The Original Yankee Stadium
Now that we have an official stoppage to the 2020 MLB season, I thought it would be a good time to change gears and not look back on great players, memorable seasons, feel good stories or some of the tragic stories we have written about this year.
Today, I’d like to remember an old friend…The Original Yankee Stadium.
It might seem a little unusual to get sentimental about brick and mortar, but it is what it is.
Prior to the Stadium being built, the Yankees actually shared the Polo Grounds, which was located in upper Manhattan, with the New York Giants, beginning in 1913.
Babe Ruth was drawing huge crowds of people by hitting long majestic home runs, and Yankee management wanted to build a huge triple deck stadium, to meet the fans demand.
So on May 5, 1922, they broke ground.
Over the next 284 days, yes it only took 284 days to build, Osborn Engineering Corporation of Cleveland, Ohio got busy and built the first structure to be actually called a Stadium.
The final product was a very large horseshoe shaped facility that became synonymous with New York City, excellence and most importantly, championships.
Yankee Stadium immediately got its famous nickname “The House that Ruth Built” on the day it opened on Wednesday, April 18, 1923.
Appropriately so, on that first opening day in 1923, 74,200 people saw Babe Ruth hit the first ever home run at the Stadium, as the Yankees defeated the Red Sox 4-1.
Here is the box score from that historic game.
This version of the Stadium would remain home to the Yankees and their fans until September 30, 1973, when the Stadium began a thorough and complete renovation.
During the 1974 and 1975 seasons, the Yankees went back to their roots, and shared a stadium with their cross town National League brothers, this time it was Shea Stadium and the Mets that opened their doors to the Yankees.
When the Stadium reopened on April 15, 1976, it became the Stadium that many of us remember, and the one that I spent many days and nights at; the second version of Yankee Stadium.
However, I have a memory of going to the original Stadium with my father as a young boy, and him pointing out some of the features of the old ball park. He pointing towards right field and describing a long home run he saw Mickey Mantle hit when he was a young man, pointing towards the monuments that were actually in play out in center field and trying to explain why they were actually on the field of play.
One memory that stands out is when we walked through the opening gates and made our way to the seats, the moment I saw that green grass and home white pinstriped uniforms is forever emblazoned in my mind. I had never seen anything like that before. Remember, this was back in the black and white TV days!
Very overwhelming for a 5 or 6 year old, to say the least. But I knew right then and there, this was a special place.
Although I do not remember it, I am sure Bob Sheppard’s voice filled the old ball park that day, as it would for many more years to come.
But for me, it’s the 1976 renovated Stadium, that I call an old friend. It was still the same field, same dirt, that Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and all the other greats played on, but the surrounding structure was new, and that was good by me.
This was the field of the great Munson, Nettles, Guidry, Chambliss, Randolph, Piniella, Jackson teams to the Mattingly, Winfield, Henderson, Righetti teams to the Jeter, Williams, Pettitte and Rivera teams!
Hallowed grounds for a lifetime Yankees fan!
When it reopened the most obvious change was the loss of its most iconic and familiar feature: the original roof and its well-known wrap around 15-foot copper facade that gave you the sensation of seeing an old carefully detailed picture frame adding to the beauty of the portrait it envelops.
To keep that historical feel, the renovated stadium had an exact replica of the facade, which continued to provide that nostalgic atmosphere and traditional Yankee Stadium tableau.
The white picket fence designed facade and large line scoreboard in left-center field become the renovated Yankee Stadium’s most recognizable features.
Of course, you cannot reminisce about the Stadium without mentioning Monument Park, where many monuments and plaques were hung to honor past Yankee greats. The monuments (that were in fair territory), were moved behind the left-center field fence between the bullpens.
In front of the visiting team’s bullpen was a pathway dedicated to the players and managers who had their numbers retired by the Yankees. The Yankees were the first team to permanently wear numbers and have retired more than any other team; the first being Lou Gehrig’s number 4 in 1939.
The retired numbers appeared on a wall with a plaque standing in front of each.
Monument Park was open for all fans to visit from the time the gates opened until 45 minutes before the first pitch.
Not to be forgotten was the best place to tell someone to meet you at the Game. The Bat.
The Bat was actually a 120-foot high boiler exhaust stack that was outside the main entrance, Gate 4. It was made to look like an inverted baseball bat. It had Babe Ruth’s signature and the famous Louisville Slugger seal.
Before and after games, it was always surrounded by people and vendors. Just a perfect meeting place that added to the whole charm of the Yankee Stadium experience.
Inside, adding to the nostalgia and setting the soundtrack for that specific game was a classic Hammond Organ, played by Eddie Layton until his retirement after the 2003 season.
The dimensions of the ballpark were also changed when she reopened in 1976. The left field line was 312 ft. Left center was 430 ft. Center field was 417 ft. Right center was 385 ft., and the short porch in right field was 310 ft.
Full capacity was reduced to 57,545 seats. At one point the original Stadium had 82,000 seats (1927).
With the exception of the bleachers, the majority of the seats were located between the foul poles in one of the stadium’s three levels.
When the Stadium was full, it really was a sight to be seen.
The huge upper deck presented a complete contrast in seating perspectives. In the tier boxes you were right on top of the field, while the tier reserved seats were far from the action, especially the higher you went. Honestly, no one seemed to care. I sat in those nose bleed seats many times.
The night Mattingly hit his one and only playoff home run, I was up there!
It was so big that the only way you could fully take in its famous exterior was to walk around the outside of the Stadium.
Going to the Stadium by train you would only get a brief glimpse of the Stadium when you arrived on the 4 train. But when you got off the train and went to the street level, you became part of a sea of Yankees fans walking down 161st beneath the elevated subway tracks.
There were a lot of vendors lining both sides of 161st. It was always kind of strange, but on the Yankee Stadium side, the vendors would sell hot dogs, etc. at inflated ballpark prices. But the other side of 161st had vendors set up outside of the local bars, and souvenir shops selling food and drinks at normal prices.
As it still is today, Stan’s was always a place to stop in before the game.
The Stadium’s main entrance was located behind home plate.
If you stepped back a little bit, the blue lettering of Yankee Stadium could be be seen, along with the “26 World Championships” banner. The Joe DiMaggio “I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee” quote adorned the facade, and a simple sign, visible from the highway, that announced the day’s opponent and starting game time.
The area around the opposite side of Yankee Stadium had a couple of baseball fields and basketball and handball courts in the shadow of the Stadium. Weather permitting, there were always league or pickup games going on.
Besides being the home of the New York Yankees, both the original and renovated stadium hosted many other events, such as:
1939 All Star Game
1960 All Star Game
1977 All Star Game
1970-1973, 1976-1987 Cape Cod Baseball League All Star games.
Many championship Boxing matches including the June 22, 1938 match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, in addition to other famous fights such as Rocky Graziano vs, Tony Zale, Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Joey Maxim, and Muhammad Ali vs. Ken Norton.
Many Notre Dame, Army and Syracuse College football games.
The New York Football Giants home field from 1956 – 1973.
Many International Soccer games.
Billy Joel concert in 1990.
U2 concert in 1992.
Pink Floyd concert in 1994.
Many religious ceremonies including Pope Paul VI in 1965, Pope John Paul II 1979, and Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.
1990 rally for Nelson Mandela.
On September 23, 2001, Yankee Stadium held a memorial service for victims of the 9/11 attack.
The closing of the original Yankee Stadium was a setback to the game’s history, and reduced the number of ballpark gems left in our country, to a just a few.
To me it was the end of an era. The closing of a chapter.
The last pitch was thrown on September 21, 2008.
By May of 2010 she was completely demolished.
The new Stadium, now across the street, a beautiful modern building, has all the new amenities that fans now want. You can go to the new Monument Park, there is a facade and a huge new scoreboard. But, it lacks that special something.
Time moves on, and we have to adjust.
It’s an intangible, but if you spent a lot of time at the original stadium, you know what I mean.