Forgotten Stadiums: Messer Street Grounds
Messer Street Grounds1879, Photo from Wikipedia
Professional baseball was a fledgling sport in the late 19th century, with leagues popping up all over the country. It seemed that every town and city worth its weight featured a team of “professionals.” Even with all these leagues and teams, some leagues were of better quality than others. The best league of the day was the National League, which was founded in 1876. Originally consisting of eight teams, the league lineup changed often due to the folding of insolvent franchises or the movement to new cities. When the Hartford team was dropped after the 1877 season, a team was awarded to Providence, Rhode Island, where semi-pro baseball was successful. The team, called the Grays, played their games at the Messer Street Grounds, also known as Messer Park or Messer Field, from 1878 to 1885.
When scouting for a location for their new ballpark, the Providence Base Ball Association identified the old Josiah Chapin farm on the City’s west side (now known as Olneyville) and decided it met their criteria. It was close to level, it was raised up a few feet from the surrounding roads and it was easily accessible by street car. The grounds were also “away from the contamination of rum shops and the attendant loafers.” Construction began on April 1 and took one month to complete. The final nail was hammered into place just five minutes before opening day on May 1.
Messer Street Grounds, Photo Courtesy of the Providence Journal
The Providence Morning Star declared “the grounds are without doubt as fine as any in the country.” The large grandstand held 1,200 fans and featured the first backstop to protect the fans sitting behind home plate. A twelve-foot fence encircled the entire field. The facilities for press and players were considered among the finest of the day. Capacity of the ballpark is estimated at about 6,000.
Messer Street Grounds featured some strange dimensions, with a left field distance of 281 feet and a right field depth of an astounding 431 feet. Straightaway center field was only 318 feet from home plate, while both power alleys stood 356 feet away. The dimensions were a sore spot with reporters, with one complaining “a hit made in Providence near that foul line post is not a long hit; in fact that same hit in the right field seldom gives more than one base.” Despite the short distances, not many home runs were hit at Messer Street Grounds. In fact, only eight home runs were hit in the ballpark’s inaugural season. Compare that to the 200 hit in Chicago that year. A neighbor to the park allowed fans to sit on his roof and watch the game for only 25 cents, which probably didn’t make the Grays’ owners very happy.
Providence Grays 1914 Team Photo with Babe Ruth, Photo Courtesy of ProvidenceOnline.com
The Grays were successful in their short time in the National League, winning pennants in 1879 and 1884. The Grays won the first World Series (not to be confused with the modern World Series between the American and National Leagues that began in 1903) by defeating the New York Metropolitans of the American Association. Due to financial problems, the team folded in 1885. The team was replaced by the Philadelphia Phillies.
Once the Major League version of the Grays moved out of Providence, a minor league team, also called the Grays, moved into Messer Street Grounds for the 1886 season. Unfortunately, the team had trouble attracting fans and the team folded by June. In February of 1887 the property was sold, the ballpark demolished, the land was subdivided, and houses started to spring up where the old ballpark used to stand.
Today there are no markers to commemorate the site of Providence’s only Major League franchise. Today the site remains a residential area.
Residences Today on Former Site of Messer Street Grounds, Photo by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey