The Stadium, as a wise man once said the most beautifullest thing in this world, and the home of the most sanctified moments in baseball history. Legends played in this ballpark, and with names and figures as notable as the men found on the dollar bill, the memories today are ultimately as emblematic of American tradition as anything else you can find in a history book. And the history was one that seemed to be everlasting, as the New York Yankees displayed a level of prestige for the better part of their entire existence, with a century run of world championships that is still unmatched to this day.
The Yankees 27 World Championships are the most out of any team in professional sports, and 26 of those rings were won in the old Stadium - the Cathedral as many historians would call it - a baseball Holy Land that was an honor and a privilege to witness - that is of course before it was torn down and they moved down the block. After 87 years of greatness, May 13, 2010 was the day the original stadium perished from this world altogether, and one might question if the magic of the Yankees went along with it.
Since this day the sport of baseball has been in relative turmoil, where it was debatably on life support before the rise of the Mets and the Cubs that now has it in a legitimate upswing, albeit without any help from any players in pinstripes. Yet disregarding winning and losing altogether, the Yankees of recent years haven’t come close to replicating the cultural impact that always defined the franchise, and in that time everybody's been left to wonder what could be wrong with America's pastime…
"It’s not the same"… most analysts have said… although more in regards to America’s own customs than anything involving the actual game. Yet no matter the reason, as it pertains to the Bronx Bombers it certainly doesn’t feel the same, as even when they won the World Series in 2009 (the very first season in the New Yankee Stadium) it undoubtedly wasn’t quite as special - certainly not in comparison to the memorable teams of the 90’s and early 2000’s - or naturally the earliest seasons that turned the game of baseball into American folklore.
Below is a tribute to what was once the world’s greatest stadium, whereas it’s demolishment may be the game’s singular greatest mistake...
(Yankee Stadium I - The House That Ruth Built)
Known as one of the last of the Jewel Box designs that were built in the early 1900’s, Yankee Stadium was the first three-tiered sports facility in the United States, and also was one of the first ball parks to actually be called a Stadium. Built in 1922 for only a few million dollars, the construction was financed by Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert who was taking a considerable risk. Not only were there two more established baseball teams in New York at the time (the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Baseball Giants), but the 1919 White Sox scandal a few years earlier had brought on a reasonable doubt to the investment.
Nonetheless Ruppert moved the Yankees away from the Polo Grounds into a facility double it’s size (always intended to serve the city in multiple dimensions by hosting boxing matches, music concerts, and later even religious masses to record attendance) and by Wednesday, April 18, 1923 it was ready for baseball, with the Boston Red Sox in town and Babe Ruth at home plate. It’s been said that Ruth was honored before the game with an encasing of a symbolically big bat, not the one he’d use to hit the game winning 3 run home run over the right field wall. By day’s end it was dubbed The House That Ruth Built by Fred Lieb of the New York Evening Telegram, and also had widely been reported as having an announced attendance of 74,217 (with another 25,000 fans that had been turned away). Later it was admitted by the Yankees that the attendance was likely closer to 60,000, still far more than the 42,000+ that had been the previous record in the 1916 World Series at Braves Field.
(Murderers Row I)
The Yankees won their first World Series that season, and continued to make history throughout the 20’s with the Murderers Row lineup that hosted Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who won another World Series in ‘27 with 110 wins while outscoring their opponents by a record 376 runs. Gehrig and Ruth’s numbers are out of this world and they broke all kinds of records this season, with Gehrig hitting 175 RBI’s and Ruth hitting 60 Home Runs, the latter which stood as the MLB record for 34 years until another Yankee famously hit 61.
The Yankees had swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series that year, and repeated that feat the following ‘28 season with a sweep of the St Louis Cardinals, still to date making the Yankees the only team to sweep the World Series in consecutive seasons - yet this would wind up being only the first of three times they would do it. The ‘28 Yankees still share the record for most players to later be elected to the Hall of Fame (Ruth, Gehrig, Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Dickey, Leo Durocher, Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, and Stan Coveleski) with Manager Miller Huggins and president Earl Barrow later elected as well.
(The Original Monument and ‘The Called Shot’)
The following year the aforementioned Huggins died unexpectedly in the ‘29 season, and a monument was erected in his honor in front of the flagpole that stood deep in centerfield. The flagpole as well as the monument were indeed in the field of play, in an area known as Death Valley for a reason that was perhaps two-fold. While it was always understood that the field’s dimensions of 490 ft to center is what coined the phrase, the fact that Huggins memorial resembled a headstone from a distance likely contributed to the expression as well. Later Huggins monument was joined by Gehrig and Ruth as part of the original Monument Park, and part of the mythology was that deep centerfield was where the Yankees legends went when they died.
The ‘31 Yankees set the team record for runs in a season (1,067 - 6.88 average per game) where Gehrig set the AL record for runs by a singular player, followed by the ‘32 Yankees that swept the Chicago Cubs in the World Series and were the only team to never be shut out in a single game that entire year. It was Game 3 of that series when Ruth would declare his ‘shot’, breaking a tie game at Wrigley Field with the “most talked about hit in baseball history.”
June 3rd, 1932 is also a notable date in Yankees history, as Tony Lazzeri hit a natural cycle (single, double, triple, home run in that order) that was even completed with a grand slam, only to be upstaged by Gehrig who hit 4 home runs in that same game. The ‘32 team also had 9 players elected to the Hall of Fame, with Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Herb Pennock, Red Ruffing, and Joe Sewell amongst those already mentioned.
As Ruth’s career began to decline in the mid 30’s, Gehrig was the named The Captain and he was soon to get help from a rookie named Joe DiMaggio, who reporters had pegged as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Shoeless Joe Jackson all in one. DiMaggio certainly delivered, and the Yankees won the championship again in 1936, during a season where Lazzeri hit two grand slams in the same game (the first time in MLB history). The Yankees again won championships in ‘37 and ‘38, becoming the first team to ever win 3 World Series in a row.
Yankee Stadium also happened to undergo major changes during these pivotal years, as the wooden bleachers had been replaced with concrete, and more notably the infamous Death Valley had been reduced in size to a still astronomical 461 feet. The triple deck grandstand had also been extended into fair play, and now players could hit upper deck home runs to each side of the field. By 1938 the Stadium assumed the ‘shape’ that it would retain for the next 35 years, already the most renowned baseball coliseum in the world.
(Baseball’s Gettysburg Address)
The ‘39 season is in some ways the most legendary, as along with winning another World Series (becoming the first team to win 4 consecutively), they also were the only team to outscore their regular season opponent by over 400 runs. They also managed almost all of this without their captain Gehrig, whose health had deteriorated from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (later named after his honor), and on May 2nd of that year - after 2,130 consecutive games played - Gehrig decided to take himself out of the lineup for good.
It was the end of a 14 year streak that shocked umpires before the game, and the Detroit Tigers fans gave him a standing ovation that brought Gehrig to tears in the dugout. On June 21st the Yankees officially announced his retirement and proclaimed July 4th “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day,’ where in between a double header there would be a commemoration that would be remembered as well as any other moment in American history.
During the ceremony Yankees manager Joe McCarthy, who later was credited for cementing the dignified demeanor that stayed with the franchise thereafter, called Gehrig the “finest example of a ballplayer, sportsman, and citizen that baseball had ever known.” On that day Gehrig’s #4 became the first Yankee number to be retired (the first of many), and the iconic image of Ruth’s arms around Gehrig was accompanied by baseball’s Gettysburg Address, in which a dying Gehrig declared himself the “luckiest man in the world.”
(Yogi, Rizzuto, and Joltin Joe DiMaggio)
1941, the year before the United States entered the second World War, the Yankees once again transcended American culture and their impact was timeless. Countless books and songs were written about the ‘41 season, mainly DiMaggio’s consecutive hit streak of 56 games (a record to this day), that garnered him his second of three MVP awards - this time over Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox who hit over .400 that year. The Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series that year while the world sang and danced to the Joltin Joe DiMaggio.
The Yankees would lose to the Cardinals in the World Series in ‘42, but would get their revenge the following season in ‘43, winning the championship without the likes of DiMaggio and other key players who had entered the military. Coming off of that season the family of the recently deceased Jacob Ruppert decided to sell the team after mismanaging his famous brewery, and the new owners wisely decided to add lights to the stadium, making May 28th, 1946 the first game played under nightfall. In 1947 the Yankees again defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, led by MVP Joe Dimaggio, future Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto, star pitcher Allie Reynolds, and a young reserve catcher named Yogi.
(Long Live the Bambino / 5 Straight World Championships)
Although the already decorated Yankees were about to embark on their most prominent run, the franchise once again was dealt with tragedy when August 16th, 1948 marked the day of the Death of the Bambino. At 53 years young his body was put on public display at the Stadium, where the New York Times called him a “born showman off the field and marvelous performer on it; a figure unprecedented in American life.”
In ‘49 the Yankees yet again beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, and it was this season that officially re-fueled the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry and put an added emphasis on the Curse that came with it. This was also their first season with Hall of Fame inductee Casey Stengel as Manager, who would become the only coach to manage a team to 5 straight World Series Championships.
Yes the Yankees won in ‘49, ‘50, ‘51, 52’ and ‘53, and they did it with a variety of household names that are as familiar today as they were during their reign. In ‘50 Rizzuto was named MVP with over 200 hits, and the Yankees swept the Phillies in the World Series highlighted by an extra inning DiMaggio home run. In ‘51 the Yankees defeated the cross town rival Giants again for the championship, which happened to be DiMaggio’s final season and Mickey Mantle’s debut. In ‘52 they defeated their other cross town rival Dodgers for the World Series, and did it once more in ‘53 making them the only team in baseball history to win 5 rings in a row.
It otherwise should be noted that the legendary announcer Bob Sheppard made his Yankees debut on April 17th, 1951, in a 5-0 win over the Red Sox. That game featured 8 Hall of Famers and the first batter he announced was Dominic DiMaggio, the younger brother of the Yankee Clipper. That season was the only year that Joe & Mickey shared the outfield, that latter of whom said he got a “shiver up his spine every time Bob Sheppard said his name.” Sheppard would go on to announce the Yankees (and Football Giants) for the next 50+ years, forever being known as the Gold Standard and the official ‘Voice of Yankee Stadium”
(Larsen’s Perfect Game and Mantle’s Triple Crown)
After missing the postseason in ‘54 and finally losing to the Dodgers in ‘55, the Yankees regained their glory by defeating their cross town rivals in ‘56, capped by a perfect game from Don Larsen in the World Series during an MVP year for Mantle - who led the MLB in BA (.353) HRs (52) and RBIs (130) - only the second Yankee after Gehrig to win the Triple Crown.
By 1957 the Yankees had won 15 of the last 21 pennants, and although losing to the Milwaukee Braves in 7 games that season, their 4 decades of dominance likely persuaded both the Giants and the Dodgers to move to California the following year. Now the only team in New York, the Yankees avenged their loss to the Braves in ‘58, once again becoming world champions.
They returned to the World Series in ‘60 and lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 7 games, where future Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford blamed Stengel for not having him start Game 1 - an honor that he’d be given 8 other times in his Yankee career. Sure enough the pinstripes won again in '61, defeating the Cincinnati Reds during a season that was defined by so much more.
(Magic Number 61 / Murderers Row II)
The season of ‘61 must have been a baseball magic trick, as both Mickey Mantle and recently acquired Roger Maris competed for Babe Ruth’s single season home run record - and the magic number was none other than 61. Sports writers called them the M&M boys and along with their teammates they were coined the second coming of Murderers Row, in what happened to be the very first MLB season that was extended to 162 games. Thus when Maris actually won the record, on the last game of the season against the Red Sox, the commissioner proposed that there be two records - one for Ruth and one for Maris. Of course now with Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds records null and void - most people believe Maris to still be the single holder of the game’s most coveted record.
[One necessary sidenote: baseball’s exclusion of minority players undoubtedly affected all of these records, where the likes of players such as Josh Gibson had been reported to hit upwards of 80 home runs when baseball was still segregated. With that being said the Yankees in particular were behind the curve when it came to integration, finally signing Elston Howard 8 years after Jackie Robinson, a missed opportunity for a franchise so built on integrity.]
Nonetheless the ‘61 Yankees are unofficially documented as the greatest team in baseball history.
In ‘62 the Yankees repeated by defeating the now San Francisco Giants in 7 games, it was their 2nd in 2 seasons with new manager Ralph Hauk, and it would turn out to be their last victory for the next 15 years (at the time the longest drought since their inception). In ‘63 they were swept by the now Los Angeles Giants (although Elston Howard became the first African American to be named the AL MVP), and in ‘64 with Yogi Berra in his first stint as Manager - they lost to the Cardinals in 7 games. Berra was effectively fired at the end of that season by Yankees brass who didn’t believe he was ‘ready to manage,’ and this season marked the end of the Old Yankees dynasty.
(Dark Days of CBS)
By the start of the ‘65 season the Yankees had been purchased by CBS, and the Yankees were woefully bad for the next 5 years. They finished dead last in ‘66 for the first time in the Stadium, where attendance fell to a record low 466 patrons during one particular game, that subsequently got broadcaster Red Barber fired for his extended focus on the poor optic. As stated before the Yankees were slow and seemingly resistant to integrate minority players on their roster, and with their players aging and their farm system dwindling this would prove to be a major mistake. Meanwhile the brand new Mets were playing at the Polo Grounds ready to move into their brand new stadium in Queens, where even though they were historically bad, New York fans (perhaps previous Giants and Dodger fans) came out in droves.
(The Steinbrenner Era - The Boss)
In 1973 CBS sold the team to a Cleveland ship-builder who essentially and literally cleaned house as soon as he arrived. He originally said he would “stick to building ships” and would remain in the background, yet by season’s end Steinbrenner not only cut ties with the minority partner in the ownership, but he also let go of the entire management coining his nickname as “The Boss.” The most important decision made that season however revolved around the Stadium, as Steinbrenner put pressure on the city to remodel it or he’d move the team to the Meadowlands Sports Complex that was the new home of the New York Football Giants. The city, that also happened to be at the brink of bankruptcy, decided to front the cost, and by the next few years the old Stadium would have a brand new look.
After the last game in ‘73, fans ripped out parts of the stadium including seats as souvenirs, and Yankee Stadium wouldn’t open again until opening day in 1976. The Yankees played the ‘74 and ‘75 seasons at Shea Stadium, and these years in Queens proved to be valuable - as not only did they begin their long term philosophy of paying for free agents at whatever cost (acquiring Catfish Hunter in ‘74, and also trading for Doc Ellis and Willie Randolph in ‘75), but in this time ‘The Boss’ also had found his new manager in former player Billy Martin.
(Yankee Stadium II - The Stadium Remodeled)
The Yankees opened up their season in 1976 in the new Yankee Stadium, that stood on the original ground of the old Yankee Stadium, the same earth that bottled up all that baseball magic in the 50 years prior. Although it was virtually the same structure, the renovations were significant enough to consider it brand new - displaying the removal of the classic columns that supported the grandstand (still seen at Wrigley and Fenway), along with ⅓ of the bleacher seats (making the middle section the blacked out batter’s eye), all the while introducing the first Instant Replay screen in baseball - known then in literature as the Telecast.
The field dimensions were drastically altered however, moving in Death Valley another 40 ft and moving out the right field home porch, while erecting the first Monument Park outside the field of play; where in time it became a Yankees museum of retired numbers and plaques in their honor. Although off the field those monuments remained in clear visibility to spectators in the stands, and with the mystique of Yankees folklore already in place, the Yankees would soon add more chapters to their historic legacy.
In ‘76 the Yankees dramatically returned to the World Series in their new remodeled stadium, yet they lost to the defending champion Cincinnati Reds. Still there was a promise for more to come and Steinbrenner delivered, signing Reggie Jackson which for better or worse shook up the team in 1977; an infamous year that was later depicted in the book and documentary Bronx is Burning. Nonetheless despite a clash of egos between Jackson and Billy Martin, the Yankees would return to the World Series and this time they would once again make their mark on history.
(The Bronx Zoo)
In ‘77 the team had already named catcher Thurman Munson as team captain, the first Yankee to have that honor since Lou Gehrig, and newspapers reported that had incensed Jackson who believed he was the better player. Nonetheless like all great champions they played as a team and they played together, defeating the Dodgers in the World Series highlighted by Jackson’s 3 home runs off the first 3 pitches he saw in Game 6. When Munson was interviewed earlier in this series, he suggested reporters go speak to Jackson, calling him “Mr October” - a name that would forever stick.
The ‘78 season was equally as turbulent as it was exciting, with Jackson and Martin coming to blows again which led to Jackson’s suspension and Martin's resignation in the middle of the season. Jackson again would live up to his name as Mr October however, by upstaging Boston’s Bucky Dent’s world famous 3 run home run with a game winning 2 run shot of his own, followed by once again dominating the Brooklyn Dodgers to clinch the World Series that same year. During this time Jackson was such a household name that he even had his own candy bar, the Reggie! Bar, and fans and media ate it up.
(The Munson Tragedy)
The next season was marred by tragedy however, when the captain was lost in a plane crash on August 2nd, 1979. Munson had always been known to be the heart and soul of the team, yet he’d become homesick and chose to take up flying so he could visit his family back in Canton, Ohio on his off days. It was said he planned on retiring at the end of the season, yet on this fateful day he had been practicing his landings when his jet clipped a tree and fell short of the runway - making it one of the most shocking tragedies in sports history to date.
The next day the players honored Munson with a pre-game ceremony and lengthy moment of silence, in which they all took their positions and left home base open; symbolizing how he was a player that could never be replaced. Upon his death Steinbrenner had retired Munson’s number immediately, and by the end of the season a plaque in his honor was placed inside Monument Park. On the plaque bears an inscription that reads “Our captain and leader has not left us, today, tomorrow, this year, next… Our endeavors will reflect our love and admiration for him.”
After missing the playoffs the year after Munson’s death, the Yankees returned to the World Series in ‘81 thanks to the bats of Jackson, Bobby Murcer, and the newly acquired Dave Winfield - however they lost to the rival Dodgers in 6 games. This would be the last time that the Yankees would make the World Series in the next 15 years, signaling the official end of another Yankee dynasty. In ‘82 Jackson returned to the Stadium for the first time as an opposing player, and hit a HR off his former teammate Ron Guidry sending the crowd into a frenzy. Chants of Reg-Gie and Steinbrenner Sucks echoed throughout the Stadium, and years later when Jackson was elected to the Hall of Fame - Steinbrenner said that letting him go was the biggest mistake he made in his career.
During this time Steinbrenner failed with his Free Agency methods, often swapping young talent for veteran players outside of their prime, that along with his lack of faith in delegating leadership were the main contributors to the Yankees demise. Steinbrenner oversaw 21 different managerial changes in his first two decades of ownership, including Billy Martin’s 5 different stints at the helm. One of those changes was an infamous firing of Yogi Berra that was said to be done in bad taste, thus compelling the Yankee legend to not step foot in Yankee Stadium for the better part of the next two decades. Meanwhile other than Winfield the only key acquisition during these years was Rickey Henderson, while Don Mattingly was the only star player to come out of the farm system.
Mattingly did swing the bat with ease, becoming the AL batting champion in ‘84 (with Winfield finishing second), the AL MVP in ‘85, the record holder for (6) Grand Slams in a season in ‘87, along with being a 9 time Gold Glove winner throughout his career. Ultimately the Yankees had the most wins out of any other team in the 1980’s, yet they missed the playoffs 8 times out of the decade - and as stated before - never made it to a World Series.
(Billy Martin’s Car Crash on Christmas Day)
1990 proved to be a critical year for the Yankees for a myriad of different reasons, ones that were both negative and positive. The positive was that this was the year that they drafted Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and future fan favorites Ricky Ledee and Shane Spencer. Even more notable, was that this was also the season where they acquired Mariano Rivera in free agency, a move that would define the team for many years to come.
Yet before that season began, Billy Martin (who was serving as a consultant to Steinbrenner at the time), was killed in a one-car crash in Binghamton, New York on Christmas Day. The circumstances around the death permeated with mystery, as for years people speculated the cause and nature of the accident. In any event Martin was buried in Hawthorne, New York about 150 feet from Babe Ruth, where his tombstone reads “I many not have been the greatest Yankee… but I was the proudest.” Former President Richard Nixon attended the funeral.
(The 1994 Player Strike - The Showalter Years)
Since 1982 the Yankees had failed to make the playoffs, and the early 90’s initially produced the same results, yet ‘92 would turn out to be their last losing season to date. By ‘93 Buck Showalter was the manager and the Yankees had still yet to make the playoffs, yet that was destined to change the following season when it looked like the pinstripes were on pace to win 100 games before the poorly timed 1994 players strike ended the season. On the day the strike began, Jimmy Key was leading the majors with 17 wins and Paul O’Neill was leading the league with a .359 average, in a year that Mattingly was destined to play in the postseason for the first time in his career.
The strike shook the city as the Yankees had been in turmoil for so long, and meanwhile the NY Rangers had just won the Stanley Cup after a 54 year drought, and the NY Knicks had made it to the NBA Finals, making New Yorkers wonder what might have happened if the baseball season continued. Although this was said to be the height of disappointment for Yankees fans, in essence the ‘94 strike would signal the end of the Yankees misfortune in the years moving forward.
In 1995 the Yankees did indeed make the playoffs picking up where they left off, thanks to big time performances by Mattingly, O’Neill, Wade Boggs, and Bernie Williams in his first breakout year. There were also many notable new faces on the roster, including Darryl Strawberry, David Cone, and a young man named Derek Jeter who played his first game in the Stadium on May 29th, 1995.
(1996 and Beyond - The Joe Torre Era)
The ‘96 team brought back the same core of the lineup, however pending retirement Mattingly didn’t make his return, and Steinbrenner had replaced Showalter with Joe Torre at the time to mixed reviews. All was well when the team won the division however, in a season where Jeter was named the Rookie of the Year in his first full season. In a true underdog effort the Yankees defeated the Atlanta Braves in the World Series; an incredible victory that would launch their next dynasty.
In ‘97 the Yankees once again played at a high level adding David Wells to the pitching staff and promoting Mariano Rivera as the designated closer. And although they lost in the ALDS to the Indians - they came back in ‘98 stronger than ever.
In preparation of the 75th anniversary of the Stadium, the Yankees acquired Brian Cashman as General Manager, who brought in Scott Brosius to play 3rd Base, Chuck Knoblauch for 2nd, and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez to be the starting pitcher. On May 17th, 1998 David Wells pitched the 15th Perfect Game in baseball history, and by season’s end they had won 114 games which at the time was the AL record. They cruised through the postseason and finished with a MLB record 125 wins which is still a record to date - and along with the Yankees of '61 the ‘98 Yankees are widely considered the greatest team of all time.
In ‘99 the Yankees continued their success, trading Wells (and fan favorites Graeme Lloyd and Homer Bush) for Roger Clemens who was still in the prime of his career. The Yankees repeated as World Series champions in a year where David Cone threw the 16th Perfect Game in baseball history - and it should be noted that both Perfect Games were thrown in the Stadium. They completed the 3 peat in 2000, defeating the crosstown rival Mets in the first and last Subway Series to date.
The Yankees 2001 season served as one of the most heartbreaking and inspirational stories in sports history, as seemingly the entire nation rallied around the pinstripes to work their magic and provide a glimmer of hope to a community so rocked by tragedy. It didn’t come easy however, as in the ALDS the Yankees were in a 0-2 hole to the Oakland A’s, and Jeter by all accounts saved the season with the incredible ‘flip play’ that was one of the finest of his career.
The Yankees defeated the A’s and then the Mariners and then battled the Arizona Diamondbacks with a team performance that was nothing short of heroic. In an 0-2 hole the Yankees returned to the Stadium, and put on a show no sports fans will ever forget. The first pitch of Game 3 was a fastball and strike thrown by George W. Bush, the first ceremonial pitch thrown by a sitting President since Dwight D Eisenhower in 1956. Chants of USA echoed through the stadium in a moment of patriotism that the world needed to see. The Yankees won Game 3 by a gem from Clemens, a late HR from Posada, and a save from Mariano Rivera.
Game 4 was just as epic, with the Yankees down 3-1 in the bottom of the 9th, Tino Martinez hit a 2 run HR to tie the game and send it into extra innings. When the clock hit midnight the scoreboard at the Stadium read “Welcome to November Baseball,” and Jeter proceeded to step up to the plate and hit a walk off - appropriately being coined “Mr. November.”
In Game 5 the magic continued with a 2 run HR in the bottom 9th, this time by Scott Brosius, just as it happened in the game before. The Yankees had sent the game into extras and this time rising star Alfonso Soriano delivered the game winning RBI single in the bottom of the 12th.
It had all lined up for the Yankees perfectly, as after a lopsided loss in Game 6 they were 3 outs away from winning another World Series in Game 7, when Mariano Rivera - the best closer in baseball history - took the mound to preserve the victory. The Yankees had just taken the lead off a solo HR from Soriano in the 8th, and with the ball in Rivera’s hands it seemed like the fairy tale was complete, yet it was apparently not meant to be. Rivera blew the save and the Yankees suffered perhaps the most devastating loss in the franchise’s history, yet the team will always be remembered for how they uplifted the city after one of the most devastating moments in modern day history.
(Final Years in the Stadium)
In 2002 the Yankees won their division with the same core unit and the addition of newcomer Jason Giambi, yet they lost to the Anaheim Angels in the ALDS. For the upcoming ‘03 season they acquired foreign players Hideki Matsui and Jose Contreras, and their overall payroll had exceeded 150 million. The Boss had always paid to play, and the 21st century Yankees were certainly no exception. Jeter was now the captain and he led them into the postseason during one of the most heightened tenures of the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry, highlighted by a classic ALCS where Aaron Boone was the unlikely hero who delivered the pennant. The Yankees lost the World Series that season to the Florida Marlins, a missed opportunity for a championship caliber team.
2004 was another heartbreaker for the Yankees, who with the acquisitions of slugger Gary Sheffield and at the time the best player in baseball Alex Rodriguez, had a 3-0 lead on the rival Boston Red Sox before more baseball history was made. The Yankees were 1 game away from the World Series before the Red Sox became the first team to ever come back from an 0-3 deficit, effectively ending the Curse of the Bambino.
In ‘05 Alex Rodriguez was the AL MVP but the Yankees lost in the postseason to the Angels who had become a newfound nemesis, followed by an ‘06 season where they won the division for the 9th straight season yet lost in the ALDS to the Detroit Tigers. In ‘07 A Rod exploded, with 54 HRs and 156 RBIs that was best in the AL, along with scoring 143 runs which was the highest in a single season since 1985. The Yankees rallied to earn a Wild Card berth but they lost to the Indians in the opening round - this would be the last season with Joe Torre as manager.
That season would also be the last with George Steinbrenner in full control, as before the ‘08 season he began to sign over the responsibilities to his sons Hank and Hal. In what would be the final season in the original Stadium, the Yankees re-signed A Rod to an astronomical $275 Million over 10 years, yet they unfortunately fell short of the playoffs. The final game was played on September 21, 2008; marking the demise of America’s most celebrated Cathedral.
(Demolition - A Monument Erased)
Despite the fact the Yankees already played in a national monument, even more prestigious than Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field, the Steinbrenner family inexplicably deemed it replaceable, and were persuaded by the state of the art ballparks around the league that although glamorous, paled in comparison where it truly mattered. To the family’s credit ‘The Boss’ had for decades petitioned to get a new stadium, perhaps taking for granted the significance of where they already were. Nonetheless by March of 2009 the demolition had begun and the Yankees already had their new stadium built next door - that in true Yankee fashion was introduced by a World Series victory in it’s inaugural season. (Note the Yankees won the World Series in the inaugural seasons of both new stadiums, and went to the World Series but lost in the year following the ‘76 renovations).
Below is a video by National Geographic that shows the an accelerated version of the demolition in 30 seconds; disproportionate to the timeless moments that were once inside.
(The New Yankee Stadium)
The new Yankee Stadium certainly has all the bells and whistles, with 63% more space (500,000 square feet more in total than the previous stadium), along with hundreds of miles of wired Ethernet cable that by technology standards has been defined as "future proof". It’s got over 1,100 high-definition video monitors and approximately $10 million worth of baseball merchandise placed within the stadium, with triple the luxury suites and elevators than the previous design. The most noticeable difference is the centerfield scoreboard, which covers 5,925 feet and can display four 1080p high definition images simultaneously.
The new stadium also pays homage to the old stadiums design in a variety of ways, most notably with a replica of the frieze along the upper deck of the grandstand as was the case in the original (the ‘76 renovated version only had the frieze atop the wall beyond the bleachers). In the new stadium that same wall is "cut out" to reveal the 4 subway trains as they pass by, as was also the case in the original. And true to form a manually operated auxiliary scoreboard was built into the left and right field fences, in the same locations they existed in the pre-renovated version of the original Stadium. One of the most appealing upgrades is the utilization of the black-out from the renovated Stadium, that is now a dark tinted sports bar that serves the same purpose for the batters yet gives the customer a fresh look at the game that they never had before.
Yet all is certainly not perfect in the new stadium, as it didn’t take long for both the patrons and even the players to notice that there were some flaws in the design. The main issue is perhaps that the new stadium's seating is spaced outward in a bowl, unlike the stacked-tiers design at the old stadium. This design places most fans farther back yet lower to the field, by about an average of 30 feet. Furthermore to allow for the extra amenities, the stadium's capacity is reduced by more than 4,000 seats than the previous stadium to begin with, thus providing a combination of events that make the new stadium far more quieter than the original.
It didn’t take long for the new stadium to be criticized for its lack of fan noise, as players and coaches alike noticed the difference in the change of atmospheres. Boston’s Terry Francona later said about the original stadium that “as a visiting team, especially for the Red Sox, when the national anthem was over you couldn’t wait to get back to the dugout,” and in regards to the new stadium Francona added, "it's beautiful don't get me wrong, it just doesn't seem like it has the atmosphere of the old one," emphasizing the idea that deafening crowd moments were far less amplified at the new ballpark. Instead it’s often eerily silent, as was the case in the ‘12 ALCS when a Tigers player was quoted as saying "This is a very easy place to play now." More or less diminishing the threat of any perceived home field advantage.
More notably the Yankees themselves weren’t sold on the new ballpark, as Mariano Rivera said in his autobiography The Closer, “[The new stadium] doesn’t hold noise, or home-team fervor, anywhere near the way the old place did. The old Stadium was our 10th man — a loud and frenzied cauldron of pinstriped passion, with a lot of lifers in the stands. Maybe I’m wrong, but it's hard to see that the new place can ever quite duplicate that.”
Derek Jeter would later echo those sentiments about the old stadium saying "It was a different feel. The old stadium, if you were at the stadium, in the stands, the only place you could see the game was in your seat. Now there's so many suites and places people can go. So a lot of times it looks like it's empty, but it's really not. The old stadium, it was more intimidating. The fans were right on top of you"…. Strong words from two Yankees legends…
Then there’s its reputation as a 'launching pad' in regards to its propensity for home runs, that in its first few seasons had been occurring at an irregular rate. Commentators such as Buster Olney called it a “veritable wind tunnel” while likening it to a Wiffle-ball park, and Peter Gammons went a step further to call it “one of the biggest jokes in baseball” suggesting that its design had “not been very well planned.” Other analysts agreed that the new stadium had cheapened the long ball, and Reggie Jackson even predicted that A Rod would hit 75 home runs in a season by the end of his career. (A feat that never happened and it should be noted that in recent years the home runs have leveled out, thus the new stadium is no longer thought to be the top home run park after all.)
Yet what can’t be disputed is the matter of the new Monument Park, which unlike previous versions is not readily visible from the field, and its relatively drab appearance and inconspicuous placement have led some to nickname it "Monument Cave". Otherwise the same sports bar that offers the tinted black glass that acts as the ballpark’s batter’s eye, also obstructs the view of approximately 600 bleacher seats in the right and left field bleachers, preventing fans from seeing the action occurring deep in the opposite side of the outfield. In response, the Yankees have now installed TV monitors on the sides of the sports bar's outer walls as compensation.
Lastly the ticket prices are out of control, with "Legends Suite" tickets that are among the highest-priced tickets in professional sports, and are often empty creating an embarrassing image on television of the seats behind home plate being almost completely vacant. Priced at an average of $510 dollars with the highest ticket prices exceeding $2,600, those tickets are practically unaffordable, thus for a majority of the 162 games they remain relatively useless. Otherwise the average ticket price including bleacher seats is $63, making Yankees tickets the highest in baseball.
(The Ultimate Question)
What’s more concerning is that other than the inaugural ‘09 team the Yankees in the new stadium have been bad - becoming an almost irrelevant franchise at the most inopportune time where baseball’s appeal has dropped across the board, and America’s pastime has been considered to be in legitimate jeopardy. No the Yankees aren’t solely to blame for the world’s lack of interest in baseball, but considering that they had always been the team that drove the sport, it’s not outlandish to believe that the game itself only goes as far as the pinstripes mystique.
Nonetheless the inevitable question that remains is whether or not the Yankees did the right thing, as in a game full of superstitions one could certainly wonder about the ramifications of moving away from all that history.
The original stadium was New York’s greatest artifact, and its legacy should be preserved in our memory since the true spirit of it’s existence is no longer with us.
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