History continues at new Stadium
It's not the same field Ruth played on, but he'd feel at home
NEW YORK -- There's no getting around it. You can't look down from the grandstands of the new Yankee Stadium and imagine Babe Ruth swatting one into the seats, or envision a dying Lou Gehrig proclaiming himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
The mind's eye struggles to see Joe DiMaggio flagging down fly balls in the gap, and Mickey Mantle isn't holding his bat in the on-deck circle, because they never did on this patch of land.
The renovations in the 1970s may have led Yogi Berra to say that he never played at the now-vacant Yankee Stadium, but none of the legends laced up their cleats in the former Macombs Dam Park.
And that's OK. If Ruth hopped out of a taxi cab at the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue tomorrow, you could picture him instantly recognizing the vaulted archways and ornate eagle medallions of the Gate 4 entrance. Ruth might just assume future technology had remodeled his old home for the better.
"Everything's new," Derek Jeter said. "There will be a bunch of firsts -- the first hit, the first run, home run. This will be fun for a lot of players. But as far as the tradition, that carries over. It's still the Yankees organization. The memories don't start over just because we're here."
With that tradition in mind, the architecture includes modern amenities within the framework of classic elements of the original 1923 Yankee Stadium. The signature frieze has been restored to the top of the stadium bowl, attached to a roof that extends into the stadium and covering the top rows of the grandstand.
That means when Jeter, Mark Teixeira or even Cody Ransom slings a bat over a shoulder, posing for one of those classic waist-up baseball card photos, the frieze will be just as evident as it was when those images flapped in bicycle spokes four decades ago.
"I see it as classy," Yankees co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner said. "We did our best to bring all the tradition this great franchise has had the last century into this ballpark. At the same time, we made it as nice as we can for our fans. I think this building is very classy, it's going to be here a long, long time, and I think we did a great job. I think everybody in the organization is proud of it."
Visitors will quickly spot the manually operated auxiliary scoreboards in left and right-center field, made famous in images of Don Larsen's 1956 perfect game. Monument Park remains intact and on display after moving across the street, now located behind the center-field fence.
"Everything you put in the building is a reflection on history and tradition," said Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost. "That goes into the architecture. The seats are different, but it's still Yankee Stadium. The concourses are different, but it's still Yankee Stadium."
Everyone should be able to find their new favorite locations, but it might take some time and some hunting in a building 63 percent larger than its predecessor.
"I have been through every nook and cranny, but I still have a hard time getting around," Steinbrenner said. "It's going to take a while, it's such a big facility, even compared to across the street. I just don't think there's a bad view in this stadium.
"I love that there's seats that amaze me near the bleachers. You're basically right out over the bullpens. Those seats are tremendous -- it's incredible to see the whole stadium with the frieze and all. That's my favorite. Every time I do a tour, I make sure to go out there."
On the main level near Gate 6, the New York Yankees Museum tells the story of the franchise through a variety of artifacts and memorabilia. If you wanted to see Thurman Munson's locker at the old Stadium, you probably needed to be wearing pinstriped pants -- or at the very least, a press credential. The captain's stall now proudly presides over the rest of the greats.
And if Ruth, 2009 edition, felt inclined to stroll down Memory Lane, he'd find the city of New York calls it Babe Ruth Plaza these days. Located on the south side of the stadium between Gates 4 and 6, the plaza honors Ruth with a series of storyboards displayed on light posts, recounting his life story.
In fairness, the thumbprint on the new Yankee Stadium traces the names in Monument Park as much as it does the Boss' signature, on the desk that once bore the memorable phrase, 'Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way.' The stadium was the vision of George M. Steinbrenner, and so it may be just as appropriate to call it "The House that George Built."
"He knows that a lot of thought was put into this stadium, the way it was designed and the things that we've offered for the fans," Hal Steinbrenner said of his father. "He knows that we put money into the payroll every year to try and produce a top caliber team for the fans. His advice was that this is wonderful, it's going to be magnificent, just make sure it's good for the fans. That's what we're trying to do."
The end result drew rave reviews from Yankees players, who spent as much time gawking into the sky during a workout Thursday as they did hitting, running and throwing.
"This is going to be the place to be in baseball," Teixeira said. "And hopefully for a long time."
It was Jeter who memorably said in 2006 that the ghosts would move across the street with the Yankees, that it wasn't too far of a walk for them to stroll across a street. But Jeter said Thursday that he hadn't witnessed anything supernatural during the Yankees' workout.
"I think they'll wait for the games," he said.
Still, it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to imagine Ruth walking the Great Hall and liking a whole lot of it. After all, do you think the Bambino would have much complained much if his house had come equipped with a steakhouse and martini bar?
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.