BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: July 1987; July 22, 2004 (NYY 1, TOR 0); Oct. 3, 2008 (tour).
ALL STAR GAMES: 1939, 1960, 1977, 2008 LIGHTS: 1946
WORLD SERIES: 1923, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003 (26 wins, 11 losses)
What physical structure is a better embodiment of the legendary greatness of our National Pastime than Yankee Stadium? The "House that Babe Ruth built" was the first baseball stadium with three decks, and it had the greatest capacity until Cleveland's Municipal Stadium was built eight years later. For many decades Yankee Stadium overawed opponents with its immense grandeur and the haunting legacy of past superstars.
In the "Original Era" (1923-1936), the lower deck extended all the way to the bullpen in left field, but only as far as the corner in right field. The top two decks only went as far as the right and left field corners. In 1924, home plate was moved 13 feet forward, to eliminate the "bloody angle" in the right field corner where line drives caromed unpredictably. From 1924 to 1927, the distance to left field line was 281 feet (not shown in the above diagrams). In 1928 the two upper decks were extended out to left center field, and a few rows of seats were removed from the left field corner. In the original version of Yankee Stadium, there was a slope between the warning track (which was also used for bicycle races) and the bleachers. That is indicated by the darker green band in the first two diagrams above. With the extremely asymmetrical dimensions, the Yankees' switch-hitting and left-handed sluggers "Ruthlessly" took advantage of inside pitches by knocking line drives over the short right field fence.
At the outset of the "Classic Era" (1937-1973), the original wooden bleachers were replaced by permanent bleachers, as the sharply angled outfield fence was reconfigured into a huge sweeping curve. This reduced the outfield distances considerably. During the 1937 season all three decks were extended around the right field corner, thereby completing the grandstand. In the right field corner a "bevel" notch similar to the one in the left field corner was created, except that the foul line actually lay flush against the wall. The original plans allowed for an eventual total enclosure of the field by all three decks (with an overall shape much like Candlestick Park or Phase Two of Anaheim Stadium), which would have resulted in a seating capacity of about 100,000. Common sense prevailed, thank goodness.
Monuments for Miller Huggins (1932), Lou Gehrig (1941), and Babe Ruth (1949) were placed in front of the flag pole in the deepest part of the outfield -- known as "Death Valley" -- on the left side of center field. Sometimes they got in the way of the center fielder as he pursued the ball. The outfield wall was highest along the straight portion in center field, tapering away gradually in left center and right center. The enormous bleachers provided plenty of room for the rowdy blue-collar fans of the Bronx to express their sentiments, and they were an integral part of the hellish experience for visiting teams. This was the era dominated by Joe DiMaggio and later, Mickey Mantle. In his rookie year, 1951, Mantle injured his knee on a sprinkler head cover during the World Series while trying to avoid a collision with Joe DiMaggio. It was only the first of several such leg injuries he suffered in the outfield, impairing his mobility and shortening his career. In 1956 and again in 1963 Mantle hit the
facade frieze atop the right field third deck, coming within inches of clearing the roof. No one ever hit a homer out of Yankee Stadium, at least not one that was documented. (Some say that Negro League player Josh Gibson did so.)
Negative aspects? The Bronx is not exactly the best example of urban charm, but it was cleaned up a bit and made safer during the 1990s. A major advantage is that the "subway" stop is located in back of the right field bleachers, even closer than the "El" train is to Wrigley Field. (See photo below.) Ironically, Yankee Stadium's seating capacity shrank over the years even as the structure was expanded in successive stages. The largest crowd ever there was 85,265, in 1928. Fire codes were often ignored in those days! In 1967 some kind of tower (for loudspeakers?) was installed in front of the center field fence, and the distance marker was changed to "463," apparently because it had been moved to the left.
CINEMA: Yankee Stadium was featured in the classic movies Pride of the Yankees (1942), The Babe Ruth Story (1948), It Happens Every Spring (1949), Angels in the Outfield (original version, 1951), Bang the Drum Slowly (1973), Major League (1989), and For the Love of the Game (1999). It also made appearances in many other films, including Speedy (1928), The Cameraman (1928), They Learned About Women (1930), Manhattan (1979), Life (1999), Anger Management (2003), and TV shows, most notably Seinfeld.
Yankee Stadium was the scene of several big boxing matches from the 1920s on, including Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Graziano, Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Floyd Patterson, and Mohammed Ali vs. Ken Norton in 1976. With an oblong-shaped outfield that was well suited for that other sport, it's not surprising that the Army-Navy football game was played there in 1930 and 1931. From 1956 until 1973 Yankee Stadium was also the home of the New York Giants football team, and such greats as Frank Gifford and Y. A. Tittle played there. Small temporary bleacher sections were installed for football games in right-center field in the mid-1960s. In some years, the gridiron was parallel to the third base line, and in other years it was parallel to the grandstand on that side. Various international exhibition soccer matches were held at Yankee Stadium over the years as well, and the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League played its home games there in 1971 and 1976. Befitting its grand status as a "Green Cathedral," Pope Paul VI said mass at Yankee Stadium on October 4, 1965, Pope John Paul II did so on October 2, 1979, and Pope Benedict XVI did so on April 20, 2008. Billy Joel, U2, and Pink Floyd are among the rock musicians who have performed in concert in Yankee Stadium.
Yankee Stadium was completely stripped and rebuilt in 1974 and 1975, during which time the Yankees moved to Queens and paid rent to the Mets for the use of Shea Stadium as their temporary "home." Meanwhile, an ingenious new system of suspension cables was installed in the upper decks, allowing the steel support beams to be removed, greatly improving visibility. In addition, the upper deck was expanded by ten rows (from 23 to 33), the only part that is covered by the new roof. The arched
facade frieze along front edge of the roof, which had long been Yankee Stadium's architectural trademark, was removed, though portions of it were retained as a scenic backdrop above the billboards and scoreboards behind the bleachers. Also, a new upper concourse level was built one story above the old one, so that all of the portals in the third deck were replaced by new ones eight or so rows toward the back. Another modification was that the entire playing field was lowered by about seven feet, allowing several additional rows of box seats to be squeezed in. Home plate was also moved forward by about 20 feet, but several rows of seats in the right and left field corners were removed, so that the distances down the lines actually increased slightly. Now the lower deck in right field is completely covered by the upper deck, and the right field foul pole is mere inches from the front edge of the upper deck. The bullpens were moved from the gaps between the bleachers and the grandstands in right and left fields, and put in front of the bleachers in what used to be "Death Valley." A new "Monument Park" was created to house the three historic monuments and those of newer generations of Yankee Legends. Unfortunately, it is out of play and pretty much out of sight for most fans. Monuments for Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio were placed in 1996 and 1999, respectively. On the wall in back are twenty plaques honoring former Yankee players, managers, announcers, and executives, as well as for two popes. There is also a monument for the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
After the 1974-1975 renovations were completed, the outfield dimensions were reduced considerably. For some reason (to placate stat-conscious sluggers, no doubt), an inner fence was installed in 1985, further reducing the distance to left-center field by 19 feet. That fence was moved several feet toward home plate yet again in 1988, and the Yankees' bullpen was also moved forward into the newly created gap. These changes tragically obliterated much of Yankee Stadium's distinctive asymmetrical layout.
As the 1990s progressed, it became clear that the stadium was in need of major repairs. In April 1998 an expansion joint in the upper deck on the third base side -- at or near the "seam" where the 1928 upper deck extension began -- broke and fell to the deck below. Yankee Stadium was briefly closed for structural assessments and repairs, and the Mets let the Yankees use Shea Stadium as a temporary home for one more game. Prior to the 2001 season a new ground-level section for handicapped folks was placed in the gap behind the left field fence, which was redone with plexiglass. A net covers that section to protect against home run balls.
One of the most emotional and dramatic moments in Yankee Stadium history came in October, 2001 when President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch in the World Series, joining Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in special ceremonies mourning the 3,000 lives lost in the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks. Prior to the the 2002 season, the infield was lowered by about 16 inches, when they installed a new sand-based turf drainage system which obviated the need for an old-fashioned runoff system.
In June 2005 it was announced that the Yankees had reached a firm agreement with city and state officials to build a new stadium on the north side of where the present stadium stands. The ceremonial groundbreaking took place on August 16, 2006, the 58th anniversary of the death of Babe Ruth, and construction neared completion during the latter months of the 2008 season. In the final game played in Yankee Stadium, September 21, 2008, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, and many other former Yankees made a guest appearance, and the Bronx Bombers beat the Baltimore Orioles, 7-3. Yankee Stadium was used to film a movie during the first half of 2009, after which demolition slowly got underway. The harsh winter weather delayed the completion of the grim task, but by Opening Day on April 13, 2010, all of the grandstand and most of the exterior structure were already gone. By the summer, nothing will be left but "photographs and memories."
SOURCES: Lowry (1992, 2006); Pastier (2007); USA Today Sports Weekly "Yankee Stadium Keepsake Edition" (2008); Gershman (1993); Spink (1947); Kahn (1954); Durant (1974); Ward and Burns (1994); Phil Pepe, The Yankees: An Authorized History of the New York Yankees (2003); Robinson and Jennison (2004); Gary Hermalyn and Anthony C.Greene, Yankee Stadium 1923-2008 (2009)
FAN TIPS: Bruce Orser (blueprints, many archival photos), A. G. Bassett, Matt Visco, Peter Piroso, Dave Peck, Ira Pastor, Josh Geiswite