THE HISTORY OF DOUBLEDAY FIELD
Elihu Phinney purchased an open plot of land in the center of Cooperstown
Just two years after Phinney obtained the land, Abner Doubleday reportedly used Phinney’s field for the first baseball game.
With growing interest to establish Cooperstown (and Doubleday Field in particular) as the birthplace of baseball, money was raised to purchase the field from the Phinney family, and several baseball games were played on the unimproved land.
The Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce obtained the lease on Phinney’s lot with the intention of re-christening it Doubleday Field. The land was still undeveloped pasture.
John Heydler, the new National League President, umpired one inning of a Labor Day game between Cooperstown and Milford. This marked the formal opening and dedication of Doubleday Field.
The Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce sold the land to the Village of Cooperstown; the deed stipulated that the Village of Cooperstown would “hold the above described real estate for all time as a baseball field and recreation park, and the same shall forever be known as Doubleday Field in honor of Abner Doubleday as the founder of baseball”. The village took the first step in developing the field by building a makeshift grandstand.
Cooperstown villagers were advocating for a more permanent grandstand on Doubleday Field. “Certain improvements [are] badly needed to make Doubleday Field safe for baseball stars,” observed the Freeman’s Journal. Many locals gave money to build the permanent grandstand, and some donated their time and labor. This 250-seat wooden structure, “substantial and up to date in every way,” was rectangular in shape, with a roof to protect fans from the elements. The grandstand had its official opening on June 4, 1924; a chilly summer day on which the Cooperstown Independents played Herkimer.
1930s brought major renovations to the field that included new and improved fences. Photographs from the 1934 dedication show a six-foot wooden fence along the outfield, similar to a modern privacy fence. This fence held a scoreboard and the painted sign, “Doubleday Field Birthplace of Baseball”. In addition, in April, 1933, Mr. F. Ambrose Clark had a bandstand moved from the fairgrounds and placed on the Doubleday parking lot property immediately northeast of the baseball field.
Henry Fabian, groundskeeper for the New York Giants, was sent to Doubleday Field by Major League Baseball executives. He was tasked with reviewing the stadium for the upcoming baseball centennial celebrations and exhibition games. Fabian’s suggestions to Cooperstown village officials included renovation of the bleachers to increase the seating capacity of the stadium.
With materials salvaged from the recently demolished Otsego County Fair grandstand and funds from the Works Progress Administration, new wooden bleachers were constructed along the first-base side and across the outfield of the playing field during.
Baseball celebrates its Centennial at Doubleday Field. “They saw the plot which a century ago was on the western outskirts of Cooperstown,” the Freeman’s Journal proudly declared, “now miraculously transformed into a perfect baseball diamond with a modern grandstand completely equipped with all appurtenances for the comfort and convenience of players and spectators and augmented by encircling bleachers with a seating capacity of 10,000.”
Ground is broken for new concrete bleachers, replacing wooden seats on the third-base line, right field, and right-center field Upon completion, the field’s seating capacity increased by 5,800 seats, at a total cost of $201,977.65.
Boston Red Sox owner Thomas Yawkey donated a set of steel bleachers from Boston’s Fenway Park to Doubleday Field.
A larger-than-life sculpture of the “Sandlot Kid,” by Victor Salvatore, was erected near the Main Street entrance to the Doubleday lot in April of 1964 after being gifted to the village by F. Ambrose Clark.
New aluminum bleacher seats were installed at Doubleday Field on the existing concrete base, in all areas except the grandstand. This allowed the village to reduce the amount of money on annual repair costs for the seats.
An electronic scoreboard was installed in 1984. Protective padding was also added to the outfield wall during the open baseball season.
The final Hall of Fame Game is played at Doubleday, ending a seventy-year tradition. For a timeline and scores of all HOF Games, click here.
A new tradition at Doubleday Field begins with the first annual Hall of Fame Classic, a legends ballgame featuring Hall of Famers and other recently-retired major leaguers.
By Rebecca Ortenberg, Jessica Matercin-Johnson, Jeana Ganskop, Christina Parise, Emily Lang and Jenna Robinson (The Cooperstown Graduate Program, SUNY Oneonta)