In 1943, baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, at the request of Joseph Eastman, head of the U.S. Office of Defense Transportation, asked all major-league teams to train in the chilly north. This Landis-Eastman line replaced the Mason-Dixon line for baseball geographers, drawn as it was along the Ohio and Potomac rivers. Not since 1919, when the nearly bankrupt St. Louis Cardinals trained in a drafty gym at Washington University, had major leaguers welcomed a new season in such cold environs.
The Landis-Eastman line made for some unusual spring training camps. The Dodgers relocated from tropical Havana to frigid Bear Mountain, New York. The Cubs swapped sunny Catalina Island for icy French Lick, Indiana. The Boston Braves, led by manager Casey Stengel, moved into the Winter Exercise Building at The Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut, alma mater to Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy.
The Giants set up camp in Lakewood, New Jersey, the same little town in which the Giants had trained in 1897 and 1898. The site, which the Giants shared with their Jersey City farm club, was upon a wooded estate recently owned by the Rockefeller family. (The Rockefellers had donated the estate to Ocean County in 1941, and the golf course and estate were now officially Ocean County Park.)
Camp opened on March 14, with Lakewood’s mayor and 1,200 of its citizens lining the streets as the Giants proceeded from the train station to the estate, taken there in horse-drawn carriages much like those the team used in 1898. (In addition to serving nostalgia, the carriages saved fuel needed for the war effort.) When the Giants arrived at the camp, they found practice diamonds gently carved out of a golf course where the John D. Rockefeller himself had once handed out dime tips to caddies who’d earned his favor. The players bunked in a mansion that had also once been the residence of the old monopolist. It featured private rooms for the players, a jukebox, and, most importantly, heat. The Sporting News facetiously noted that the Giants “are faced with an imposing scarcity of butlers and a beastly shortage of caviar.”
The vagaries of a northern spring regularly interfered with training plans. When spring training began, the golf course was blanketed in snow. It was cold more often than not, with a raw wind sweeping across the estate. Scheduled games against the Jersey City farm club, and intrasquad games, too, had to sometimes be abandoned. The rich, stable turf of the golf course, now maintained by the Giants’ groundskeeping crew, allowed the Giants to conduct batting and fielding drills with a minimum of interruption. Manager Mel Ott acknowledged to the reporters that it wasn’t Miami, but he had instructed his players to never squawk about the conditions. “There’s a war on,” he explained in an interview.
Dan Daniels of the New York World-Telegram wrote about that year’s spring training:
There is no Florida sun. There are no bathing beauties. There are fewer steaks and it is tougher to get up a perspiration. There are more aches and muscles that never hurt before, squawks against calisthenics. There are dull hours. But there are good beds and long nights in which to rest in them.
As another concession to wartime travel restrictions, Giant secretary Eddie Brannick announced an exhibition schedule made up of 13 games rather than the usual 30 to 35. It would open April 9, against a U.S. Army Air Corp team at Camp Mitchel on Long Island. The Giants would play the Boston Red Sox on April 10 at the Polo Grounds. Two games, April 17 and 18 at the Polo Grounds, would be against the Washington Senators. The exhibition season would close April 19, with a game against the U.S. Military Academy’s team at West Point, New York. Other games included tilts against the Fort Hancock coastal artillery and Ellis Island Coast Guard teams, at New Brunswick, New Jersey, and Lakewood, respectively. The Giants would also play the Jersey City “Little” Giants, both at Lakewood and at service facilities.
Three of the exhibition games would be against the rival Brooklyn Dodgers, but only one of those three would be for the entertainment of Manhattan and Brooklyn fans. That game would be held on April 14 at the Polo Grounds. The other two Giant-Dodger exhibitions would be played before U.S. Army soldiers, the first on April 12 at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and the second on April 13 at Camp Upton on Long Island.