Honoring the immigrant who became owner of famed Dexter Park stadium in Woodhaven: Our Neighborhood, The Way it Was

dexter park
Dexter Park in Woodhaven, Queens; home of the Bushwicks, site of many contests with the greatest players of the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball, and the birthplace of night baseball.
Photo courtesy of Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society

Max Rosner was an immigrant from Hungary who arrived in the United States in 1892 and opened a cigar shop. He eventually became the owner of an independent semi-pro team, the Bushwicks, and Dexter Park stadium in Woodhaven.

Max Rosner will be honored on Saturday, July 1, in a ceremony starting at 11 a.m. when a street sign in his honor will be unveiled at Dexter Court and 86th Road.

The sign was requested by the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society and Councilman Robert Holden and approved by the New York City Council.

As a young arrival to our country, Rosner became enamored with the game of baseball and even played shortstop for a while before becoming a manager. He eventually took over as manager of the Bushwicks, a Brooklyn-based team that played frequently in Dexter Park, a grassy field in Woodhaven.

Dexter Park had become the home field for the Brooklyn Royal Giants, one of the top teams in the Negro Leagues and became the full-time home of the Bushwicks in 1913.

In 1922, Rosner partnered with Nat Strong and became co-owners of the Bushwicks and together they bought Dexter Park for $200,000. They immediately announced plans to build a grandstand, made completely from cement and steel, seating over 7,000 fans. The new stadium would also have wooden bleachers that would accommodate an additional 5,000 spectators.

The Bushwicks played other local semi-pro teams but the much of the time they played against the famous Negro League teams of that time, including the Homestead Greys and the Black Yankees. Some of the most famous African-American players of the time came to Woodhaven to show off their skills, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson (all future Hall of Famers) among them.

Another popular opponent was the House of David, a barnstorming team born from a religious group. The players had long hair and beards and used baseball to raise money and spread their word. Sometimes, they hired famous ball players that would either grow beards or wear false ones in order to play.

And after the major league season was over, Rosner and Strong would bring in All-Star teams from the National and American Leagues, or teams called World Series Stars, meaning that many of Major League Baseball’s greatest stars came here to Woodhaven.

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were regulars, as was Hank Greenberg, Carl Hubbell, Dizzy Dean, Jimmy Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Casey Stengel and many other future Hall of Famers came to play ball in Woodhaven.

Baseball greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were regulars at Dexter Park, coming to Woodhaven every October after the World Series was over.Photo courtesy of Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society

On one memorable day in 1935, legendary pitchers Dazzy Vance and Grover Cleveland Alexander faced off against each other in the first game of a doubleheader and thousands of fans packed the stadium to see the match-up of these two pitching greats.

Rosner’s son Herman was a lawyer and an electrician and it was he who set up the light towers so that Dexter Park became the first stadium in the nation to regularly feature night games, on July 23, 1930, five seasons before the first night game in the Major Leagues (in Cincinnati in 1935).

Rosner was very generous with his stadium, giving away free tickets regularly and using the stadium for fundraisers for good causes, such as selling war bonds. He was so beloved in Woodhaven the Leader referred to him as Uncle Max.

There were many factors that sealed Dexter Park’s fate. When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, the best Negro League players went into the Major Leagues and their fans followed.

At around the same time, baseball began televising games, especially the World Series. This led to increased popularity for Major League games, attendance at Dexter Park suffered and the Bushwicks folded.

In 1951, Rosner announced that Dexter would host Stock Car Racing and for the next few years the roar of engines became a familiar sound in that part of Woodhaven.

Racing gave Dexter Park a temporary shot in the arm, but it was short lived. Rosner passed away in 1953 and a few years later the park closed for good. The property was sold and converted into residential housing.

Today, a marker erected by the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society reminds locals that there used to be a ball field here. On July 1, the man behind that stadium will be honored by the neighborhood that loved and cherished him, his team and the stadium that he built.