Review by Gary
In a year that saw no attendance at many ballparks across the US due to the Covid, I managed to make a four-hour pilgrimage to just one stadium in 2020. Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, NJ, built in 1932, was that stadium. I can’t think of a better place to have gone, where I made some new friends, whose passion for this historic place has me hoping that it returns to everyday use and becomes a place where baseball fans can visit to take in the ambience of the thrilling days of yesteryear.
As part of Ballpark Brothers recognition of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro Leagues, I reached out and contacted Brian LoPinto, the main advocate of the Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium. Brian was born and raised just blocks away from Paterson and played high school baseball here. This open-air, horseshoe-shaped stadium of reinforced concrete and Art Deco exterior seats 10,000 fans and lies dramatically above Great Falls, Paterson's landmark locale. It is the only ballpark that is listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Hinchliffe, named after the city’s mayor when it was built, became the primary home of the Negro League’s NY Black Yankees starting in 1934, and every season but one until 1945. Paterson native, Larry Doby, would play his high school ball at Hinchliffe, be recruited by the Newark Eagles and then became Major League Baseball’s second black ballplayer when he signed with the Cleveland Indians.
The city owned the stadium until 1963. While there were some high school sports played here, the bulk of the events featured pro teams and mainstream entertainment, including motorcycle & auto racing, track and field, football, boxing and even performances by Abbott & Costello, the latter of which hailed from Paterson. On the long running Abbott and Costello radio show, Lou would sign off, "To everybody in Paterson, goodnight."
The original layout of the baseball diamond saw home plate centered in the curve of the horseshoe, creating outfield dimensions resembling those of the New York City’s Polo Grounds, with each foul pole approximately 280 feet away and a deep center field wall at least 480 feet distant. In the 1960’s, the infield was reimagined off to one side of the horseshoe configuration, with long left and center field fences and a very short right field, the reverse of the L.A. Coliseum layout during the Dodgers brief residency.
As there are plans for Hinchliffe to be redeveloped with the field as its centerpiece, Brian hopes that the layout is returned to its 1932 configuration, to pay true homage to Larry Doby and his Negro League brethren, without whom this stadium probably would not have survived.
Hinchliffe Stadium has been owned by the Paterson Public Schools since 1963 and was closed in 1997. Falling victim to neglect and vandalism over the years, the stadium now resembles a scene from the documentary “Life After People”. Trees and bushes grow through the cracks of the concrete grandstand. The fiberglass that wraps the wooden bleachers peels away under the summer sun. Most of the 1980’s Astroturf playing surface has baked away to reveal the asphalt underneath. Graffiti is festooned on the interior walls and in the interior rooms. The dirt areas around the bases and pitching mound appear as five square manicured patches of wild grass and foliage as the area returns to its Jurassic roots.
In 2019, Paterson approved a deal for Hinchliffe Stadium to be redeveloped. This ambitious plan calls for the reconstruction of the stadium with about 7,800 seats, along with a 314-space parking garage, a restaurant with museum exhibits about Hinchliffe’s role in the Negro baseball leagues, and a 75-unit senior citizen apartment building with a 5,800-square-foot child care facility on its first floor. In August 2020, the city council approved a tax break for developers to rebuild the historic stadium. While the state of the stadium itself left a lot be desired, it was the day’s experience, the pervasive sense of history, and the wonderful people I met and hope to keep in touch with that garners Hinchliffe the extra hot dogs on my rating.
For more information, stories and historical photos of Hinchliffe Stadium, lease visit our sister site devoted entirely to this classic ballpark, www.hinchliffestadium.com
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My trip to Paterson started with a visit to a nearby museum that was showcasing “Hinchliffe Stadium and Its Legacy”. There I met Brian, his compadre, Kathy, and Gianfranco Archimede, who directs Paterson’s Historic Preservation Commission. These and a number of other individuals are passionate about bringing this great stadium back to its original glory. In addition to wonderful pieces of local artwork focusing on the Negro League players, there were numerous items on loan from the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Also prominently displayed through the museum were Brian’s own Hinchliffe artifacts that he acquired over the years, such as ticket stubs, programs, score cards and the last home plate used in 1997, to name a few.
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For a cool drone-eye view of the stadium, click HERE.