Remembering Yankee Stadium
The recent ground breaking for a new
Yankee Stadium to be ready for business in 2009 led your faithful scribe
to muse on the one that has a couple of more seasons left in it. Only
Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are older. It's where Notre Dame coach
Knute Rockne made his "Win One for the Gipper" speech, where Johnny
Unitas won the 1958 NFL championship in the so-called "Greatest Game
Ever Played," where Muhammad Ali fought. It's where Casey Stengel hit
the first World Series home run for the old New York Giants - an
inside-the-park job in Game One of the 1923 World Series, where Mickey
Mantle blasted a fly ball off the third-deck facade, 109 feet above the
playing field and 374 feet from home plate. It's where Thurman Munson's
locker remains the way it was the day he died in a 1979 airplane crash
with his Number 15 jersey and catching gear still intact.
From 1903 until April 11, 1913, the New York Highlanders on their way to
becoming the New York Yankees - played all their home games at Hilltop
Park. Then they became tenants of the New York Giants at the Polo
Grounds. In 1920, Yankee attendance, boosted by the drawing power of
the sensational new slugger Babe Ruth, doubled to 1,289,422, more than a
hundred thousand more than the Giants.
The relationship between the two franchises, never especially cordial,
turned even more testy following that 1920 season. The next year, the
Giants told the Yankees they were no longer welcome as tenants at the
Polo Grounds and should vacate the premises as soon as possible.
Ironically, Yankee co-owner Jake Ruppert had thought of demolishing the
Polo Grounds and constructing a 100,000 seat stadium to be shared by the
Giants and Yankees. Now, however, he and his partner Colonel
Tillinghast l'Hommedieu Huston announced plans to build a new ballpark
for the Yankees alone. It would be, Ruppert said, along the lines of the
On February 6, 1921, the Yankees issued a press release announcing the
purchase of ten acres of property on the site of a lumberyard in the
west Bronx obtained from the estate of William Waldorf Astor for
$675,000. Directly across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds, it was
at the mouth of a little body of water called Crowell's Creek.
Identified as City Plot 2106, Lt 100, the land had been a farm owned by
John Lion Gardiner prior to the Revolutionary War. "It was all
farmland," recalled former Giant ticket taker Joe Flynn. "It was
beautiful. You could get fresh milk and vegetables there."
Two weeks before construction on the stadium began, Rupert bought out
Huston's ownership share of the Yankees for $1,500,000. The White
Construction Company began work May 5, 1922, agreeing to complete the
project "at a definite price" ($2.5-million) and by Opening Day 1923.
The architectural firm, Osborne Engineering Company of Cleveland, Ohio,
was under mandate to create the greatest and grandest ballpark of its
day. Original plans called for the Stadium to be triple decked and
roofed all the way around. It was to be shaped like the Yale Bowl and
contain towering battlements enclosing the entire park that would render
events inside "impenetrable to all human eyes, save those of aviators."
Those without tickets would have no view of the action.
Alas, this initial, soaring grand plan was quickly abandoned in favor of
less ambitious designs. Yankee Stadium was indeed a gigantic horseshoe
shaped edifice circled by huge wooden bleachers. But the triple-decked
grandstand did not reach either foul pole. And whether Ruppert liked it
or not, action on the playing field was to be highly visible from the
elevated trains that passed by the outfield as well as from the
buildings that were to sprout across River Avenue.
The new ballpark was to have unique touches, however, such as "eight
toilet rooms for men and as many for women scattered throughout the
stands and bleachers" and a decorative element that would become the
logo feature of Yankee Stadium: a 15-foot deep copper facade adorning
the front of the roof, covering much of the Stadium's third deck giving
it an elegant and dignified air. Another singular element of "The Yankee
Stadium", as it was originally named, was a 15-foot-deep brick-lined
vault beneath second base that contained electrical, telephone, and
telegraph connections and allowed for a boxing ring and press area to be
set up on the infield. Yankee executive offices were moved from midtown
Manhattan and located between the main and mezzanine decks; an elevator
connected them with the main entrance.
The first ballpark to be called a stadium, the last privately financed
park in the major leagues, the new park boasted 10,712 upper-grandstand
seats and 14,543 lower grandstand seats locked in place by 135,000
individual steel castings on which 400,000 pieces of maple lumber were
held down by more than a million screws.
The park's dimensions favored left-handed power, read Babe Ruth. The
right-field foul pole was but 295 feet from home plate, although it was
429 feet in right center. The left-field pole was but a short 281-foot
poke from home. Right-handed batters had to contend with a 395-foot
left field and left center. The park's deepest points were a distant
460 feet away. The outfield warning track was initially made of red
cinders, later of red brick dust.
Yankee Stadium's inaugural game took place April 18, 1923. . . .
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