May 26, 2011

New York Giants Player & World War I Hero: Eddie Grant (1913-1915) & The Story of His Polo Grounds Monument

Edward Leslie Grant was born on May 21, 1883, Franklin, Massachusetts. Edward Grant graduated from Harvard University in 1905, earning the future nickname “Harvard Eddie”. He often annoyed his less educated teammates by refusing to yell the traditional, "I got it," when a fly ball was hit, using the more grammatically correct, "I have it."

Grant began his MLB career with the Cleveland Indians in 1905, and then spent 1906 in the minors. He returned with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1907, and became their every day third baseman until 1910. The quick third baseman batted leadoff and was known for his base stealing & fine fielding. His best years were the 1909 & 1910 seasons.
In 1909 he led the league in at bats (631) plate appearances (700) & played in every game of the season. His 170 hits were second in the league; he scored 75 runs stole 28 bases, hit 18 doubles with one HR & 37 RBIs. At third base he posted the league’s second best fielding % (.957) & would be third the next year while leading in put outs. In 1910 he drove in 67 runs, stole 25 more bases & was second in the league with 34 sac hits.

He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1911, playing there for two seasons. In the middle of the 1913 season, his contract was purchased by the New York Giants. Although he was no longer in the prime of his career he arrived in New York another Giants pennant year.

In the 1913 World Series he appeared in two games for John McGraw and scored a run as a pinch runner, going 0 for 1 at the plate. In 1914 he hit .277 in 282 plate appearances as a utility infielder, stealing 11 bases, scoring 34 runs, while hitting seven doubles and driving in 29 runs. In 1915 he hit only .208 with six steals and 10 RBIs, retiring at the end of the season.

In a ten year baseball career, he was a lifetime.249 hitter with 844 career hits, 153 stolen bases, 79 doubles, 30 triples, 5 home runs, and 277 RBIs. At third base he turned 105 double plays making 148 errors in 2533 chances posting a .942 fielding %.
Retirement: After baseball "Harvard Eddie" practiced law in New York City in 1916 & 1917.

American War Hero: Though he was exempt from the draft due to his age, the 33-year old attorney was one of the first to volunteer and serve in the U.S. Army in the First World War in April 1917.

He would serve as Captain of the 77th Infantry Division. During the fierce battle of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, all of Grant's superior officers were killed or wounded, and he took command of his troops on a four-day search for the "Lost Battalion" . These were thousands of soldiers stuck behind enemy lines in the freezing forest without supplies or ammunition. 

By the morning of the third day, which was October 5, 1918, Grant was totally exhausted. He hadn't slept since the beginning of the offensive, and some fellow officers noticed him sitting on a stump with a cup of coffee in front of him, too weak to even lift the cup.

One of his troops, a former policeman at the Polo Grounds, remembered: "Eddie was dog-tired but he stepped off at the head of his outfit with no more concern than if he were walking to his old place at third base after his side had finished its turn at the bat. He staggered from weakness when he first started off, but pretty soon he was marching briskly with his head up."

Later that day Eddie was waiving his hands and calling out for more stretcher bearers when a shell struck him. It was a direct hit, killing him instantly. Grant was buried in the Argonne Forest, only a few yards from where he fell. Later his remains were moved to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Lorraine, France.

Quotes: “Edward Leslie Grant gave his all not for glory, not for fame, but just for his country.... His memory will live as long as our game may last.” —Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

Polo Grounds Monument Plaque: On Memorial Day, May 29, 1921, representatives from the armed forces, major league baseball, and his sisters, unveiled a monument in center field of the Polo Grounds to his memory.

A five-foot-high stone monument with an inscribed bronze plaque was erected in deep center field in front of the clubhouse building. Although it was 470 feet from home plate, the monument was in fair territory, so balls hitting it or rolling behind it remained in play. Each Memorial Day from 1921 until 1957 there was a wreath-laying ceremony at his plaque, usually between games of the customary Holiday doubleheader. This was the first monument to be placed in New York ballpark, honoring a past player.
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Legends Rumors & Facts of the Plaque Since: At end of the final game at the Polo Grounds on September 29th, 1957 the plaque was pried off the monument by three kids. Rumors that the Police had recovered the plaque were never verified and it went missing for over forty years.

In late July 1999, the Eddie Grant Memorial plaque was supposedly discovered in the attic of a Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey home formerly owned by Lena and Gaetano Bucca. The new home owners had discovered the plaque carefully wrapped in a blanket and hidden under a trap door in the attic. They contacted The Baseball Reliquary Board.

The previous home owner Gaetano Bucca was a NYPD officer who retired in 1958 after serving in the 32nd Precinct, jurisdiction of the Polo Grounds. After retiring he moved to New Jersey and died in 1974. It is assumed that the affable Mr. Bucca, with the aid of a few well-lubricated colleagues, had arranged to take the plaque with the intention of delivering it for safekeeping to the Eddie Grant American Legion Post 1225 in the Bronx. The plaque never made it there. How and why it ended up in Mr. Bucca's attic is totally baffling. His son now an attorney never knew of the plaque in the attic above his bedroom.

In December 2001, the Great War Society approached the San Francisco Giants Baseball Club with an offer to help pay for costs of installing a replacement for Eddie Grant's plaque at the new Giants Stadium. The team's President and Managing General Partner declined the offer.

Some believed there was a curse on the Giants because of the whole plaque history . More people were angry that they did not try hard enough to get the original plague back. Finally in 2006 a replica plaque was installed at the Giants ballpark in San Francisco, in 2010 they won the World Series.

1 comment:

Perry Barber said...

The genuine Eddie Grant memorial plaque belongs to the New York Giants and their descendants, the San Francisco Giants. It was stolen from the Polo Grounds in 1957 and "found" more than forty years later - so why was it not returned to its rightful owners rather than passed on to an organization that doesn't even permanently display it in a place of honor where people can see it and learn about the man whose name and life it celebrates?

The fact there there was ever a "curse" associated with the name of Eddie Grant does a disservice to his sacrifice and his service to his country. Eddie Grant was a genuine American hero who gave his life attempting to rescue his childhood friend, one of the famed "Lost Battalion," from the deadly Battle of the Argonne, and he should be remembered with a blessing, not a curse. The San Francisco Giants installed a replica Eddie Grant plaque inside the Lefty O'Doul gate at AT&T Park in 2006, and the Baseball Reliquary has what is purported to be the genuine plaque - but it's not even on permanent display, it's just part of a collection of artifacts that the Reliquary exhibits only a few times each year. What's wrong with this picture?

The Eddie Grant memorial plaque belongs to the New York and San Francisco Giants, two teams that may be a continent and a half century apart, but who are forever bound by their shared history and recognition of the supreme sacrifice made by a genuine American hero.