Since I opened my Sports Venue series up with Fenway Park, I figured it only right that a two-parter be on the docket for Yankee Stadium! So to start off, I’m going to introduce you to the place that the Yankees called home from 1923-2008.
Now The Stadium did undergo a bit of modernizing in the mid-’70s, but aside from those two years, this was the place the Yankees called home. When talking to Yankees fans, when you mention “The Stadium,” there is no misunderstanding as to which building you are referring. This is truly “The House That Ruth Built” as because of the spectacle that Babe Ruth was quickly becoming because of his home run hitting ability, the Yankees began to outdraw the New York Giants (the baseball team who later moved out to San Francisco) in their own ballpark, the Polo Grounds.
So in 1922, then-Yankees owner, Jacob Ruppert put out $2.4M of his own money to build Yankee Stadium. When the original Stadium went up, there was no other baseball park like it. It dwarfed every other ballpark in existence. In 1923, it’s maximum seating capacity was 58,000, and would eventually be expanded to over 71,000 by the late ’30s.
With the opening of their new Stadium (a term that had never been used when referring to a ballpark prior) came the franchise’s first World Series Championship as those 1923 Yankees would defeat their former landlords and now, cross-town rivals, the New York Giants in six games. Championships began to stack up though the 1930s to the 1960s and the Stadium began to show its age in the early ’70s. Finally, the decision was made to close the Stadium in 1973 for renovations.
A number of changes were made to the Stadium such as moving back the upper deck, thereby removing the support columns that would obstruct views. The roof was removed and replaced by the new upper deck and the white facade was relocated from the roof of the stadium to above the scoreboards and advertising in the outfield. Also, the monuments that were previously located within play which players would have to dodge while fielding fly balls in center field were moved into what was now known as Monument Park.
This was the version of the Stadium that I got to know and love while growing up. While the Yankees would win championships in the late ’70s, by the mid-’80s, the team’s postseason hopes were met with deaf ears by the baseball Gods. These were the teams I got to go see early on, but my experiences at the Stadium certainly weren’t hampered by the team’s lack of championship production. Whenever we went, my parents always tried to take us on a day with a free giveaway like Bat Day or the like. They used to actually hand out full-sized Louisville Slugger bats to kids on the way into the Stadium…how that was never an issue back in the day is beyond me. I guess parents just did more parenting back then. I know I had that bat for YEARS afterwards and actually used it when playing baseball with friends. I actually had ended up sanding all the paint off it, repainting it and adding a grip to it. It turned out pretty cool! I’m sure it’s long gone by now as I’m sure my parents got rid of it.
As the ’90s came, I got older, and the Yankees began winning Championships again, I started going to games with my cousin. I went to a few home openers, notably 1997’s home opener when an old favorite of mine, Don Mattingly raised the Championship banner commemorating the 1996 World Series Championship.
If you were ever meeting up with other friends at the Stadium, there was only one place anyone would ever meet, and that was at the bat. “The Bat” was an exhaust pipe…for what, I have no idea, but it was made to look like a Babe Ruth model Louisville Slugger and everyone knew of it as THE meeting place. So if you had to meet up with friends who had your tickets, you would meet at the bat.
Outside the Stadium on game days was like a baseball festival! Down the first base side of the building was a wide sidewalk area near the Stadium ticket office that went the length of the building which had all types of food vendors along with merchandise vendors all the while a calliope’s music played. And if you were lucky, you also got to meet Freddie Schuman or “Freddie Sez”, who always seemed to be at the game, holding up one of his signs with his sayings while also banging on his pan…which can be heard during a lot of the Yankees TV and radio broadcasts over the years.
One time, we even scalped tickets outside the Stadium, and while they ended up being bogus as the real owners of the seats showed up, and we were booted from the seats by the Stadium personnel…what those bogus tickets did do was get us into the Stadium. After that, we headed over to meet up with other friends who were also at the game.
Through a friend who worked in the kitchen in the Pinstripe Pub, we were able to enter the restaurant which was “strictly” for season ticket holders. Once seated at a table, we watched the game currently being played on a number of TV screens throughout the place. Then, a number of plates of great food were delivered out to our table and when it came time to get the check, a note was delivered that simply said “Thank You.” Needless to say, we left a pretty hefty tip! Afterwards, we found our way back to our friends’ seats in the upper deck and watched the rest of the game. Of all the times I had gone to the Stadium, this was the most unique visit I had ever had!
Another time at the Stadium, I can remember walking down the left field concourse with my cousin, and approaching us coming the other way were a group of security personnel escorting a guy who looked quite familiar. Just as they passed, she grabbed my arm and yelled in my ear: “OH MY GOD! THAT WAS GEORGE STEINBRENNER!!!” So yeah, we walked right pass The Boss. I mean I suppose if there’s anywhere you’re gonna see that guy, we were in the right place!
While trying to get around through the Stadium on another opening day after a different (I’ve been to a few of these) World Series Championship celebration, I can remember having to weave my way between people as I was trying to get to the other side of the ballpark to meet up with some other friends. As I neared the area behind home plate, I could see there was just a mass of people who weren’t going anywhere, so I decided to duck inside and use the concourse to avoid the mass of humanity. As I continued to weave my way through people, I came to a rope, stopping me from continuing in the direction I was headed. As I looked up…there, literally two feet in front of me was the Commissioner’s Trophy the Yankees had won in the World Series the previous fall. Another moment I’ll never forget! If only camera phones were a thing back in those days!
To say I’ve sat all over in that old Stadium would be an understatement. When I went with my parents, we would typically sit on the lower level, down the left field line so we could look across the field into the Yankees’ dugout. I’ve been a “Bleacher Creature” as they were called, sitting in the outfield bleachers for an opening day or two. One of the most interesting things about the bleacher sections in the old Stadium was that it was it’s own separate building! If you had a ticket to the bleachers, you entered at a different area and had no access to the rest of the concourses of the Stadium. Also, the right field bleachers would perform the “roll call” starting in the late ’90s, when they would go position by position, chanting the player’s name until receiving an acknowledgment (usually a tip of the cap or a wave) from each player before moving on to the next. I’ve sat in the upper deck on both sides of the field and also sat in the upper deck, behind home plate for Macarena Night, when 50,000+ fans set the World Macarena Record! I’ll tell ya though…sitting behind home plate really messes with your depth perception as in every ball hit in the air looks like a home run, it’s quite annoying!
When not dining on the house in the Pinstripe Pub, typical concessions were what was available. As with most ballparks of the time, not much of the Stadium eats was really anything crazy to write home about. You had the standard foot-long hotdogs, popcorn, crackerjacks chicken fingers & fries…all the usual fare. Later on, a Mexican bar located in the West Village section of downtown Manhattan, named Caliente Cab Co, started opening up a few nacho stands within the Stadium which were always worth seeking out.
And since it was an older building, a lot of the concourses were quite cramped and dimly lit as you can see in a few of the pictures, but for as old as that building was, I’d give almost anything for another game in that old building. There was something special in that place…so many Yankees legends played on that field and amazingly, for all the years that the building stood for…not a single player ever hit a home run out of that building! The longest ball I ever saw hit there was a home run by Alex Rodriguez to left-center field that landed deep in the bleachers. I sure would love to see what Aaron Judge might have been able to do there today.
As you can see, I’ve had a lot of great times in that old building & was sad to see it torn down. With each visit to the Stadium, as I walked out from the concourses into the seating areas for the first time, instantly, I’d get the chills and would get goosebumps on my arms just knowing all the history that had happened in that amazing building. The House That Ruth Built will always hold a very special place in my heart and will be a place I remember fondly from my childhood. I hope some day to be able to think of this current building in the same way, but I’m not sure that’s possible.