7 unexpected stadiums teams called home

January 24th, 2023
The Polo Grounds being prepared to welcome the Mets on March 29, 1962.

A version of this story originally ran in December 2021.

The Dodgers spent more than seven decades in New York. They've since spent more than six decades in California. Every baseball fan on earth knows the iconic story: The Brooklyn Dodgers, the team of Jackie Robinson, moved to Los Angeles in 1958, expanding the baseball footprint -- and Vin Scully! -- to the West Coast, breaking the hearts of countless thousands of Brooklynites in the process.

Brooklyn. Los Angeles. Aside from a handful of 19th-century Sunday games a few feet over the Brooklyn border in Queens, this is the Dodgers story. That's all there is, or likely will ever be.

Except, of course, when they packed up Robinson, Duke Snider and the rest to go play in New Jersey.

What, you don't remember New Jersey hosting Major League ball? Or when the Yankees left the Bronx for Queens -- twice? Baseball history is full of odd and unexpected home fields for your favorite teams, and you might be surprised to hear about a few of them. We've picked our favorites here.

To be clear: This is not intended to be a full and exhaustive list. It's not even in any order beyond "what entertains us the most." We're not talking about pre-planned one-offs like the MLB Little League Classic games in Williamsport, Pa., or short intercontinental goodwill trips like we've seen in London, Japan, Mexico, Hawaii and Australia, or various teams escaping dangerous weather. We're looking for the weird ones you might not have known about.

1. The Dodgers head to New Jersey (15 games, 1956-57)
Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, N.J.

It's been endlessly discussed over the years how Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, desperate to escape crumbling Ebbets Field, battled with New York City public official Robert Moses over when, where and how to build a new stadium for the club. Those efforts failed, and so the team departed for Los Angeles following the conclusion of the 1957 season.

As part of the team's strategy to put pressure on New York City officials, the Dodgers agreed to play seven games in Jersey City's Roosevelt Stadium in both 1956 and '57. (The announcement, if not the written agreement, was made on Aug. 16, 1955, two months before their first and only Brooklyn championship. It also made that '55 season the final one with a full home schedule in Brooklyn.) The games marked a homecoming of sorts for Robinson, who had played his first professional game there for the Montreal Royals in 1946.

The Dodgers won six of eight in Jersey City in 1956, and five of eight in '57. Robinson, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays and Frank Robinson were among the legends to homer there. The final game at Roosevelt Stadium was on Sept. 3, 1957, which means that even in their final month as the Brooklyn Dodgers, Brooklyn didn't get a full home slate. A few weeks later, the team played its final game representing Brooklyn, and packed up for California, leaving both of their home parks behind.

Bonus! Years after the stadium had largely been turned into a venue for high school sports and concerts, Minor League Baseball briefly returned in 1977 and '78. The '78 Jersey City A's, of the Double-A Eastern League, featured a 19-year-old outfielder named Rickey Henderson. He took 561 plate appearances and didn't hit a single homer.

2. The Yankees leave the Bronx (159 games, 1974-75)
Shea Stadium, Queens, N.Y.

The Yankees -- originally called the Highlanders -- spent their first two decades in Manhattan, first at their own Hilltop Park and then sharing the Polo Grounds with the Giants. When the original Yankee Stadium, the "House That Ruth Built," opened in 1923, they moved across the river to the Bronx, for good ... except when they went to Queens.

Five decades after it opened, the stadium -- then owned by Houston-based Rice University, long story, don't ask -- was in dire need of upgrades. In 1972, New York City stepped in to purchase Yankee Stadium and when those renovations commenced following the '73 season, the Yankees were forced to find a new home. For 159 games over the next two years, that home was Shea Stadium, which co-hosted both the Yankees and the Mets.

That means, for a handful of short-term and generally not memorable Yankees from that relatively dark period in club history, they suited up in the pinstripes but never played at Yankee Stadium. (For example, manager Bill Virdon was the skipper for 266 Yankees games, and not a single one came in pinstripes where Ruth and Gehrig once played.)

It also led to a notable historical oddity, when Jim "Catfish" Hunter, who helped usher in the modern age of free agency, left the A's to sign with the Yankees as the first notable free agent in the 1974-75 offseason ... and was introduced in the Yankees home whites at Shea Stadium. Despite pitching in the American League for his entire career, he made 21 starts at the home of the Mets, including a pair in '74 when he was with the visiting A's.

A week after signing with the Yankees, Catfish Hunter is introduced at Shea Stadium.

Oh, and they almost blew the place up, too. On June 10, 1975, a pregame celebration of the 200th anniversary of the United States Army blasted a hole through the outfield wall and started a fire. The game was still played, but as legendary newscaster Walter Cronkite observed: "The final scores: Yankees 6, Angels 4; Army 21, fence nothing."

Bonus! This happened more than once. In 1998, after emergency repairs were required at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees hosted the Angels for one game at Shea. They won, 6-3, as Darryl Strawberry hit his first home run at Shea since he'd visited with the Dodgers in 1991. In 2017, the Yankees returned to Queens in a game that once again didn't include the Mets, when they were the visitors to Tampa Bay's "home" Rays in a series that was moved due to Hurricane Irma's impact on Florida.

3. The White Sox head north to Milwaukee (20 games, 1968-69)
Milwaukee County Stadium, Milwaukee

For a brief four-season period from 1966-69, after the Braves had departed for Atlanta yet before the Seattle Pilots were reborn as the Brewers, Milwaukee had no Major League Baseball. Local car dealer, enormous baseball fan, Braves minority owner and future Commissioner Bud Selig had attempted to keep the Braves in town, but when that failed, he turned his sights to ensuring baseball returned to Wisconsin.

Selig first organized a successful exhibition game between the White Sox and Twins on July 24, 1967. (How in the world he managed to convince the White Sox to stop in Milwaukee in between a doubleheader in Kansas City on July 23 and another doubleheader home in Chicago on July 25 is another story entirely.) That led to nine regular-season home games -- one against each other AL team, all starting or ending a series in Chicago -- in Milwaukee in 1968, which were well-attended despite the Sox losing eight of nine and getting shut out four times.

The next year, it was 11 games, thanks to the newly expanded American League. That means that on June 16, when the Pilots came to Milwaukee to lose to the White Sox, 8-3, they were -- unbeknownst to anyone, of course -- auditioning for the fans they'd call their own less than a year later.

If this sounds reminiscent of the pre-move Dodgers playing a few games in a nearby state a decade earlier, it should. Selig entered into an agreement to purchase the White Sox, but the AL, wary of losing a foothold in a major city like Chicago, vetoed it. Months later, the Pilots would go bankrupt, and Selig -- and Milwaukee -- had his team.

4. The Mets take Manhattan (161 games, 1962-63)
Polo Grounds, New York

There are endless examples of new teams briefly playing in other parks while their long-term homes are constructed, like the Dodgers in the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Giants in Seals Stadium, the Rockies in Mile High and so on. Consider this a stand-in for all of them, because it's a reminder that the first two years of the Mets franchise took place in one of the most interesting stadiums in history ... and in Manhattan, not Queens.

After the Giants abandoned their home of more than six decades to head west in 1958, the Polo Grounds stood mostly vacant for three years before the NFL's Titans (now the Jets) arrived in '61. The next year, the Mets were born, and for two seasons, baseball's newest team called one of baseball's most ancient stadiums home while awaiting the completion of Shea Stadium.

The Mets were historically poor in these years, obviously, going 91-231 overall (.283) and 56-105 (.348) in the Polo Grounds. What this had the odd effect of achieving, however, is that when Willie Mays and the Giants made their first return to New York four years after leaving, they did so as the visiting team in their old home stadium. (Imagine, for example, if the Red Sox left for Las Vegas, and then later returned to Fenway Park in the road grays.)

Over the course of his career, Mays hit 98 regular-season home runs in the Polo Grounds ... but 94 of them came at home, and four of them came on the road.

5. The first Oakland team to head to Las Vegas (6 games, 1996)
Cashman Field, Las Vegas

When the Raiders returned to Oakland from Los Angeles in 1995, they did so under the agreement that they could undertake expansion work on the Oakland Coliseum, which had the unfortunate effect of erecting "Mount Davis," blocking the view of the Oakland hills. When construction was not complete in time for the start of the '96 baseball season, the A's were forced to find a new place to play. They looked to the desert, and tiny (9,334 seat capacity at the time) Cashman Field in Las Vegas.

Looking at it from today's perspective, this might not seem so weird; after all, the Pacific Coast League's Las Vegas Aviators are currently the Triple-A farm club of the A's. But that's only been true since 2019; at the time, the Las Vegas Stars fed players to the Padres, while the A's top farm club was in Edmonton. Presumably not enthused about the idea of outdoor ball in Canada in April, the A's accepted Las Vegas's offer, appreciative of the same time zone and guaranteed payout. It was the first big league game at a Minor League park since the Dodgers in Jersey City four decades earlier.

The games, as expected given the high-offense environment of the desert location and the weak Oakland pitching, were wild. The A's allowed at least six runs in five of the six games and walked 11 opposing hitters twice. The high outfield walls did allow outfielder Ernie Young the chance to start this triple play when the Tigers hitters clearly didn't realize he'd caught the ball -- your typical 8-4-3-2 play.

A bonus fun fact, as reported in the Los Angeles Times in March of that year, is that the team had a secondary option on the table: New Orleans.

6. The Rays visit the Magic Kingdom (6 games, 2007-08)
The Ballpark at Disney's Wide World of Sports, Kissimmee, Fla.

For all the talk about whether the Rays might one day call Montreal their partial home, they've already had a few domestic home games outside of Tropicana Field. In 2007, the then-Devil Rays shifted a series against the Rangers to Disney, hoping to attract new fans in Central Florida. The next year, the now-Rays did the same, this time against the Blue Jays. The field they played on had been the Spring Training home of the Braves (and regular-season home of their Gulf Coast affiliate) and remained so, up until 2019.

What this led to was the somewhat-unusual sight of seeing the regular-season home whites under natural sunlight, since they'd usually wear Spring Training jerseys in the Grapefruit League. Tampa Bay ended up winning each of the six games, but scheduling issues prevented a return in 2009, and the idea was seemingly dropped after that.

7. The Expos head to Puerto Rico (43 games, 2003-04)
Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, P.R.

You didn't forget this one, most likely, but it's too notable to not include here. After years of struggles in Montreal, the Expos had been purchased by Major League Baseball, and with a move out of Canada seeming imminent, a grouping of games in Puerto Rico was announced following the 2002 season.

It got off to a good start, with the Expos sweeping the Mets in a four-game series in 2003. But while it seemed like a novelty at first, by '04, the extra traveling -- they made three trips to the island in each season -- had come to wear on manager Frank Robinson and his players. One particularly grueling stretch in the 2004 season went like this: Montreal to Milwaukee to Phoenix to San Juan to Montreal to Atlanta to Cincinnati to Kansas City to Seattle back to Montreal.

At the end of 2004, the team was relocated to Washington to become the Nationals, and the Puerto Rico experiment was over. (For the Expos, anyway. The Majors have returned there more than once for short series since.)