In Amsterdam, Mohawk Mills Park began life in a slightly different fashion as a Progressive-era version of Baseball City, that is, as part of an amusement emporium called Crescent Park. It opened on Memorial Day, 1914, featuring a dance hall, shooting gallery, motion picture theater, miniature railroad, and boating and bathing on "Lake Crescent."
"Spend Decoration Day at Home," read the ad, "in the Shade of the forest Primeval--Every Charm and Every Feature of the Big Summer Resorts Available, All Within a 5 Cent Car Ride of the City of Amsterdam."
From the beginning there was a ballpark, and admission to games was free with admission to the grounds. The opening contest was between the local Empires and the Philadelphia Colored Giants, described as "one of the best colored professional teams in the country."
And they were, at one time featuring pitcher Rube Foster, second baseman Charlie Grant (whom John McGraw attempted to sign), and even heavyweight champ Jack Johnson. The locals, however, took both ends of a doubleheader, and within a month played squads like the Schenectady Mohawk Giants, with such great black stars as pitcher Frank "the Red Ant" Wickware and catcher Chappie Johnson, along with a contingent called the Chinese Students Team from the University of Hawaii.
The park eventually changed its name to "Jollyland." In the early 1930s it was sold to the Mohawk Carpet Mills, which closed the midway. When the Can-Am arrived, it was run down, with a skin infield and a fence supported by braces that intruded onto the playing surface. â" You'd see the ball hit back there and rattle around," remembers one fan, "and the players would have to dodge around to field it."
Soon the infield was finished off and a new, higher, 16-foot, more professional fence was installed, as were lights in 1940.
"We got to the point where we let the people out from the offices at four so they could go to the ballpark,â€� recalls John Pollard, "but that was just Mohawk Mills. I wanted the whole city to be able to go to the games.
"I used to drive Herb Shuttleworth's father. They had a Lincoln. When he had to catch a train out of Schenectady, I had to drive him. One day he asked how the team was drawing. Now, he was tickled that Herb was taking an interest in the ball club, doing something for the community. Herb was just out of college, and was very backward and timid in getting up and talking before a group.
"I said we needed lights. He said, "If Herb wants the lights, he'll get the lights--They cost $10,000."
"We went to General Electric," continues Herb Shuttleworth. "Lights were a novel thing, and we had the state of the art.
"When we turned them on for the first time, there in the back of the park was a little shed with the controls for the lighting. It looked like the machinery for the Queen Mary.
"Wally McQuatters and I go down to throw the first lights. There's a huge handle with an arm on it. We're ready to throw the lights, and we realize how much power is in this thing.
"'Wally, after you,' I say.
"He says 'After you,' but I just stared at him, and he realized he wasn't going to win this one, so he looked around for a rubber mat to stand on. He was just rubbing his hands, looking at the switch. "He threw it, but we were both pretty nervous."
"You have to give Herb Shuttleworth a lot of credit," says John Shuler. "If there was a nail out of place, he'd send some carpenters down from the mill to fix it."
The park featured an extremely short left field barrier--279 feet. That dimension was tempered, however, by the fence's great height, at least 26 feet. The park also possessed one of the league's deeper center field-- 409 feet. And in center field, in play, on the field, in fair territory, was the park's flagpole.
In July 1942 the New York Yankees, with DiMaggio, Henrich, Keller, Rizzuto, Gordon, Selkirk, and Rolfe in their lineup, struggled to a 9-5 ten-inning victory over the Rugmakers, but that wasn't the unusual part of the story.
Let's back up a little.
"We was in Three Rivers," recalls Rugmakers road secretary Spencer Fitzgerald, â€œ[manager] Tom Kain and I, in '42. Morel, he was a sportswriter for Three Rivers, he come down the street. I hollered at him, "Paul. C'mon over!" I said, "He's talking about 'Stadium de Baseball pfoof!â€�â€™
"And they talked in French, and, that's when our ball park burned down . . .
Mohawk Mills Park had been incinerated. It was a small fire when the groundkeeper's wife first saw it, and her husband rushed out to battle it with a garden hose, but just as he completed the run from his home, the sputtering blaze became a conflagration. The fire department was called in but soon discovered there wasn't enough water pressure to fight the rapidly growing inferno. Four hours later, the entire 900-seat grandstand, the adjoining fences, and the concession areas were a sodden pile of charred wood. Luckily, the first and third base bleachers were saved.
"I was called on a Sunday morning in the middle of the night," says John Pollard, "that the park had been set on fire. It was arson."
That should have been the end of the story. It was only the beginning.
"We went to the hotel," continued Fitzgerald, "and called up [business manager] Wally [McQuatters], and he told us. Tom Kain said, "Are we gonna play the Yankees?"
"Oh yeah. We're going to play the Yankees."
It was hard to see why McQuatters should be so sanguine. With just eight days to go before the Yankees's arrival, disaster was staring them in the face. Insurance would not even cover all of the $15,000 loss. Archrival Gloversville offered the use of its park for the game, but the Rugmakers replied, "No, thanks," and rolled up their sleeves.
Before the weekend ended, the club's directors awarded a contract to rebuild the ruined grandstand. Favoring them was the fact that the team was on the road the next week. Debris was hauled away. Hammers and saws replaced bats and balls at the site, and a miracle happened. By the time the Yankees arrived, not only had every barbequed seat been replaced, but the park's total capacity had been increased by 200 seats.
Not that everything was restored to its former "grandeur." No roof had yet been installed over the new grandstand. That would have to wait. Part of the delay was due to the wartime shortage of supplies. Otherwise, there's no telling what wonders the contractor might have accomplished. Also missing was a coat of paint--no use risking several hundred pairs of freshly painted trousers.
The town was in a mood to celebrate when the world champions made a special stop from the State Express at 12:35 PM on a beautifully sunny Monday, July 20, 1942.
It went wild.
Thousands of ecstatic fans met the Yankees at the station. Hordes of autograph seekers hemmed their heros in. Even Joe McCarthy, notorious for his aversion to signing, caught the spirit. Bands played and brightly colored crepe paper rained down on the motorcade to the luncheon at the ornate local Elks Club. Businesses were shuttered, and signs proclaiming, "Welcome Yankees--Closed for the Afternoon" sprouted on each storefront. A seven-year-old heart patient, little Johnny Martuscello, got to meet his idol, Joe DiMaggio. Miniature commemorative carpets marking the afternoon's contest (one of which, by the way, can now be found in the Baseball Hall of Fame) were bestowed on the visitors. Even normally hard-bitten New York scribes were impressed.
"I felt like a red corpuscle the other day," wrote an amazed Jack Smith of the New York Daily News, "or perhaps it was a white one. My travels with the Yanks carried me through the bloodstream of baseball and finally into the City of Amsterdam, N.Y. (pop. 35,000), pumped me into the heart of the game itself. Rising industriously on the banks of the Mohawk River, the city is deep in the Class C minors. But for sheer love of baseball, enthusiasm and support it outstrips major league owners, officials and fans. It reflects the pure, wholesome attachment of American people for the game and contrasts with the blase â€˜give us a winnerâ€™ attitude of the big cities.â€�
When the Yankee bus left the Hotel Thayer, two players were missing: Joe DiMaggio and Lefty Gomez. Both were left wandering on Division Street. Fan George Sandy pulled up in his 1937 Buick, and gave the two a ride to the park. "The first thing DiMaggio said when he got in the car," recalls Sandy, "was, 'Where in hell are all the girls in this town?'"
A question male Amsterdamians have been asking ever since.
The game itself, played before 4,034 delirious fans, was a beauty. The Rugmakers pulled ahead 2-0 in the third; then New York came back to tie it in the top of the fourth on a two-run homer to right by DiMaggio ("Thanks, George!"). The Ruggies promptly went up again by one in the bottom of the frame, then added one more in the fifth to pull ahead 4-2.
The Yanks chipped away with runs in the seventh and eighth (that one on a four-bagger by Joe Gordon), and then finally exploded for four tallies in the tenth to put it away.
And now for a bit of "Believe It or Not."
"When the stands burned, with the heat from the fire and the weight of the lights, the poles bent over to the ground," recalls Herb Shuttleworth, "just like the snow on the branches of a tree.
"We put everyone we knew to work on the stands. They were back in a few days, but what do we do with the lights? That was the biggest problem.
"Absolutely miraculous, but as those poles cooled, they went right back, straight, and we never had to touch 'em. I never saw anything like it."
And the Yankees had never seen anything like their welcome to Amsterdam, either.
Well, that was the glory. After the Rugmakers left, the park had to scramble for excitement. Semipro teams such as the Rugmakers and Stars continued to be play there, but it slowly deteriorated, finally being deeded over to the City in September 1964. The City had planned on buying it, but instead the Mills turned it over to the municipality for one dollar. From August 1, 1955, to June 12, 1980, there were no night games at the field. By this time it had been renamed Shuttleworth Park, honoring Herb Shuttleworth.
It was rebuilt with federal Community Development Agency funds in the mid-1970s, but in the process its dimensions were altered, its grandstand butchered, its high wooden fences removed, and much, if not all, of its charm lost. Even its restrooms and concession areas were stupidly removed to an area a hundred yards from the ballpark itself. It was a pathetic rehab, with little concern for tradition or utility. New lights were added only later, paid for by private subscription. Currently, Bishop Scully High School and Legion ball are played there, but if you are seeking the glory that was Mohawk Mills Park, look at a photograph, don't visit its depressing current state.