Another spring, another season, another baseball opening day.
One of the most memorable of openings days at the “House That Ruth Built” took place in 1927 when the old Yankee Stadium was just four years old.
Owner Colonel Jacob Ruppert was very upbeat about prospects for baseball in 1927 but was muted in his predictions for his team. He did not seem to have a clue as to what tremendous accomplishments lay ahead for his Yankees.
“Everything indicates that 1927 will be one of the most remarkable in baseball history,” Ruppert told reporters. Although born in New York, he had never lost the German accent inherited from his paternal grandfather. It was an accent that became thicker when he became emotional, usually when talking about the Yankees.
On April 10th , a New York Times headline proclaimed:
“BIG LEAGUE SEASON TO OPEN ON TUESDAY: Yanks Will Greet Athletics, Picked by Many to Win Flag, at the Stadium”
“Well, it won't be long now,” James R. Harrison wrote in The Times. “Only a few days more and the greatest show on earth will be on. Tired business men will lock their desks and go uptown for an important "conference" at 3:30 P.M. The mortality rate among the grandparents of office boys will take an alarming jump . . .”
Everything was in readiness for the Yankees of New York beginning their fifth season at their majestic Yankee Stadium home field in the Bronx.
"The big parade toward Yankee Stadium started before noon yesterday,” Peter Vischer described Opening Day 1927 in the New York World. “Subways brought ever-increasing crowds into the Bronx. Taxicabs arrived by the hundreds. Buses came jammed to the doors. The parade never stopped.”
"Yankee Stadium was a mistake, not mine but the Giants’," Ruppert had said. The site was chosen for among other reasons to irritate the Yankees former landlords the Giants and because the IRT Jerome Avenue subway line snaked its way virtually atop the Stadium's right-field wall.
Built at a cost of $2.5 million, "The Yankee Stadium", as it was originally named, and nick-named "the House that Ruth Built,"when the park first opened in 1923 by Fred Lieb always one especially handy coming up with a catch phrase, had a brick-lined vault storing electronic equipment under second base, making it feasible to have a boxing ring and press area on the infield.
Yankee Stadium was the first ballpark to be called a stadium. A mammoth horseshoe shaped by triple-decked grandstands, the edifice’s huge wooden bleachers circled the park. The 10,712 upper-grandstand seats and 14,543 lower grandstand seats had been fixed in place by 135,000 individual steel castings upon which 400,000 pieces of maple lumber were fastened by more than a million screws. Sod from Long Island, 16,000 square feet of it, was trucked in.
The Stadium had eight toilet rooms for men and as many for women scattered throughout the stands and bleachers, a nice touch for the time. A 15-foot deep copper facade adorned the front of the roof, covering much of the Stadium's third deck, giving it an elegant almost dignified air. This decorative and distinctive element was the ball park’s logo.
Seating capacity in 1927 was now 62,000, increased from 58,000. The admission price for the 22,000 bleacher seats (the most in baseball) was reduced in 1927 from 75 cents to 50 cents. Grandstand admission was $1.10. All wooden seats were painted blue. In right center field there was a permanent "Ruthville" sign. Sometimes , the area was also called "Gehrigville".
The left-field pole was but a short 281-foot poke from home plate. It was 415 feet to left, 490 feet to left center, 487 feet to dead center, 429 feet to right center, 344 feet to right, and 295 feet down the right field line. The 82 feet behind home plate made for plenty of room for a catcher to run and chase wild pitches, passed balls, foul balls.
Above the bleachers in right centerfield was the manual scoreboard. The Yankee bullpen looked out on left centerfield. The dark green Yankee dugout was on the third base side of the field and remained there until 1946.
"By game time the vast structure was packed solid," Peter Vicher’s article continued. "April 12, 1927, Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. Rows of men were standing in back of the seats and along the runways. Such a crowd had never seen a baseball game or any other kind of game in New York."
The crowd was the largest in all the history of baseball, 73,206, breaking the previous attendance record of 63,600 that had been set in Game 2 of the 1926 World Series. Another 25,000 were turned away.There were 9,000 guests of the New York Yankees plus one thousand who were able to get in with passes.
On the balmy, almost summery day, the Seventh Regiment Band dressed in gray outfits began playing with vim and gusto. Red coated ushers, really into their effort of trying to keep the level of behavior orderly, worked the crowd, seating people.
At 3:25 the string bean manager Cornelius McGillicuddy (Connie Mack) of the Philadelphia Athletics, in dark civilian clothes and high stiff collar who was featured on that week’s Time Magazine cover, and the wisp of a Yankee pilot Miller Huggins posed for photographs.
Mayor Jimmy Walker, 45, typified New York City and the 1920s. A svelte, more dressed up model of the gregarious Babe Ruth, Walker in 1927 was happily involved with Betty Compton, 23, an actress. The two of them, it was said, had a gay time of it in their Ritz Hotel suite. Largely ignoring public mention of the relationship, the press instead gave lots of attention to the way Walker dressed, the parties he attended, the stories he told.
Urbane, dashing, positioned in Ruppert's private box, the Mayor threw out the first ball – twice, taking no chance to miss a photo op, to Eddie Bennett, referred to in newspapers of the time as “the hunchback bat boy.”
Bennett gave players their bats, presented baseballs to umpires. He let his cap and hump be rubbed by Yankees before games. He sat on the bench next to Miller Huggins, observing and pointing out things out on the field, a kind of precursor to today’s bench coaches. He would bring bicarbonate of soda to Babe Ruth before every game generally during batting practice after the big man had downed his massive quota of hot dogs and soda pop.
Ruth and Bennett would create laughs for early arrivals at the Stadium by engaging in a highly animated game of catch. Starting about ten feet apart, they would toss the ball back and forth. Ruth would throw the ball after a while about a foot above Bennett’s reach, and he would scamper after it. They would repeat the routine and the Yankee mascot would bitch a bit to the Babe who would feign total innocence. The game continued until Bennett found himself backed up against the screen behind home plate. To some, the whole ritual was viewed as cruel behavior on Ruth’s part, a taunting, shaming of a cripple. It wasn’t – just two guys playing around.
On this day of days, the Yankees had two loud voiced announcers using megaphones to inform the crowd of the on-the- field goings on. Previously one megaphoner had sufficed, colorful Jack Lentz, longtime announcer, who wore a derby hat and sometimes mangled the King's English. He was joined by George Levy, who had made a reputation working the Polo Grounds. He wore a soft hat and made use of a smallish megaphone. The work of the announcers was simple: speak the name of each player as he came to bat; keep silent after that except when a new player entered the game.
Knowledgeable fans noticed a significant change in New York’s white wool flannel home uniforms for 1927. "Yankees" was now on the front of the jersey rather than the name of the city. Navy blue vertical pinstripes and stirrups accentuated the uniform. Players wore navy blue caps with a white interlocking "NY" in script on the front. The v-necked shirts had a brief tapered extension around the neck. Sleeves extended over the elbows, and the knicker pants reached just below the knees. Belts and cleats were black. On the road, the team from the Bronx would wear a gray uniform with "YANKEES" in navy blue block letters across the chest, and two colored stirrups, navy blue on top and rust on bottom.
By noon, a carnival-like atmosphere pervaded the area around Yankee Stadium. Swarms of hawkers, vendors, gawkers and fans intermingled in a circus of sounds and colors.
By three o'clock most unreserved seats had been snatched up. Lines of police were at River Avenue in the back of the park and also along the approaches in front of the Stadium. New York’s Finest checked carefully allowing only those with tickets to pass.
It was exactly half past three when the game got underway.
The Yankees, scoring four runs in the fifth and sixth innings, triumphed, 8-3, They were in first place where they would remain day in and day out throughout the season.