The heyday of Jersey City baseball occurred in the 1930s and 1940s when the Triple A Jersey Giants played under the not-so-benevolent aegis of Mayor Frank (I am the law) Hague. Although his annual salary was only $6,250, Boss Hague owned a $125,000 estate and wintered at Biscayne Bay in Florida. "Good investments," he said when asked how he could afford such a luxurious life-style on his low salary.
Roosevelt Stadium, which Hague built, was put up in 1937 with some $3 million of WPA funds. It is a handsome art deco structure with a brick, glass and wrought-iron facade. During his 1941 reelection campaign Hague had his Hudson County heelers sell a minor league record 61,164 tickets for Opening Day. Some 40,000 fans crowded into the park, and as Hague triumphantly threw out the first ball a plane flew overhead trailing a banner that read BEAT HAGUE—VOTE AMERICAN.
On April 18, 1946 Jersey City was the scene of the pro debut of a 28-year-old Montreal Royals infielder named Jackie Robinson. "They threw a black cat on the field and booed him," recalls Stadium Superintendent Al Keenan. "Then he got three singles and a home run, scored four runs, drove in four and stole two bases. In the end they gave him a standing ovation." Robinson returned to Jersey City with the Brooklyn Dodgers to play seven regular-season games in 1956. In 1960 and 1961 the Havana Sugar Kings, refugees from Castro's Cuba, made their home in Jersey City, but then baseball quietly disappeared until the Indians arrived last April.
Mayor Hague never would have recognized Opening Day, 1977. For one thing, it was Opening Night. For another, only 1,643 fans were on hand. A reform mayor and gubernatorial candidate named Paul T. Jordan threw out the first ball. And Dominick Pugliese, the dapper little city council president who helped bring back baseball, beamed through it all. "We've had rock concerts on this field," he said. "They created a bad image, but we wanted to keep the place going. I still think it's a beautiful park. When the high school and college teams get off it in the summer, the grass will improve. Pretty soon we'll have 1,000 new seats, better lighting and a new scoreboard."
Few of the players on the field that night will be future stars like Bobby Thomson, Monte Irvin, Whitey Lockman and Sal Maglie—Jersey Giants who later became New York Giants. Indeed, the Indians lost to the Bristol Red Sox 3-2 in 10 innings in a game that featured 11 errors and nine double plays. No matter. The noisy crowd kept chanting. "Let's go, An-ge-lo!"