Once a popular activity in many metropolitan areas, with teams such as the Young Devils, Minotaurs, and Milton’s Playhouse waving their banners in the evening and on weekends, the Stick Ball Hall of Fame in East Harlem stands as a home to the spirit of this great urban game.
Visitors to the museum will find black and white photos of the game’s legends, as well as the championship jackets they once wore. Signed spaldeens and broomsticks, including one infamous stick marked “Sanitation Department, 1950,” are held in a glass case at the museum. However the true experience of the museum is on the street outside.
When the weather gets warm, travel to East Harlem on a Sunday morning and you’ll find you’ve entered a stadium. 109th St. between 2nd Ave. and 3rd Ave. transforms into a playing field for those both new to the game and those who’ve been playing for decades in the form of organized stickball leagues operating through the Hall of Fame. Front-row seats are free if you can find a stoop to sit on. If your window or fire escape happens to look down on the street you’ll find you’re a season ticket holder to seats in the “upper deck.” No game could be more local. Neighbors are not only fans, but the game’s commentators as well. But a word of warning about cheering for a home run; if the ball is hit onto a roof in stickball it’s an out. If the ball breaks a window or gets you in trouble you’re not only out but you also just ended the game.
For those completely new to the classic street game, the rules are similar to the basic gameplay of baseball, with a few minor differences. While this could change from neighborhood to neighborhood, generally players are only given one swing when they are up to bat. Anything from fire hydrants to manhole covers to streetlights can stand in as bases and a variety of these bases/street fixtures can be found at the museum. Stickball has generally been considered a “poor man’s” game because all you need to play is a group of friends, a rubber ball (called a “spaldeen”), a broomstick, and a street to play on. But don’t let the humble origins of the game fool you, stickball’s history is one of a pastime used to keep youth out of trouble and bring neighborhoods together.