Only a year after they changed Baseball forever with the purchase of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees made another buy that would forever change the way the game was watched.
On February 6, 1921, the Yankees issued a press release to announce the purchase of 10 acres of property in the west Bronx. The land, purchased from the estate of William Waldorf Astor for $675,000, sat directly across the Harlem River from the Yankees' current Manhattan home, the Polo Grounds, which they shared unhappily with the landlord Giants of the National League since 1913.
The relationship between the Giants and their tenant crumbled after the 1920 season when Yankee attendance boosted by their new slugging sensation doubled to 1,289,422. That was over 100,000 more than the Giants, who, in 1921, notified the Yankees to vacate the Polo Grounds as soon as possible. With their departure from the Polo Grounds now inevitable, Yankee co-owners Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast l'Hommedieu Huston set out to build a spectacular ballpark of their own, Baseball's first triple-decked structure. With an advertised capacity of 70,000, it would also be the first to be labeled a "stadium."
Original plans of the architect the Osborne Engineering Company of Cleveland, Ohio had the Stadium triple-decked and roofed all the way around. An early press release, in fact, described the Yankees' new home as a field enclosed with towering embattlements, rendering the events inside "impenetrable to all human eyes, save those of aviators." But the initial, grand design was quickly scaled back with the triple-decked grandstand not reaching either foul pole. Contrary to the owners' wishes, the action would be more than visible from the elevated trains that passed by the outfield as well as from the buildings that would spring up across River Avenue. Fortunately, a purely decorative element also survived the project's early downsizing and would become the park's most recognizable feature. A 15-foot deep copper facade would adorn the front of the roof which covered much of the Stadium's third deck. It would give Yankee Stadium an air of dignity that no park has possessed -- either before or since.
The new stadium would favor lefthanded power with the right-field foul pole only 295 feet from home plate (though it would shoot out to 429 by right center). Though the left-field pole measured only 281 feet from the plate, righthanded hitters were neutralized by a 395-foot left field and a whopping 460 to left center. It would also be friendly to patrons, boasting an unheard of "eight toilet rooms for men and as many for women scattered throughout the stands and bleachers." (When the Stadium was remodeled 50 years later, it included more than 50 restrooms.) The club's executive offices would be moved from midtown Manhattan and located between the main and mezzanine decks with an electric elevator connecting them with the main entrance.
The construction contract was awarded to New York's White Construction Co. on May 5, 1922 with the edict that the job must be completed "at a definite price" ($2.5-million) and by Opening Day 1923. Incredibly, it was. In only 284 working days, Yankee Stadium was ready for its inaugural game on April 18, 1923 vs. the Boston Red Sox.
Officially, 74,200 fans packed Yankee Stadium for their first glimpse of Baseball's grandest facility while thousands more milled around outside after the fire department finally ordered the gates closed. Before the game began, John Phillip Sousa and the Seventh Regiment Band led both clubs to the flagpole in deep center field where the American flag and the Yankees' 1922 pennant were raised. Appropriately, Babe Ruth christened his new home with a three-run homer to cap a four-run third inning as the Yankees coasted to a 4-1 win.
Because it was widely recognized that Ruth's tremendous drawing power made the new stadium possible, it would immediately become known as "The House That Ruth Built." Later that season, the Stadium hosted the first of 33 World Series and the Yankees won their first World Championship over their former landlord, the Giants. Of course, as the Stadium became the stage for a staggering number of World titles - now totaling 26 - it also would become known as "The Home of Champions."
In its early years, when wooden bleachers surrounded the outfield, a grass slope approached the outfield walls from foul pole to foul pole. Outfielders, especially Ruth in right, routinely backed up the small hill to pull down fly balls. Atop the bleachers were advertising signs except for a lone, manually operated, wooden scoreboard in right-center field which was "big enough to record 12 innings for games played by every club in the two major leagues." Over the years, the board would be replaced by more modern models. The Yankees, in fact, would unveil the first electronic message board in 1959. By 1928, the Stadium was ready for its first major facelift as the triple-deck grandstand in left field was extended beyond the foul pole to its current termination point. The right-field grandstand was extended in 1937, allowing "upper-deck" home runs in both directions. With the '37 expansion of the grandstand, the remaining wooden bleachers were replaced by a concrete structure and the distance to center field dropped from 490 feet to a still-astronomical 461 feet.
Except for the addition of lights in 1946, the look of Yankee Stadium would now remain relatively the same until the winter of 1966-67. Then, under the direction of its new owner, CBS, the 44-year-old facility received a $1.5-million modernization, most of which was spent on paint (90 tons of it). The brown concrete exterior was painted white as was the by-now greenish copper facade. And all of the grandstand seats went from green to blue, a color scheme that would be retained when the Stadium was completely remodeled after the 1973 season.
On August 8, 1972, after years of debate about the future of the aging ballpark, the Yankees signed a 30-year lease with the City of New York which called for Yankee Stadium to be completely modernized in time for the 1976 season. After completing the Stadium's 50th-Anniversary season in 1973, the Yankees moved to Shea Stadium for two seasons while their home was almost completely demolished and then rebuilt.
The most striking change of the modernization would be the removal of the numerous, obstructive steel columns which supported the second and third decks as well as the roof. By "cantilevering" the upper decks and by lowering the playing field while increasing the slope of the lower stands, sight lines for fans would be dramatically improved. Of course, with the removal of the original roof, the Stadium almost lost its most-recognizable feature: the facade. But an innovative design concept included an exact replica of the facade atop the new 560-foot-long scoreboard which stretched across the rear of the bleachers. The board would also include baseball's first "telescreen," which could provide instant replays of the action by emplying a then-incredible "nine shades of gray."
Yankee Stadium's exterior changed dramatically, too, as three escalator towers were added, one at each of the Stadium's three entrances. And, with 10 additional rows of seats added to the upper deck, the already-grand Stadium would have an even more majestic look.
The remodeled Yankee Stadium opened on April 15, 1976 with the Yankees topping Minnesota 11-4 and, like its predecessor, would host the World Series in its inaugural season. The Stadium, in fact, hosted the Fall Classic in its first three seasons with the Yankees winning back-to-back World titles in 1977 and 1978.
With a new $1.3 billion facility rising directly across 161st Street, the 2008 season was to be the final one within Yankee Stadium's storied dimensions. Selected to also host the All-Star Game in July, the building hosted the longest Midsummer Classic in terms of time, a 15-inning affair clocking at four hours and 50 minutes, won by the American League on Michael Young's sacrifice fly.
A season-long countdown from 81 to zero was displayed on a board in right-center field; with the Yankees not qualifying for postseason play, the last game was played on Sept. 21, 2008, with the Yankees defeating the Baltimore Orioles, 7-3. A sellout crowd of 54,610 packed the building, many arriving hours early, as the Yankees set an all-time season attendance record of 4,298,543. The all-time Yankee Stadium attendance mark thus inched to freeze at 151,959,005.
Following a grand sendoff ceremony, honoring many of the greats to wear the Yankees uniform, Andy Pettitte was the winning pitcher, Mariano Rivera recorded the last out and Jose Molina hit the last home run in New York's emotional victory over Baltimore, bookending Babe Ruth's shot to open the building in 1923.
The blast, a two-run shot in the fourth inning, proved historic when viewed with a quote attributed to Ruth after he homered on the Stadium's first day: "I was glad to have hit the first home run in this park. God only knows who will hit the last."
The final word in Yankee Stadium belonged to Derek Jeter, who was also the final Yankees batter at the ballpark. The captain took a microphone behind the mound during the on-field ceremony and addressed the standing crowd, many of them wiping away tears. The speech, Jeter later said, had been off-the-cuff and as nerve-wracking as any experience in his professional career.
"For all of us up here, it's a huge honor to put this uniform on every day and come out here and play," Jeter said. "And every member of this organization, past and present, has been calling this place home for 85 years. There's a lot of tradition, a lot of history, and a lot of memories. Now the great thing about memories is you're able to pass it along from generation to generation.
"And although things are going to change next year, we're going to move across the street, there are a few things with the New York Yankees that never change -- it's pride, it's tradition, and most of all, we have the greatest fans in the world.
"We're relying on you to take the memories from this stadium and add them to the new memories that come to the new Yankee Stadium, and continue to pass them on from generation to generation. On behalf of this entire organization, we want to take this moment to salute you, the greatest fans in the world."
Also held at Yankee Stadium...
As one of the world's most-prestigious addresses, Yankee Stadium has also been the home of scores of other sports, entertainment and cultural events. While the Yankees were on the road or out of season, the Stadium opened its gates to college and pro football, soccer, political assemblies, religious conventions, concerts and even the circus.
Boxing immediately found a home at Yankee Stadium with Benny Leonard winning a 15-round decision over Lou Tendler for the lightweight title three months after the gates opened on July 24, 1923. Until Muhammad Ali stopped Ken Norton on September 28, 1976, thirty championship fights have been fought at the Stadium, perhaps none more memorable than the one for the heavyweight title between Joe Louis and Germany's Max Schmeling on June 22, 1938. After suffering a knockout loss in the initial non-title encounter at the Stadium two years earlier, Louis now the heavyweight champ avenged his defeat with a stunning first-round KO in the rematch.
Football also became an immediate fixture at Yankee Stadium with the 1923 Army-Navy game inaugurating a rich history of collegiate and later professional football matchups. On November 12, 1928, with Notre Dame and Army locked in a scoreless game at halftime, the legendary Knute Rockne made his famous "win one for the Gipper" pep talk and the Fighting Irish went out and beat the Cadets, 12-6.
The New York football Giants also called Yankee Stadium home from 1956 through 1973 and, on December 28, 1958, played in what is widely recognized as "the greatest game ever played." With the NFL championship at stake, a crowd of 64,185 watched the Baltimore Colts tie the game 17-17 on a Steve Myrha field goal with seven seconds left. Eight minutes into professional football's first-ever "sudden-death" overtime period, the Colts' Alan Ameche crashed through from the one yard line, ending a contest that would help establish pro football as a major sport.
The Stadium was also an important stop for religious conventions with the conventions of the Jehovah's Witnesses the major outside activity each year. Beginning in 1950, the convention attracted as many as 123,707 people in a single day far more than any other Stadium event. On October 4, 1965 with the Yankees out of the World Series for only the third time in 17 years the Stadium hosted an event of worldwide significance. During the first visit to North America by a Pope, Paul VI celebrated mass before a crowd in excess of 80,000. Fourteen years later, John Paul II also made Yankee Stadium a stop on his tour of the United States.