A Tip for SABR 2017 Manhattan Attendees

The Ravages of Time
The John T. Brush Stairway

When the John T. Brush, the owner of the New York Giants, died in 1912, the club wanted to memorialize his importance to the successful foundation of National League baseball in Harlem. So they chose a most practical way to do it. From the high above street level approach on Coogan’s Bluff to the down below  Polo Grounds, the Giants built a sturdy and useful stairway from the street, down the slope, all the way from the famous Coogan’s Bluff to the even more renowned venue that we shall remember forever as the Polo Grounds – the iconic home of so many major moments, but certainly none bigger than Bobby Thomson’s 1951 “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” – or “The Catch” by Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series.

The John T. Brush Stairway was completed and put into service on April 9, 1913. The construction included a dedicatory plaque at a landing about halfway down the meandering path to it’s Polo Grounds destination. It read as follows: “The John T. Brush Stairway Donated by The New York Giants” and it remained in it’s place beyond the day in 1964 that that Polo Grounds was demolished. The Stairway – and its ancient pledge of dedication remained in place, even if they were not protected from the further ravages of time, to survive as a continuing line of service to those New Yorkers with newer Point A to Point B travel assistance uptown.

The stairway’s route is circled in red a the center top of this photo.

By the early 21st century, the stairway had to be shut down as a hazard to public health. The last physical connection the physical life of the once-upon-a-time New York Giants was about to fall off the face of the earth, starting with a vandal-raided and time-razed slide down Coogan’s Bluff.

Lighter spirits among the baseball gods finally awoke. By 2011, a plan had been approved to rehabilitate the still potentially useful people movement value it offered on top of its historical significance. By 2015, the John T. Brush Stairway was reopened in penny-shined shape – complete with a Class  AAA restoration of its original dedication stone of tribute to the New York Giants.


It is a not a journey for the short of breath.

If I were twenty years younger and planning to attend SABR 47 this summer, this attractive stairway would be on my list as the only “must see” physical presence in Manhattan. Those of you who know of my keen interest in the possibility of time warp travel are aware of my (wink! wink!) theory that the requisite wormhole we would need to physically travel back in time is likely to be attracted by affinity to places like the John T. Brush Stairway. All it might need to ignition that transcendence could be the approach of someone who both believed in and desired such a trip back in time. One moment you are walking down the stairs. The next moment you are vanishing from view of any other nearby staircase walkers. When you turn around, there’s nothing to see but the bank of trees and huge rocks sloping down the hill from Coogan’s Bluff.

The dedication plaque was rehabilitated.

Of course there’s no stairway to Coogan’s Bluff. You’ve traveled back to 1908. As you turn back to face the entry gates of the Polo Grounds, you buy a paper from the kid in knickers selling them. The date on the paper is September 23, 1908. The Giants are playing the Chicago Cubs today. The two clubs are tied for first.

And suddenly it’s not generic “you” facing the Polo Grounds jewel. It’s me. This is my first person experience. I am blown away by all the different era sights, sounds, and smells that tell me loud and clear. – You’ve finally done it. This is not your time zone. You may never see home again, but that’s OK for now. – For now, I don’t care if I ever get back.

I hear one of two men in trim brown wool suits and matching derbies talking excitedly as they pass me on their way to the stadium turnstiles. One sport notes to his buddy that today’s game should be “quite exciting.” People are streaming in fast all around me. I’ve got to get my ticket quickly.

Did he really say “quite exciting?”

You bet it’s going to be quite exciting today, gentlemen,” I think to myself with a smiling mind that now has no time even to marvel that I finally got here in the first place, after so many years of ardent wishfulness. “Exciting, New York? – This is going to be the day that young Mr. Fred Merkle gives you all something to ponder for the rest of your lives. And I’m going to do my best to keep track of what really happens to the real official game ball when the time comes!”

The John T. Brush Stairway
As it looks today in 2017.

Anyway, again speaking to all of you baseball fans back in 2017, go check out the John T. Brush Stairway the next time you’re in Manhattan. It’s important to history, even if you haven’t been afflicted with an almost psychotic romance with the writings of H.G. Wells, among others, since childhood.


Thank you Darrell Pittman for the references on John T. Brush that led me to this topic for today’s column. If I ever do figure a way to time travel back into some ancient field manager job, you’ve got to go with me as my bench coach. The honor would be mine. And if Susan wants to come with you, she can be a bench coach too. You guys are simple great people to be around.


Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas

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5 Responses to “A Tip for SABR 2017 Manhattan Attendees”

  1. Tom Hunter Says:

    If you squeak through that worm hole and find yourself at Coogan’s Bluff on September 23, 1908 and get inside the Polo Grounds, ask old John T. Brush if he regrets refusing to allow his Giants to play Boston in the 1904 World Series. You might also ask him if he’s ever heard of Louisiana, Missouri–just before you’re ushered out of his private box.

  2. gregclucas Says:

    A little closer to Manhattan is 111th street. Where it is just north of Central Park was the location of the original Polo Grounds. That ball yard disappeared after the 1888 season because the city wanted to build that street which was to go right through the middle. That ballpark by the way has been noted as “the worst ballpark in the history of the game” as former pitcher Jack Lynch was quoted in the book, “Diamonds” (and re-quoted in my book. “Baseball-Its More Than Just a Game.” Why? Because the park, which was actually separated into two fields with one for the American Association was build over a dump. As Lynch put it, “a player may go down for a grounder and come up with six months of malaria.”

    Not likely any sign of the old ballpark along 111th street now, but also not likely a problem with malaria either!

  3. Cliff Blau Says:

    Greg, I believe that was Metropolitan Park Lynch was referring to, not the Polo Grounds. And Bill, Brush wasn’t the Giants’ first owner/president, nor second, or even third. See http://cliffblau.ucoz.com/Teamowners.html#National_League

  4. The Ballparks of New York | The Pecan Park Eagle Says:

    […] Pecan Park Eagle story link … https://bill37mccurdy.com/2017/03/28/a-tip-for-sabr-2017-manhattan-attendees/ […]

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