanders, Kilties or Hillmen any more, but wants to tag on the title of the New Yorks only.  The suggestion was made by Manaer Chance in a letter to Mr. Farrell yesterday.

Nicknames for baseball clubs and players usually come from the fans or the newspapers, so when a name is attached to a club it is hard to shake it off for a new title.

The New York Times, January 16, 1913, page 15.

In addition, the claims that editors made the change to save valuable copy-space in headlines and newspaper columns rings hollow.  There were at least two other familiar nicknames available that were no longer than “Yankees.” “Hillmen” and “Kilties” each have only seven letters, and with multiple, narrow “i’s” and “l’s” in each, they would have saved even more space.  And either one of those names would have retained the Scottish Highlands theme, in a nod to what was still the more popular nickname by far even as late as 1912. 

All of the various nicknames for the New York Americans survived for ten years, sharing space in headlines and news copy, despite any differences in the lengths of the various names.  Nearly all newspapers regularly used multiple nicknames interchangeably, sometimes in the same headline or same paragraph, and sometimes choosing to use the longer name in the headline. 


Yankees, Highlanders and Kilties appear together in one headline. Altoona Tribune (Altoona, Pennsylvania), December 9, 1910, page 10.

In the meantime the Yankees have a rather tough row to hoe out West.  The Red Sox have less than a full game’s advantage over the Kilties . . . .  If Jim Vaughn is right when the Highlanders hit the City of the Straits Stallings should just about even the season’s account with the Tigers.

Yankees, Highlanders and Kilties appear together in one paragraph of text.  Bridgeport Evening Farmer (Bridgeport, Connecticut), August 1, 1910, page 4.

 Hillmen and Yankees share space in the same headline.  New York Times, July 27, 1911, page 9.

. . . In the sixth the Gloucester High School kid pulled Gardner's foul out of the Kilties' bench.  Daniels and Hemphill each made three singles for the Hillmen, but none of their team-mates was able to drive them around.

Yankees, Kilties and Hillmen appear in the same article.  The Morning Post (Camden, New Jersey), September 13, 1911, page 4.

It’s not as though newspaper editors suddenly realized the benefits of preserving column space.  Newspaper editors had been shortening the space-hogging “White Stockings” and “Red Stockings” to “White Sox” and “Red Sox” since at least as early as 1874, and “Dodgers” appeared in place of “Trolley Dodgers” as early as 1898, and appeared with increasing frequency throughout the first decade of the 1900s.  Were the sophisticated editors of the big New York newspapers asleep at the switch for ten years?  It seems unlikely. 

Perhaps something else was going on.  There is a simpler for the sudden downhill slide of the “Highlanders” – they were literally no longer highlanders. 

The Yankees name grew in popularity throughout the first decade of the team’s existence.  Even the team’s President, Joe Gordon, whose name inspired the name “Highlanders,” referred to the team as the “Yankees” as early as 1907, as revealed in a letter sent from Berlin while on a European vacation during the middle of the baseball season.[xviii]

“It is difficult on this side keeping track of the standing of the clubs in the big baseball race, and I have had to figure out my own records from the daily scores I have gotten several days late.  I hope to see the Yankees much higher up when I get back to dear old New York.”

The New York Times, August 25, 1907, part 4, page 2.

If it seems odd that a President of a professional baseball team would go on an extended European vacation during the middle of a baseball season, his vacation may have seemed odd to him too.  When he left on vacation, he was referred to as the “President” of the team.  When they published his letter from Berlin during the season, he was the “Vice President.”  And after his return home, Frank Farrell forced him out of office entirely, without what Gordon believed to be a promised ownership position with the team stemming from the original partnership agreement signed in 1903.  Gordon spent years in a series of lawsuits against Frank J. Farrell, trying to prove his claim, but without success.[xix]

With Joe Gordon out of the picture, one of the two reasons for naming the team the “Highlanders” in the first place was gone – they were no longer be “Gordon’s” Highlanders.  They still played in Washington Heights, however, so the highland name was still geographically appropriate.  But things would change.


New Stadium – New Name

In 1913, after a decade of playing at Hilltop Park in Washington Heights, they moved down to the lowlands along the Harlem River to share the Polo Grounds with the New York Giants.  

 Frank Chance may not succeed in rechristening the team which he will manage this year the “New Yorks” but of necessity he has been rid of some of the names which he calls meaningless and to which he objects.

The Yankees no longer can be called the “Higlanders” or the “Hilltoppers,” for the simple reason that they have moved to the lowlands, under the lee of Coogan’s Bluff, to play for one season on the Polo Grounds.

Montpelier Morning Journal (Montpelier, Vermont), January 30, 1913, page 6.

The writer correctly predicted the demise of “Highlanders” but was wrong about how long they would share the polo grounds.  The Yankees shared the Polo Grounds with the Giants for ten years, before moving to Yankee Stadium, the “House that Ruth Built,” in the Bronx in 1923.

The Yankees’ quest for a new stadium in 1923, which pulled them out of Manhattan and into the Bronx, recalled a similar search for their first stadium in 1903 that brought them up to Washington Heights.  That search is as much a part of the history of the name “Highlanders” as President Gordon’s last name, because if they had not ended up in the Heights, the name may never have stuck. 

If their original plans had panned out, they would have ended up along the Harlem River, south of the Polo Grounds, coincidentally on land owned by the same woman who owned the land where the original Polo Grounds were built in 1880.  Their search for a stadium was an odyssey that pulled the team further and further uptown, and was frustrated by last-ditch efforts by the New York Giants and others to force the team off Manhattan, which might have kept them out of the league entirely.

The history of the Scottish Gordon Highlanders Regiment also forms part of the background for the name “Highlanders.”  But there were other “Gordon Highlanders” with closer and more recent ties to New York, which might easily have been more familiar to New Yorkers than the Scottish solders when the team first became known as “Gordon’s Highlanders.”

The Kilties, or Gordon Highlanders Band, performed in Brooklyn in October 1902.  Brooklyn Times Union, October 28, 1902, page 7.                                


Ban Johnson going further and further uptown to find new stadium grounds.  Detroit Free Press, March 13, 1903, page 10.


Movin’ on Up

The American League emerged from the minor league Western League in 1900, as part of a rebranding and growth effort by Ban Johnson and other Western League owners.  They achieved “major league” status in 1901, but still hadn’t cracked into the lucrative New York City market.  Rumors of efforts to place a second professional baseball team in New York City were as old as the American League, but things became real in 1902.  As early as January, a report surfaced of attempts to make “Greater New York a full-fledged member of the American League.”[xx]

In July of that year, the Baltimore Orioles’ manager John McGraw left his team, jumped ship from the American League to the National League, and became the manager of the New York Giants, amid rumors that the Orioles would be ousted from the league.


Ban Johnson May Put an American League Team in New York.

New York, July 8. – There is now every indication that this city will become the storm centre next season in the fight between the National and American Leagues.  With the withdrawal of McGraw from Baltimore to become manager of the New York club, it is expected that Baltimore will be dropped from the American League and that Ban Johnson will place a strong club in this city.

Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania), July 9, 1902, page 1.                                                 

The rumors came true, but without a place to play, the move would be meaningless.  The search for a stadium became more difficult and dramatic than perhaps they first imagined, with people connected to or loyal to the National League placing as many roadblocks in the way as possible.

The new owner of the Giants, John T. Brush, for example, gloated that, “the American league cannot possibly get grounds on Manhattan Island, and I think they realize it would be folly for them to locate anywhere else in Greater New York or vicinity.”[xxi]

Rumors of an agreement to place a new stadium in the Bronx first surfaced in August.

Frank Farrell, the poolroom king, is going to back an American League team in New York, according to the Sun’s announcement.  Arrangements have been made with Ban Johnson and options have been secured on grounds in the Bronx.  These are even more accessible to the mass of New Yorkers than the Polo Grounds, and are on the electric elevated road.

The Buffalo Times, August 12, 1902, page 6.

The rumored location changed a month later, to a spot closer to the Polo Grounds, which were located along the Harlem River at 155th Street.

The latest announcement in regard to the location of the grounds of the American League team in this city next season is to the effect that they will be about two minutes’ ride beyond the Polo Grounds.  The American League officials intend to get as close to the Polo Grounds as they possibly can.

The Evening World, September 6, 1902, page 4.

The stadium location still hadn’t been locked down in February of 1903.  But new reports suggested they would play even further downtown, at the ball field used by the Manhattan College Jaspers, and that landscaping work had already begun.

Rumor now places the location of the New York American League grounds at Jasper Oval, 138th street and Amsterdam avenue, Manhatten.  The property belongs to the city and is to be a part of Colonial Park.  It is said that the property will not be needed by the city for at least ten years, and that it will be leased to the American League for that time.  A new diamond is being laid out, and a fence being erected around the grounds.

Brooklyn Times Union, February 2, 1903, page 8.

The next property named publically had familiar names attached to it; names connected to the original Polo Grounds that had been built at the northeast corner of Central Park in 1880 and abandoned in 1889; Mary G. Pinkney, who owned the land the original Polo Grounds stood on, and August Belmont, a member of the Manhattan Polo Club, and one of the men who had signed the original lease to develop the empty lot into a place where he and his friends could play polo.

In 1903, Mary G. Pinkney, now in her eighties, was still one of the biggest, most active real estate owners and developers in New York City.  August Belmont was now a part-owner and member of the board of a subway company then in the process of expanding service that would serve the planned stadium location bounded by 142nd and 144th Streets, Lenox Avenue (now Malcolm X Boulevard) and the Harlem River.  August Belmont and the “tunnel people” reportedly offered to broker the deal, even giving the team part of the land for free.  Ms. Pinkney leased the team a large chunk of land, and her niece sold them another block outright.  The plans were scrapped due to the meddling of another member of the board, Andrew Freedman.

Freedman may have had an axe to grind with the American League.  A few months earlier, he had been the owner of the New York Giants in the rival league and may have felt some residual loyalty to the National League.  A year earlier, while still the owner of the Giants, he reportedly sought to purchase an American League franchise “with the intention of making Greater New York a full-fledged member of the American League” himself, and may have felt slighted at having been denied the opportunity. [xxii]

The grounds are located between 142d and 144th street and between Lenox avenue and the Harlem river.

All the property, with the exception of about six lots was known as the Pinkney estate.  The block between 142d street and 143d streets was owned by Mrs. Curtis [(Mary Pinkney’s neice, Julia Watt)].  She sold it to the American League for a figure said to be close to $175,000.  For a like amount nearly the whole block between 143d and 144th streets was leased to Ban Johnson by the trustees of the Pinkney estate[xxiii] for a term of years.

Johnson’s tardiness in naming the location of the grounds has been due to his inability to secure a lease on the six lots belonging to August Belmont and which are located on the northern side of 143d street and along the Harlem river.  When they are secured, Johnson will tell where his grounds are.  The pending negotiations will probably be closed in a few days, or, at any rate, before the American League holds its meeting in this city on February 24th.

Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), February 14, 1903, page 15.       

So confident were they in the agreement that they started work preparing the lot for a new stadium.  Once again, however, their plans were moving faster than the wheels of progress, and the wheels of progress ground to a halt in the boardroom of the Interborough Railway Company. 

President Johnson, of the American league, is here, the purpose of his visit being the completion of the deal for the new base ball club to be located in this city.  Today he said: “. . . The strip of ground at 143rd street, owned by the tunnel people, was to be handed over to us gratis.  We submitted statements from the Boston Elevated Railroad company and the Philadelphia Traction company, showing the business we did in those cities, and we were informed that they were entirely satisfactory; but just when we believed that the deal was closed, and we had so announced it, there was a sudden change in the complexion of affairs which made it impossible for us to secure the location.  Why, we had even gone so far as to fill in part of the river front at our own expense, so confident were we that our park would be located there.  We regret exceedingly that we could not close this deal, as we would not have disappointed Mr. Belmont and the other gentlemen interested with him in the subway.”

Fort Wayne Daily News, February 7, 1903, page 7.

An anonymous informant directly involved in the negotiations blamed Andrew Freedman. 

“As long ago as last August,” said the Sun’s informant, “Johnson, Somers, Kilfoyle and others received a direct invitation to do business with the subway people here.  A prominent real-estate man who has purchased much of the property used for the tunnel connections made the direct proposition to the American League men.  He told them the tunnel people wanted the American League grounds located on the line of the subway and named the property bounded by 141st street, 143d street, Lenox avenue and the harlem River as an available site. . . .

“This source of revenue was readily appreciated by the tunnel people, and the real-estate man was told to go ahead with the deal. . . . The real-estate man took this proposition before the tunnel people, who instantly approved of it and word was carried to Johnson that he would not have to look further for grounds.

“It was because of this assurance that Johnson made the announcement when he was here several weeks ago that the American League had secured grounds on Manhattan Island, in fact, had purchased half of the property, and had leased the other half . . . .

“But not long after this, at a meeting of the directors of the company which is building the subway, John B. McDonald brought up the deal with the American League for formal sanction. 

“Andrew Freedman, one of the directors, immediately threw cold water on it.  As the other directors knew nothing of baseball matters and naturally took Freedman’s word, the deal with Johnson was turned down.

“I have it on the best of authority that both John B. McDonald and August Belmont were in favor of allowing the American League to take the property until Freedman expressed his views.”

The Buffalo Express, February 5, 1903, page 14.

Freedman’s sabotage of the 142d Street deal appears to have been a last ditch effort to keep the American League out of the New York market.  A number of National League owners reportedly tried to change their original agreement with the American League, seeking to confine them to placing a team on Manhattan or nowhere at all, which, if they could block them from finding a suitable large plot of land, would have effectively barred them from entering the New York market.  Cooler heads prevailed, however, and Ban Johnson was given assurances that he could locate the team anywhere in Greater New York without violating their agreement.

Garry Hermann, president of the Cincinnati Baseball Club, who is just now the leader of the National League, has taken it upon himself to notify President Johnson of the American League that the move undertaken by several National League magnates to confine the new American club here to Manhattan Island by changing a clause in the peace compact will not work and that Johnson & Co. are at liberty to place the new club anywhere in Greater New York without fear of violating the agreement.

The Buffalo Express, February 5, 1903, page 14.

The right to place a team anywhere in “Greater New York” resulted in another occasional nickname for the team.  Instead of being referred to as simply the “New Yorks,” they were occasionally referred to as the “Greater New Yorks.”  In 1903, the city was five years removed from the creation of the so-called “City of Greater New York,” through the annexation of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island in 1898.  The New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers were both in existence long before annexation, and neither one was ever seen as representing anyone but people in their own, respective borough.  The new American League franchise, on the other hand, had the opportunity to locate anywhere within Greater New York, and could lay claim to representing the entire, recently consolidated city in the new league.

Ban Johnson announced the location of their new stadium in the middle of March, barely six weeks before their home opener scheduled for April 30th. 

Pittsburgh Press, March 15, 1903, page 19.

New York American League baseball club will play this year on grounds located between 165th Street on the south, 168th Street on the north, 11th Avenue on the east and Fort Washington Road on the west.  The property belongs to the New York Institute for the Blind, and has been leased by the new club owners for a term of years.

Buffalo Courier, March 13, 1903, page 11.

The site of the new American League baseball grounds promises to be one of the most picturesque and largest in the world when completed.  It seems, however, that much work will have to be done to get the grounds in shape for the opening game, scheduled for April 30.  The photograph, taken yesterday, shows the work that will have to be done to clear and level the ground.

Trees, some more than two feet in circumference, dot the field at frequent intervals, and, besides, there is an artificial lake that will have to be filled.  There will not be any carting needed, as the blasting from the huge rocks and the waste from leveling can be used for filling in the low places.

New York Tribune, March 14, 1903, page 5.

Despite the obstacles, the stadium was ready for the home opener on April 30, 1903. 

New York Tribune, May 1, 1903, page 5.

Shakespeare, when he wrote “the cat will mew and the dog will have his day,” was ignorant of the Deveryite Baseball Club.  The adage, however, certainly applies to the way in which that club had its day yesterday.  It was the opening of the club’s season on the home grounds, and the local team won from Washington by a score of 6 to 2.

New York Tribune, May 1, 1903, page 5.

The stadium was ready, but the field was not.  During their first six home games, much of the outfield was roped off, and every ball hit into the “pit” (a twenty-foot deep depression in right field) was a ground-rule double.

Yesterday the entire outfield had to be roped in, owing to the right and center fields being many feet short of the requisite distance.  These fields ended a short distance back of second and first bases in an abrupt decline, the bottom of which was twenty feet or so below the level of the diamond.  This made it necessary to have ground rules making a hit into the “pit” only good for two bases.

The players of both teams aimed to land the ball into this territory, as it was an utter impossibility for the fielder to cover the hit.  Many of them succeeded, and several hits that netted two bases would have been “eaten up” had the grounds been in proper shape.  This, of course, spoiled the game as a contest, and it was impossible to arouse considerable enthusiasm in consequence.

Evening Star (District of Columbia), May 1, 1903, page 9.

The Yankees and their opponents combined for 34 doubles in their first six home games.  The field was filled and leveled before their return from their first extended road trip.

The New York Tribune’s report of the home opener used yet another nickname that did not stand the test of time – the “Deveryites,” for William Devery, one of the team’s silent partners.  Devery was a former Chief of Police and Deputy Police Commissioner, and a Tammany Hall politician who commanded a local political faction also known as the Deveryites.

The Tribune first called them the “Deveryites” in reports of an earlier game played in Washington DC, where politically savvy fans had picked up on the name.

Most of the “rooters” who were present at to-day’s game between the New-York American League team and the home players frequently referred to the visitors as the “Deveryites” and the “New-York’s finest.”  The references were due to the exclusive announcement in to-day’s Tribune that Devery, the former Chief of the New York Police Department, was reported to be the principal backer of the visiting nine.  The visitors really earned the title of “New-York’s finest” by their easy victory of 7 to 2 over the home players.

New York Tribune, April 24, 1903, page 5.

The nickname lasted no more than a week or two, and seems to have been confined to the New York Tribune.

The Deveryites had on their batting clothes yesterday when they faced the Washington American nine at the American League Park and won an easy victory by the score of 8 to 3.

New York Tribune, May 2, 1903, page 5.


Gordon Highlanders

The Gordon Highlanders are a Scottish infantry regiment, first organized by the Duke of Gordon.  In late-1777, there was talk in Britain of raising an additional 32,000 for service in the Revolutionary War.  The planned units included a number of Highland brigades, one to be led by a Colonel Gordon of Fyvie. 

A new army and new commanders are now to be sent to America.  The militia are to be called out in this kingdom.  New corps are already put upon the establishment; many others are in contemplation; and the Scotch brigades are to be recalled from the service of the States of Holland.

The new troops talked of, as proposed to be raised immediately, are the following, viz.

A battalion of Highlanders under Lord Macleod, consisting of 1000 . . .

The Duke of Argyle’s Highlanders – 1000 . . .

Duke of Athol’s Highlanders[xxiv] – 1000

Col. Gordon’s Highlanders – 1000 . . .

Col. Dalrympe’s loyal Lowlanders – 1000

Midland Highlanders – 1000

Sutherland’s and Mackay’s Highlanders – 1000

The Earl of Seaforth’s Highlanders – 1000 . . . .

Jackson’s Oxford Journal (Oxford, England), December 27, 1777, page 3  (widely reprinted in British and American newspapers).

Colonel Gordon finished his recruiting in Aberdeen, marched his men to Greenock via Sterling Castle and Glasgow, from which they shipped off to Ireland by the end of May.[xxv]  

The Honorable Colonel William Gordon of Fyvie was a Member of Parliament, a career army officer, and half-brother of George Gordon, the third Duke of Gordon. 

William Gordon of Fyvie’s “Gordon Highlanders” were ultimately disbanded, but the Marquis of Huntly, the Duke of Gordon’s nephew, raised another regiment of “Gordon Highlanders” in 1794. 

It will be seen that three regiments were raised by the influence of this family in the years 1759, 1779, and 1793.  The last, being a Fencible corps, the Marquis of Huntly [(the Duke’s nephew)], then a Captain in the 3d Foot Guards, offered to raise a regiment for more extended service.  For this purpose he received Letters of Service on the 10th of February 1794.

Sketches of the Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland; with Details of the Military Service of the Highland Regiments, Edinburgh, Constable, 1825, 3d Edition, Volume 2, page 289.

The Marquis of Huntley’s corps has (in one form or another) carried the name “Gordon Highlanders” for two centuries.  They were originally designated the 100th regiment, later renumbered as the 92nd.  They merged with the 75th Regiment of Foot in 1881, becoming an unnumbered regiment with the name “Gordon Highlanders” as its official designation.  They merged with the “Queen’s Own Highlanders” in 2006, losing the “Gordon,” and becoming simply the “Highlanders.”

The Gordon Highlanders would have been familiar to avid readers of New York newspapers in 1903, as they had received glowing reviews a few years earlier in coverage of their exploits in the Boer Wars.


The Gordon Highlanders comprise the Seventy-fifth and Ninety-second Regiments. . . .  The Ninety-second Regiment was raised in 1794 by the Marquis of Huntley, whose beautiful mother, the Duchess of Gordon, assisted to recruit the regiment, placing – when all other arguments failed – the bounty, a shilling, between her lovely lips.  An old son says that many a stalwart Highlander “was bought and sold by a kiss.”

The New York World, October 23, 1899, page 2.

Lieutenant Colonel Downman, The Commander of the Gordon Highlanders at Maegersfontein, Who Was Mortally Wounded.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 14, 1899, page 1.

The Gordon Highlanders were in the news again in March 1903, in the days and weeks before New York’s new American League team was became “Gordon’s Highlanders” during spring training, but this time for something less heroic.  

Leavenworth Times, March 25, 1903, page 1.

Sir Hector Macdonald.

Following close upon the story of the serious charges made against Sir Hector Archibald Macdonald, comes the report of his suicide at Paris, while on his way to Ceylon, at the advice of Lord Roberts, to face the courtmartial announced to have been ordered in his case. 

These charges are only vaguely hinted at, but it is difficult to believe that a man of Sir Hector’s caliber could be guilty of any dishonorable conduct, and the feeling is rather that he is the victim of a cabal, who have been angered at his success where others, who claim to be born to greatness and distinction, failed.  Sir Hector was a self-made man, the son of a poor Scottish “crofter” . . . .

Fate, or chance, cast his lot with the army, and from the ranks of the famous Gordon Highlanders he rose to be one of the foremost officers of the British army and one of the very few who really deserved the name of leader.

The Brooklyn Standard Union, March 26, 1903, page 6.

Despite the past glory and recent notoriety of the Gordan Highlanders, there were other “Gordan Highlanders” that were perhaps more familiar to New Yorkers when they adopted the name for their new baseball team.

The city of Buffalo, New York was home to a military-style drill unit that styled itself the “Buffalo Gordon Highlanders.”  Organized in 1893, the “Buffalo Gordon Highlanders” modeled themselves after a military band out of Toronto Canada that performed under the name, “Gordon Highlanders.”  

Hope to be as good as the Gordon Highlanders from Toronto. “It will be a source of special pride to the Scotchmen of this city to have a Highland corps which will compare favorably with the stalwart Highland regiment of Toronto in uniform and discipline if not in numbers.

The Buffalo Commercial, June 22, 1893, page 11.

The Gordon Highlanders of Toronto were invited to play in New York City during celebrations honoring Admiral Dewey’s accomplishments in the Spanish-American War.  They accepted the invitation, only to be overruled by Major General Hutton, who commanded the Canadian Militia, on the grounds that Great Britain still had friendly relations with Spain.[xxvi]    

But they would make up for missing that one opportunity, embarking on a succession of bi-annual US tours beginning in 1900.  The Gordon Highlanders performed multiple times in New York City and Brooklyn.

New York Times, November 2, 1902, page 8.

In the winter and throughout the spring of 1903, the Gordon Highlanders were on their “sixth semi-annual series of engagements in the United States” which took it “from Boston to San Francisco, lasting 25 weeks in all.”[xxvii]

St. Johnsbury Caledonian (Vermont), May 13, 1903, page 1.


Post-Crescent (Appleton, Wisconsin), January 2, 1903, page 2.

San Bernardino Times-Index (San Bernardino, California), March 17, 1903, page 1.

They traveled across the Upper Midwest, through the Northwest, and down to California during the first few months of the year.  In late-March, they traveled eastward through Arizona and New Mexico.  They were in Tennessee when the New York Americans were playing in Atlanta, Georgia, at the same time the earliest known example of “Highlanders” appeared in print.

The musical Gordon Highlanders reached Brooklyn and New York City in May, a few weeks after the baseball team who were already known as the New York Highlanders.

Bonnie Scotland owned and swayed last evening the Thirteenth Regiment Armory at Jefferson and Sumner avenues.  The “Kilties” band of the Twenty-second Regiment, Gordon Highlanders, of Bellevue, Ontario, Canada, a name famous in song and story, and a light of valor in history, were there, and in the presence of 3,500 persons, many of whom were Scotch, or of Scotch descent, carried out a most interesting programme.

Brooklyn Citizen, May 2, 1903, page 5.  


Coincidentally, and likely completely unrelated to the choice of name in 1903, the new baseball team was not the first group of people to be called the New York Highlanders.  Nor were they the first New York Highlanders to be considered Yankees.  That honor belongs to militia units out of New York City in existence from at least as early as 1852.

Military Visit. – A company of New York Highlanders visited Brooklyn yesterday on an excursion, and their costume attracted considerable attention.

Brooklyn Evening Star, June 8, 1852, page 2.

And the 79th New York Regiment of Highlanders, organized in 1859 and active during the Civil War were frequently referred to as the “New York Highlanders.”


The Seventy-Ninth Regiment (Highlanders) New York State Militia, Boston Public Library.[xxviii]

Their uniforms were a far cry from pinstripes, but they were Americans – Northerners, “Yankees.”


[i] “Mutrie and the Maroons – Why New York’s National League Team Became the Giants,” Early Sports ‘n’ Pop-Culture History Blog, October 31, 2019.

[ii] “The Pittsburgh Pirates of Penzance – the Dramatic and Musical Origin of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Team Name,” Early Sports ‘n’ Pop-Culture History Blog, October 4, 2018.

[iii] “Sunday Baseball and the Cleveland Spiders – How the St. Louis Browns Became the Cardinals,” Early Sports ‘n’ Pop-Culture History Blog, January 7, 2019.

[iv] “The Grim Reality of the ‘Trolley Dodgers,’” Early Sports ‘n’ Pop-Culture History Blog, April 7, 2014.

[v] “Buddhism and Baseball – White Elephants and the White Elephant Wars,” Early Sports ‘n’ Pop-Culture History Blog, June 28, 2014.  

[vi] “The Cleveland Spiders and ‘Tebeau’s Indians’ – why Cleveland’s Baseball Team are the Indians,” Early Sports ‘n’ Pop-Culture History Blog, October 18, 2016.

[vii] “Angels and Tigers and Ducks – a Baseball Biography of George A. Van Derbeck,” Early Sports ‘n’ Pop-Culture History Blog, April 5, 2019.

[viii] “Rancheros and Rough Riders  - why the Chicago Cubs were Cowboys (if only for one year),” Early Sports ‘n’ Pop-Culture History Blog, January 27, 2021.

[ix] “Anson and McNeill – Why the Chicago Cubs were ‘Orphans,’” Early Sports ‘n’ Pop-Culture History Blog, January 7, 2021.

[x] “Sunday Baseball and the Cleveland Spiders – How the St. Louis Browns Became the Cardinals,” Early Sports ‘n’ Pop-Culture History Blog, January 7, 2019.

[xi] “Yankees (American League baseball team),” Barry Popik, Big Apple Online Etymological Dictionary.

[xii] The story appeared three days earlier in The Chicago Tribune, which credited the story to The New York Press.

[xiii] “Yankees (American League baseball team),” Barry Popik, Big Apple Online Etymological Dictionary. 

[xiv] “How they Came to be Called the Yankees,” Brian Hoch,, December 21, 2020. (“Yet the first published reference to the upstart American League franchise as the ‘Yankees’ occurred on April 7, 1904, when the New York Evening Journal reported on a successful Spring Training camp under the headline: ‘YANKEES WILL START HOME FROM SOUTH TODAY.’”).

[xv] The Plain Speaker (Hazelton, Pennsylvania), April 11, 1904, page 2 (“The New York American league baseball team defeated the Ridgewoods at Ridgewood park . . . winning by a score of 14 to 2.”).

[xvi] The reference to Charlie Ebbets, the owner of the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers, being “worked up over the success” of the Yankees playing “at 25 cents per score card” illuminates one of the quirks of playing baseball at the turn of the 20th Century.  Playing baseball on Sunday was illegal in many jurisdictions.  In New York State in 1904, it was legal to play baseball on Sundays, which enabled working people to enjoy recreation on what was for many their only day off, but it was illegal to charge admission.  Many stadiums and teams evaded the law by offering “free” admission but charging for scorecards, and making having a scorecard mandatory for admission.  The Yankees played two exhibition games at Ridgewood Park in Brooklyn early that season, but gave it up after police started arresting scorecard vendors at the stadium.  The Brooklyn Dodgers challenged the ban when three players were arrested on the field during a Sunday game with the Phillies.  A judge lifted the ban in Brooklyn, and they played several more Sunday games that year.

[xvii] “How they Came to be Called the Yankees,” Brian Hoch,, December 21, 2020. (“Marty Appel’s excellent franchise history, ‘Pinstripe Empire,’ unearthed a 1922 issue of Baseball Magazine in which writer Fred Lieb reported:

‘[Highlanders] was awkward to put in newspaper headlines. Finally, the sporting editor at one of the New York evening papers exclaimed, ‘The hell with this Highlanders. I am going to call this team the Yanks. That will fit into heads better.’’ A 1943 history of the franchise credits sports editor Jim Price of the New York Press for being the first to refer to the team as the Yankees.”).


[xix] In testimony given in 1911, John T. Brush said that John Day, Joe Gordon and Frank Farrell first approached him in the spring of 1902 about locating an American League franchise in New York; Farrell had the money, Day and Gordon would organize and manage the franchise.  Farrell testified that he sought assurances from, and received, assurances from Brush that the other two would not receive an ownership interest in the team.  Day dropped out of the partnership, and Farrell let Gordon run the team, receive all of the public credit and advertising value associated with the position, but would not otherwise have a stake in the team. Fall River Globe (Fall River, Massachusetts), November 22, 1911, page 7.

[xx] The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), January 24, 1902, page 8 (“Andrew Freedman is also willing to invest a few thousands of his surplus cash in the purchase of the Baltimore American League franchise and players.”).

[xxi] Pittsburgh Press, November 17, 1902, page 6.

[xxii] The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), January 24, 1902, page 8 (“Andrew Freedman is also willing to invest a few thousands of his surplus cash in the purchase of the Baltimore American League franchise and players.”).

[xxiii] The “trustees of the Pinkney estate” may be a misnomer.  Property records reveal that Mary G. Pinkney owned all of the so-called “Pinkney Estate” (previously the “Watt Estate”) in her own name, and managed it at her own discretion.

[xxiv] The Duke of Athol may be familiar to fans of the Patrick Dempsey, Michelle Monaghan Rom-Com, “Maid of Honor.”

[xxv] The Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh), February 18, 1778, page 3 (“We hear from Aberdeen, that the recruiting service goes on there so successfully, that several of the officers of the 73d (Colonel Gordon’s of Fyvie) have completed their number.”); Caledonian Mercury, April 22, 1778, page 3 (“On Wednesday and Thursday last, the 73d regiment commanded by the Honorouble Colonel Gordon of Fyvie, marched from hence for Sterling Castle.  The regiment was about 800 strong when they left Aberdeen, and the rest of the corps are expected soon to join them.”); Caledonian Mercury, May 16, 1778, page 3 (“Monday and Tuesday, the regiment of Highlanders, commanded by Colonel Gordon of Fyvie, arrived at Glasgow, and proceeded for Greenock on Tuesday and Wednesday.  They were to go on board the transports lying at that place.”); Caledonian Mercury, May 30, 1778, page 3 (“On Friday last, sailed from Greenock, the Boston frigate, and eight transports, having on board the Duke of Athole and Colonel Gordon’s regiments of Highlanders, for Ireland.”).

[xxvi] The New York Sun, September 26, 1899, page 2.

[xxvii] Visalia Times-Delta (Visalia, California)