Yankee Stadium

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Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium, one of the oldest stadiums in the United States is a shrine to baseball fans. Some of the game's most dramatic and historic moments have occurred there. But this most hallowed of ballparks, haunted by the ghosts of baseball past, is also one of the sport's grittiest, most plebeian arenas, famed around the major leagues for its rowdy, roughhouse Bronx crowd.

The Yankee Stadium area covers approximately 11.6 acres in the South Bronx, with the playing field itself spanning 3.5 acres. Construction began on the new park, designed as a permanent home for New York's American League baseball team, on May 5, 1922. On April 18 of the following year, Yankee Stadium opened to the public. Yankee right fielder Babe Ruth promptly delivered the edifice's first home run. Soon the park was renowned for its 296-foot "short porch" in right field, conducive to home runs by left-handed hitters. Righties were commensurately daunted by "Death Valley," a 457-foot expanse in left-center where sure home runs miraculously turned into fly ball outs. With the advent of night baseball in 1946, a combination of 800 multi-vapor and incandescent lamps were installed to illuminate the field.

In 1932, the Yankees began to honor their greatest legends with the erection of monuments and plaques in the outfield section of the stadium. The first monument was dedicated to the memory of Miller Huggins, the manager who led the team to three world championships in the 1920s. Subsequent plaques and monuments have honored team captains Lou Gehrig and Thurman Munson, both of whom died tragically, as well as Hall of Fame players like Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle. Originally located on the playing field itself, the monuments posed a curious obstacle for outfielders, who often had to dodge the memorials to retrieve fly balls. Relocated in 1976 to a new area dubbed "Monument Park," the monuments are now safely behind the outfield fences and available for viewing by the public.

In 1973, as the Yankees completed their fiftieth anniversary season in what was now known as "The House That Ruth Built," Yankee Stadium was remodeled and renovated. While the two-year project was under way, the team played its home dates at nearby Shea Stadium. The new Yankee Stadium opened on April 15, 1976, to mostly positive reviews. The building's distinctive art deco facade was retained in part and relocated to the centerfield bleachers.

In both its incarnations, Yankee Stadium has played host to some of baseball's most historic moments. On September 27, 1927, Babe Ruth clouted his record sixtieth home run there off Washington Senators pitcher Tom Zachary. Thirty-four years later, Yankee out-fielder Roger Maris eclipsed Ruth's record with his sixty-first homer off the Boston Red Sox Tracy Stallard, a mark which stood until St. Louis Cardinal Mark McGwire shattered it in 1998. The old stadium also provided the setting for some emotional farewells, from a dying Lou Gehrig's inspiring valedictory in 1939, when he told the world he was "the luckiest man on the face of the earth," to a cancer-ravaged Babe Ruth's last salute in 1948. In 1977, the Yankees celebrated their return to championship status after a 15-year drought in the Bronx ballpark after a clinching game that saw slugging outfielder Reggie Jackson club three home runs off three different Los Angeles Dodger pitchers. The following April, jubilant fans showered the field with "Reggie Bars," a chocolate and peanut confection named for the hot-dogging star after he vowed he would become so famous "they'll name a candy bar after me."

Candy bars have not been the only objects to come flying out of the Yankee Stadium stands over the years. At various times, golf balls, shot glasses, batteries, assorted coins, and torrents of beer have been flung onto the field by jubilant, angry, or just plain inebriated fans looking to terrorize Yankee opponents. The prevailing air of rowdiness has occasionally taken a more endearing form, as when ten-year-old Jeffrey Maier snatched a fly ball away from Baltimore Oriole right fielder Tony Tarasco during the 1996 American League Championship series, resulting in a game-tying Yankee home run. Around the major leagues, Yankee Stadium is known as an exhilarating, if intimidating, place to play, in part due to its fans.

In the 1990s, baseball's pre-eminent shrine suffered the ironic fate of becoming something of a political football, when Yankee owner George Steinbrenner loudly threatened to move the team when its lease expired if he could not get a new stadium constructed with municipal assistance. New York politicians responded with recrimi-nation and posturing. Several civic leaders called for a referendum aimed at keeping the team in the Bronx. Baseball purists and fans of the old building largely sided with them. The fact that the team's crosstown rivals—the New York Mets—play in Shea Stadium, a drab cookie cutter facility, has contributed to the glorification of "the Stadium" as one of baseball's high holy places. Even as the Yankees won their twenty-fourth World Series in 1998, Steinbrenner continued to threaten to move the team if a new stadium is not built. Despite the stadium's hallowed status, Steinbrenner's wish may become a reality. When a beam fell from the roof during the 1997-1998 season (luckily when the stadium was empty) the future of Yankee Stadium seemed more uncertain than ever.

—Robert E. Schnakenberg

Further Reading:

Gershman, Michael. Diamonds: The Evolution of the Ballpark. New York, Houghton Mifflin, 1995.

Lowry, Phillip J. Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebrations of All 273 Major League and Negro League Ballparks Past and Present. Cooperstown, Society for American Baseball Research, 1986.

Robinson, Ray, and Christopher Jennison. Yankee Stadium: 75 Years of Drama, Glamor, and Glory. New York, Penguin Studio, 1998.