The P.R.R. YMCA Athletic Field, also known as Penmar Park and commonly referred to in the 1930s and 1940s as the 44th and Parkside ballpark, was an athletic field and ballpark in West Philadelphia from 1903 to the early 1950s. It was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad YMCA. It was the home of the Pennsylvania Railroad YMCA of Philadelphia football club, often called the “Railroaders”, from 1903 through 1905, and the Philadelphia Stars Negro league baseball club from 1936 until 1952. The field was also used as a multi-sport athletic field used by the local community. During the 1930s the field was the site of home football games of Overbrook High School and St. Joseph’s Preparatory School. Overbrook also played their home baseball games there. For example, thePhiladelphia College of Pharmacy held 1906 Commencement Week “Athletic Games” at the field.The independent Norfolk Black Bombers all-black barnstorming football team played the Washington Willow Trees on Thanksgiving Day 1942 at the park. Stars co-owner Eddie Gottlieb organized a semi-professional baseball team called the “All-Phillies” which played at the field in its later years.
The field first opened on May 3, 1903. The ballpark itself was erected in the 1920s. Lights were added in 1933 to allow for night games.
Behind the park’s right-field fence stood the roundhouse of the main yard of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Stars player Stanley Glenn would later recount how smoke and soot from the coal-powered trains would waft into the ballpark. Glenn recalls that the Stars would often stop their games until the smoke had cleared from the field. Players recalled the field being rarely manicured resulting in the grass growing high.
Philadelphia Stars Baseball
The ballpark was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad and Stars co-owner Eddie Gottlieb leased it from the Railroad for the club. The Stars played their home games at the ballpark with the exception of Monday nights when the Stars would play in North Philadelphia at Shibe Park, home of the Philadelphia Athletics and starting in 1938, the Philadelphia Phillies.
Biographer Mark Ribowsky documented that Pittsburgh Crawfords catcher Josh Gibson hit a long home run in a game against the Stars early in the 1936 season that flew out of the ballpark. The ballpark was home to another famous incident, in which Satchel Paige was working on a perfect game through eight innings. In the ninth, after three intentional walks, Paige was so sure of himself that he told his seven fielders to lie down on the field. Paige struck out the side on nine pitches.
Negro League World Series games were often played at neutral game-sites to attract larger crowds. The Cleveland Buckeyes beat the Homestead Grays in game 4 of the 1945 Series at 44th and Parkside. Game 3 of the 1947 Series was also played at the Park in which the Buckeyes faced the New York Cubans.
Amazingly, the ballpark remained sturdy despite a woman named Miss Hattie Williams chopping wood from the grandstand with a hatchet most days. She used the wood as firewood to heat the washtub where she cooked the hot dogs for her concession stand behind home plate.
Across Belmont Avenue from the Memorial Park is the mural “Philadelphia Stars: a tribute to Negro League baseball”. The mural is part of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. It was painted by Philadelphia artist David McShane, and dedicated on September 19, 2006. The mural has been described as an “impressionistic collage of scenes”; McShane consulted with surviving Stars players on their memories of the ballpark before creating the work. The mural was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Philadelphia Green Program, the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, and the Business Association of West Parkside (which had also organized the creation of the Memorial Park). Former Stars players Glenn, Gould, Cash, and Duckett attended the dedication, as well as Phillies players Michael Bourn, Chris Roberson, and the artist McShane.