It was a balmy morning in the Harlem River valley that separates
the Bronx from the island of Manhattan, and in the distance you
could hear the clack and rumble of the elevated trains as they
passed just outside the centerfield wall of Yankee Stadium.
Inside the Stadium--as workers in yellow hard hats scurried
about the scaffolding and pigeons pecked at the freshly planted
sod--there was a sense of renewal in the air. It was Feb. 17,
and George Steinbrenner's ballpark was undergoing its makeover
for the 1999 baseball season, its final facial of the
millennium. Only Monument Park, that brick-lined haven tucked
behind the wall in left center, was untouched by the pneumatic
drills and hammers.
For decades the Stadium has been one of New York's most popular
tourist attractions, the Bronx's answer to the Empire State
Building and the Statue of Liberty; on this sparkling Tuesday
morning, tour guide Tony Morante was leading 20 visitors up the
walkway into Monument Park when they all seemed to stop at once.
There before them, rising like tombstones in the corner of a
churchyard, were four marble slabs bearing bronze plaques
depicting in bas-relief the merry visages of Yankees legends
Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Miller Huggins and Mickey Mantle. Deirdre
Weldon had brought nine boys from Yorktown, N.Y., to celebrate
the birthday of her son, Terry; as they all gathered reverently
around, staring at the faces on the monuments staring back at
them, 10-year-old Chris Raiano said aloud what all his friends
"Are they all buried here?" he asked.
"No, they are not," Weldon replied. "Only the memories are...."
Back in 1921, not long after the New York Giants' baseball team
moved to evict the Yankees from the Polo Grounds in Manhattan--the
Giants were sore that Babe Ruth's Yankees were outdrawing
them--the Yankees' owners, beer baron Jake Ruppert and Til Huston,
announced that they had purchased a 10-acre lot across the river,
in the Bronx, and that they planned to build a ballyard of their
own. The Giants' manager, John McGraw, scoffed at the scheme.
"This is a big mistake," said Little Napoleon. "They are going up
to Goatville, and before long they will be lost sight of."
Today, nearly 80 years later, old Goatville is the richest
repository of memories in American sports. It was way up there,
in the wilds of the Bronx, that the New York Yankees won 33
American League pennants and 24 world championships. Close your
eyes, and you can see, on the grainy film of memory, Lou Gehrig
listening to the echoes of his farewell speech in 1939...Al
Gionfriddo twice looking over his shoulder and then reaching out
for Joe DiMaggio's 415-foot drive in the '47 Series...Mickey
Mantle's thunderous shot denting the copper frieze lining the
upper deck in right...Reggie Jackson driving a knuckleball into
the black tarp covering the seats in center for his third home
run in the final game of the '77 Series...Yogi Berra leaping
into Don Larsen's arms at the end of the Perfect Game...the
dying Ruth, bracing himself on a bat, waving that last, long
It was there, in 1928, in the very bowels of the place, that
Notre Dame's Knute Rockne, at halftime of a scoreless tie
against Army, exhorted his players to "win just one for the
Gipper." It was there that Doc Blanchard ran with Glenn Davis in
'44, when Army whipped the Irish 59-0, and it was there that
Jack Dempsey flattened Jack Sharkey in '27, first scrambling his
eggs with a low blow and then shaving his stubble with a short,
sharp hook to the chin. Joe Louis fought in Yankee Stadium 11
times, and it was there in '38, in the most politically charged
prizefight in history, that he knocked out Hitler's model of
Aryan supremacy, Max Schmeling, at 2:04 of the first round. And
it was there, too, that the New York football Giants waged all
those wintery wars against the Bears, the Browns and the
Of course, neither Ruppert nor Huston foresaw any of this when
they bought the land from the estate of William Waldorf Astor for
$675,000 and then shelled out $2.5 million for construction of
the park. All they really had in mind, by way of mooning the
Giants just across the river, was to build the largest, grandest
ballpark in America. In the remarkably brief course of 284
working days, beginning on May 5, 1922, some 500 men turned
45,000 barrels of cement into 35,000 cubic yards of concrete.
They made bleachers out of 950,000 board feet of Pacific Coast
fir that came to New York by boat through the Panama Canal. They
secured the grandstand seats with 135,000 steel castings and a
million brass screws. They rolled out 16,000 square feet of sod.
When it was finished, the park had 36 ticket booths and 40
turnstiles that ticked like clocks as they counted the house. And
what a house it was--a colossus, in fact, a three-tiered horseshoe
that seated 70,000. F.C. Lane, in a 1923 issue of The Literary
Digest, called it "the last word in ball parks. But not the least
of its merits is its advantage of position. From the plain of the
Harlem River it looms up like the great Pyramid of Cheops from
the sands of Egypt."
It was the first ballpark in America to be called a stadium,
which traces back to the ancient Greek and Roman word for a track
for footraces, and the place had nothing if not room to run. When
Ruth stepped out of the Yankees' dugout and onto the field for
the first time, he looked around and declared, "Some ballyard!"
It was short down the lines, 281 feet to left and 295 to right,
but the fence flared out sharply in left and seemed to disappear
at the 490-foot mark in dead center, creating an alley in left
center that righthanded power hitters dubbed Death Valley. Wrote
one bug-eyed scribbler in the New York Sun, "The flag pole seems
almost beyond the range of a siege gun as it rears its height in
distant center field."
The Yankee Stadium, as it was called then, had its grand opening
on April 18, 1923, and more than 70,000 people--at the time the
largest crowd ever to watch a baseball game--made their
pilgrimage to see the Yankees play the Boston Red Sox. The roads
around the Stadium were unpaved, and flivver dust choked the
patrons massed at the turnstiles. The impatient crowd pressed
forward, and it took a cordon of 200 policemen to keep it back.
Baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis arrived via the
Interborough subway, promptly got caught in the crush of bodies
outside the gates and had to be rescued by the cops. Inside, as
John Phillip Sousa struck up the Seventh Regiment Band for The
Star-Spangled Banner, the two rival managers, Huggins and
Boston's Frank Chance, pulled the rope that raised the flag just
inside the centerfield wall. The Yanks won the opener 4-1, on a
homer by Ruth.
Grantland Rice, in the next day's New York Tribune, rolled up his
sleeves and let fly with this lead: "A white streak left Babe
Ruth's 52-ounce bludgeon in the third inning of yesterday's
opening game at the Yankee Stadium. On a low line it sailed, like
a silver flame, through the gray, bleak April shadows, and into
the right field bleachers. And as the crash sounded, and the
white flash followed, fans arose en masse...in the greatest
vocal cataclysm baseball has ever known."
The saga of Yankee Stadium had begun, and it wasn't three innings
old when Ruth claimed the place as his own. Because of its short
porch in right, the House That Ruth Built was also known as the
House Built for Ruth. While placing the centerfield fence at the
outer limits--or beyond--of most righthanded hitters, the
mischievous Ruppert then took an even greater edge. He made the
cracking of home runs a relatively facile exercise for lefthanded
pull-hitting sluggers, of whom he had the greatest ever. Ruth's
54 homers in 1920 and his 59 in 1921--many of them over the Polo
Grounds' short porch in right--had established the fan appeal of
the home run and had launched the Babe as America's most
charismatic athlete. Ruppert designed for Ruth a porch of his
Over the next 20 years, first through the power of Murderers' Row
and then through the teams of DiMaggio, the Stadium became a kind
of secular church in the Bronx. The Grand Concourse, two blocks
north of the Stadium, was the main thoroughfare for an upscale
neighborhood of handsome apartment buildings that had elevators
and doormen. Many of the players lived up the hill in the
Concourse Plaza, and kids used to meet them coming out the door
and trail them to the Stadium.
John McNamara grew up there in the 1920s, and he recalls the day
the bronze door of the players' exit burst open and out swept
the Babe himself, wearing his signature raccoon coat. "He looked
like a bear," says McNamara. "He was trying to get into this
little roadster, but he was so big he couldn't. He took off his
coat, handed it to me and said, 'Here, kid, hold the coat.' I
took it like the pope was handing me his cloak. When he got in,
I handed it back to him. 'Thanks, kid,' he said, and drove off.
What a thrill!"
In those days visiting teams often stayed at the New Yorker Hotel
at 34th Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan and came to the
ballpark on the C-line subway. "When I was a kid, I used to wait
by the subway station at the Stadium and meet the players when
they got off," says Arthur Richman, a senior adviser for the
Yankees, who grew up in the Bronx. "I met the old St. Louis
Browns there. They used to get me in."
As those championship pennants multiplied along the the Stadium's
facade--10 were fluttering there by the end of World War II--old
Goatville became a national shrine. "If you'd never been to
Yankee Stadium, you'd never been to the big leagues," says former
big league pitcher Bill Fischer, who first played there with the
White Sox in 1957. "It was like you had never lived until you
played ball in that town."
Fischer's first trip there came near the end of the longest orgy
of winning in Yankees history and in the history of baseball--the
dozen years from 1947 through 1958--and at a time when major
events in three sports had lifted the place to the zenith of
athletic venues. There have been 30 world championship fights
contested as main events at the Stadium. It was there that Rocky
Marciano twice whipped Ezzard Charles in '54--the second time
after Charles had butterflied Marciano's nose like it was a
shrimp and opened a cut over his left eye; Marciano was bleeding
so much by the eighth round that his corner feared the fight
would be stopped. Bulling forward, increasingly desperate as the
seconds ticked away, Marciano caught Charles in the eighth,
dropping him with a long right hand for a count of four, and then
chasing him across the ring and knocking him out with a left hook
and a right cross.
Sugar Ray Robinson, pounding for pounding the greatest of all
fighters, lost only 19 times in his 25-year career, but two of
his most memorable losses came in that little ring set up over
second base. On June 25, 1952, giving away almost 16 pounds to
light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim, Robinson was hitting
Maxim at will for 11 rounds, winning easily on all cards and
about to take his third world title before deliquescing in the
104 [degree] heat. It was so hot that night that the referee,
Ruby Goldstein, nearly keeled over and had to be replaced
following the 10th round. Robinson's collapse began in the 12th,
when he staggered around as Maxim pursued him and pounded his
body. Robinson fell to the canvas in the 13th after missing
Maxim with a wild right, and the crowd of 47,983 gasped as
Robinson, slumped on his stool, was unable to answer the bell
for the 14th. Thus he suffered the only knockout of his career,
but it was the heat, not Maxim, that beat him.
And it was in Yankee Stadium in '57 that middleweight champion
Robinson and welterweight titleholder Carmen Basilio, an onion
farmer from upstate New York, skinned and peeled each other for
45 long minutes in what The New York Times called, "fifteen
rounds of the most savage fighting at the Yankee Stadium." In a
dramatic climax, ring announcer Johnny Addie called out a split
decision and declared Basilio the new middleweight champ.
Bob Sheppard has been at the Stadium's public address microphone
since 1951, announcing all regular- and postseason baseball games
in his precise, resonant voice, but among his most cherished
memories are those from the Giants' football games he worked.
Sheppard was at the Stadium on Dec. 28, 1958, for the Greatest
Game Ever Played, the overtime NFL championship game between the
Giants and the Colts. What he remembers now is the Colts' final
drive in regulation; losing 17-14, they had the ball on their own
14 with two minutes left. He can still see quarterback Johnny
Unitas finding flanker Raymond Berry again and again. "It drove
me crazy," Sheppard says. "We almost had it in the bag. The Colts
only had two minutes and all those yards to go, and I thought,
It's safe. We have a good defense. But what a magician that
Unitas was! He had me saying, over and over and over on the P.A.,
Unitas to Berry, first down.... Unitas to Berry, first down....
Unitas to Berry, first down!" Steve Myhra kicked a field goal to
tie the score 17-17, and the Colts won it in sudden death when
fullback Alan Ameche plunged through a hole at the one to score.
"A huge hole," moans Sheppard.
That game was played less than three months after the Yankees
beat the Milwaukee Braves in the seventh game to win the 1958
World Series. That victory crowned a 12-year stretch in which the
Yankees won 10 pennants and eight World Series--a record five
titles in a row from 1949 to '53. The Stadium itself had changed
very little since '23. By then the Yankees had installed those
monuments close to the wall in center, the first, in 1932,
honoring Huggins, who had died three years before, and then
stones commemorating Gehrig ('41) and Ruth ('49). The monuments
were in the field of play, and nothing tested a centerfielder
more than having to run down a ball that was rattling around
between the monuments and the wall. The Yankees shortened the
Stadium's deepest fences in 1937--centerfield went from 490 feet
to 461, left center went from 460 to 457 and right center from
429 feet to 407--but it still took a Thor-like blast to reach the
bleachers. It is no wonder so many memories of those years
involve outfielders dashing madly after long fly balls.
In the sixth game of the '47 Series, with the Yankees leading
the Dodgers three games to two, DiMaggio came to bat with two
men on in the sixth and the Dodgers leading 8-5. Leftfielder Al
Gionfriddo was playing near the line when DiMaggio ripped a
415-foot drive toward the bullpen in leftfield. Gionfriddo,
thinking he had no chance, took off after it anyway, head down.
Twice he looked back over his left shoulder. On the rooftops of
the nearby Gerard Avenue apartment buildings, men with
binoculars watched him run and listened as Dodgers play-by-play
man Red Barber shouted over the radio, "Gionfriddo's going
backbackbackbackback!" DiMaggio was rounding first as Gionfriddo
neared the wall: "I saw it coming over my head," Gionfriddo
recalls, "and I knew I had to jump, and so I jumped, with my
back toward the plate, and I reached out and caught the ball in
midair, as I am turning, and I came down and hit the bullpen
gate with my butt."
Barber cried out, "Oh, doctor!"
DiMaggio, that most taciturn of men, kicked the dirt as he pulled
up near second base. "In all the years I played with him, that's
the only time Joe showed any emotion," Yankees shortstop Phil
Rizzuto says. "Ever." The Dodgers won the game 8-6 but lost the
Rizzuto remembers Ruth's coming to the park long after he'd
retired in '34, even when he was sick and dying of throat cancer,
and sitting in the dugout cheerily spinning tales. "He used to
sit on the bench in that camel hair coat and camel hair hat with
that big cigar. His voice was just about gone with cancer, but
he'd tell us stories about the old days, like how he'd eat hot
dogs during games. Some innings, when he wasn't going to bat,
he'd just stay out in rightfield and walk to the hot dog vendor
under the stands and eat hot dogs among the people...."
Two months before Ruth died, in '48, he returned a final time to
celebrate the Stadium's 25th anniversary, and Herald Tribune
photographer Nat Fein got a picture of him on a stool in the
clubhouse. "He was so sick, it took two men to dress him," Fein
recalls. "The Yankees were playing Cleveland that day, and Ruth
took Bob Feller's bat and leaned on it, like a cane, as he's
coming out of the dugout." Fein took a picture of Ruth from
behind, with the number 3 on his back for the last time. That
picture won the Pulitzer Prize in '49.
The Stadium touched everyone who played in it. Former Brooklyn
pitcher Carl Erskine grew up in Anderson, Ind. (pop. 55,000),
hearing about Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio and dreaming about
playing in the Stadium one day. And there he was, in the '49
World Series, walking into the visitors' clubhouse recently
vacated by the Yankees, who had switched dressing rooms. "We
walked in, awestruck, a bunch of kids," says Erskine, "and here
were two lockers with two uniforms in them: Ruth's and Gehrig's.
All cleaned and pressed and hanging there. I think they did it on
purpose: We'll shake these kids up real good.
"The Stadium had an aura. There was a feeling of privilege and
almost a disbelief that you're walking on the same field as those
greats of the past. I stood on the mound there one day, and I'm
looking around at 70,000 people, and I had this thought: That's
more people than live in Anderson!"
In the sixth game of the '51 Series, the Yankees were leading the
Giants three games to two when rightfielder Hank Bauer struck a
bases-loaded triple in the sixth, giving the Yanks a 4-1 lead
that they carried into the ninth. The finish was a circus. The
Giants loaded the bases with nobody out and Irvin coming to bat.
Stengel called on lefty Bob Kuzava. Irvin hit a bolt to left
center that Bobby Brown, the Yankees' third baseman, says
traveled about 450 feet before leftfielder Gene Woodling chased
it down. That scored the runner from third and advanced the other
two. Bobby Thomson then struck a nearly identical shot to left
center that Woodling grabbed on the run. The runner scored from
third, making it 4-3. With the tying run on third, pinch hitter
Sal Yvars came to bat. "I can still see it," Sheppard says.
"Yvars hit a screaming line drive to right."
"I was holding my breath," says Rizzuto.
Bauer, playing deep, charged. "I saw it, and then I didn't see
it," he recalls. He slid forward feet-first and snatched it off
the top of the grass, ending the game and winning the Series.
Brown laughs at the unlikely climax: "Monte Irvin and Bobby
Thomson hit two balls 900 feet and Yvars hit a screaming line
drive, and the next day one headline said, KUZAVA SHUTS DOWN
GIANTS IN THE NINTH."
DiMaggio played in his last World Series that year; Mantle was
playing in his first. One of the most important plays in Mantle's
career took place in the second game of that Series. On a Willie
Mays fly ball, Mantle, trying to get out of DiMaggio's way,
stepped on a drain cover, tore ligaments in his right knee and
collapsed. He lay motionless. "I thought he'd been shot, the way
he went down," Yankees second baseman Jerry Coleman says. "That
was the beginning of Mickey's long, agonizing problems with his
Mantle was DiMaggio's heir apparent to the most venerated role in
the Stadium's lore: the Yankee slugger. It was a legacy founded
by Ruth from Opening Day in '23, and a parade soon trooped in his
wake: Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra, Mize, Mantle, Roger Maris. But
none of them, not even Ruth, hit the ball as far as Mantle did.
Twice in his career, batting from the left side, the Mick was a
foot or two short of becoming the first man to drive a fair ball
out of the Yard. Over the years, the fact that no one has ever
done so became a central element of the Stadium's mystique.
On May 30, 1956, facing Washington Senators pitcher Pedro Ramos,
Mantle drove a 2-and-2 fastball into the copper frieze along the
rightfield roof. "I first thought it was just a pop fly," Ramos
recalls, "but it carried like that new airplane that's gonna take
a half hour from San Francisco to New York. If it had not hit the
roof, it would have been in Brooklyn."
Seven years later Mantle busted a fastball from Bill Fischer, now
pitching for the Kansas City Athletics, that hammered the same
filigree. "You could hear everybody suck in their breath when it
was hit," says Rizzuto. "It was on its upward arc when it hit
that facade, and then it seemed to hesitate a moment before it
dropped." Mantle proclaimed it the hardest ball he ever hit. Says
Fischer, "Six feet over and it would have gone right through the
gap by the bullpen and killed somebody waiting at the train
Perhaps the mother of all blasts in the Stadium came two years
later when 6'7", 255-pound Frank Howard of Washington smote a
Steve Hamilton fastball down the foul line and over the upper
deck in left, over the exits and over the roof and out of the
park. It was foul by about four feet. "Nobody's ever hit a ball
that far," says Yankees third baseman Clete Boyer. "It was like a
shot out of a bazooka. I wish it had been fair. You had to see it
to believe it."
Which is precisely what they were saying on that afternoon of
Oct. 4, 1955, as the 2,838,000 citizens of Brooklyn danced out
their doors and into the streets. For Brooklyn fans the Stadium
came to be the embodiment of a wicked curse--a mammoth white
oracle orchestrating their fate. Coming into their '55 Series
with the Yankees, the Dodgers had been in seven World Series
since 1916, and they had never won a championship. The Yankees
had beat them four times (two of those in seven games) in the
past eight years. Going into the seventh game of the '55 Series,
each team had won on its home field, setting up what Harold
Rosenthal of the New York Herald Tribune described at the time as
possibly "the most dramatic Series game ever played."
Dodgers manager Walter Alston made two fateful moves that day.
First, since the Yard was friendly to lefthanded pitchers, he
sent Johnny Podres to the mound. Second, in the sixth inning
Alston moved Jim Gilliam, an infielder playing leftfield that
day, to second base--where he belonged--and replaced him with
Sandy Amoros, a light-hitting outfielder with the range of an
The Dodgers were leading 2-0 in the sixth when Berra came to the
plate with no outs, Billy Martin on second and Gil McDougald on
first. Amoros was playing the lefthanded pull hitter toward
center. "I threw a fastball that was high and about a foot
outside," recalls Podres. "He shouldn't have even swung at it!
But Yogi did." Berra sliced the ball down the leftfield line.
Amoros got a good jump and began sprinting wildly toward the foul
pole. Martin took off for third, and McDougald raced to second.
As he rounded second, he saw Amoros closing on the ball. "When
Amoros got near the fence, he put on the brakes, and it looked
like he was leaning backward," McDougald recalls. "When I saw
that, I took off for third. I was going to score! And then Sandy
stuck out his hand...."
All of Flatbush inhaled at once. Brooklyn fans had seen this all
before, year after year--the killing Yankees rally, the turn of
the screw. Frozen now in time, that moment, that scene, is a
museum piece, an autumn diorama worthy of its own corner at
Cooperstown--the October light playing tricks in leftfield,
McDougald racing toward third, the players in the dugouts on
their feet, heads craning toward that corner, the ball slicing
and Amoros reaching out....
"The sun was devastating that day," says Coleman, "and there were
dark shadows in front of Amoros. He never saw that ball...."
"And then Sandy stuck out his hand," says McDougald, "and found
that Easter egg."
Both runners skidded to a stop as Amoros turned and fired to
shortstop PeeWee Reese, who fired to first baseman Gil Hodges and
caught McDougald between second and third. "I felt like cutting
across the diamond, but I think the coaches would have got mad at
me," McDougald says.
It all seems so simple to Podres now: "Yogi hit that ball off me,
and Amoros made the greatest catch in America."
The Dodgers won, their first and only World Series in Brooklyn,
and Erskine remembers walking into the clubhouse when it was all
over--the same clubhouse where Ruth's and Gehrig's uniforms had
been left hanging clean and neatly pressed in '49--and feeling a
tranquillity that he'd never felt before. "To go to their park
and beat them, after all those frustrating years, just added a
dimension to it," he says. "There was a quietness when we first
walked in that clubhouse, almost a spiritual feeling, gratitude
for this accomplishment. Then someone popped a bottle of
champagne, and the lid blew off."
Just as it was about to do again on the afternoon of Oct. 8,
1956, when Dodgers pinch hitter Dale Mitchell came to the plate
in the top of the ninth, the only man standing between Don
Larsen and his perfect game. Larsen had pitched brilliantly, to
be sure, but the elements had favored him that day. In the fall
the Stadium is hard on hitters late in the day. As the sun sets
behind the upper deck, a shadow gradually moves across the
infield; there is a time when the ball is pitched out of the
sunlight and into the shade--the ball seems to flicker on and
off like a light. The glare also makes leftfield the hardest
position to play in baseball at that time of year. It gets late
early out there, as Yogi once famously said.
In the second inning Jackie Robinson smacked a liner off third
baseman Andy Carey's glove. The ball caromed to McDougald at
short. "Luck, blind luck," McDougald recalls. Robinson's foot was
six inches above the bag when Collins took the peg at first.
In the fifth Hodges drove a ball into left center, a homer almost
anywhere else, but Mantle, the fastest Yankee of them all, was in
full flight, a la Gionfriddo, and made a sensational backhanded
catch. And then Amoros hit a long drive down the rightfield line
that looked like a homer, but it hooked foul by inches.
By the sixth inning, Coleman recalls, excited Yankees on the
bench began playing manager and moving players around on the
field: Move here! Move there! Play up! Play back! Finally Stengel
had had enough: "Shut up!" he hollered. "I'm managing this here
By the time Mitchell, the 27th Dodgers hitter of the day, came to
bat, a cathedral-like stillness had descended on the Stadium. "He
was a tough contact hitter," recalls Sheppard. "I thought, Oh,
no. The last out. The last player. Top of the ninth. My stomach
was churning. It was silent. You don't shout, you just pray."
Larsen's first pitch was outside, ball one. The second was a
slider for a called strike. Mitchell then swung at and missed a
fastball, strike two, then fouled off another fastball. Larsen's
third fastball caught the outside corner of the plate. "I can see
Babe Pinelli turning and calling, 'Steee-rike three!'" says
Sheppard. "The exhalation! It filled the Bronx!"
And it still does, even though the Stadium is no longer what it
was in the days when the Yankees shared the place with the
football Giants and Louis and Marciano and Robinson. The Giants
are long gone to Swampsville in New Jersey, and the last fight to
be staged there was on Sept. 28, 1976, when Muhammad Ali feebly
outpointed Ken Norton to keep his heavyweight title. In 1973, on
the occasion of its 50th anniversary, the Stadium underwent major
surgery. When all of King George's men put Yankee Stadium back
together again, all those girders that blocked sight lines were
gone, but so was Death Valley and the monuments, which were moved
to the other side of the fence in left center. And with the
infusion of righthanded power in the Yankees' lineup, most
notably Dave Winfield in 1981, the fences kept coming in. "People
want to see home runs," Steinbrenner said in 1984, as he prepared
to bring the walls in again. "It hasn't been fair to our
righthand hitters." Today, that original 460-foot power alley in
left center is now 399 feet, and the centerfield wall, once 490
feet away, is now 408.
From the fall of '73 to the spring of '74, the men of the
Invirex Demolition Co. busted up the Stadium with jackhammers
and wrecking balls, turning Goatville into the greatest
archaeological dig west of Cheops. Jay Schwall, the owner of
Invirex, ordered the 30-ton copper frieze dismantled and melted
down--including that section over rightfield that, he says, bore
a dent from Mantle's bazooka shot in '63.
Bert Sugar, boxing historian and baseball aficionado, sifted
through the artifacts and unearthed everything but Rockne's
halftime speech. He walked away with Babe Ruth's ashtray and bat
bag--"which looks like a cow's udder," he says--sheets of
undistributed World Series tickets from '48, the year the Yankees
finished a close third, 2 1/2 games behind Cleveland; a set of
first-down chains (Unitas to Berry, first down); Casey Stengel's
shower door; and a full uniform worn by DiMaggio, a pair of
Gehrig's pinstriped pants and Ron Swoboda's jockstrap.
Some things are immutable. The Bronx is up, and the Battery's
down. And some things should never change. The old Grand
Concourse neighborhood is not what it used to be. The doormen are
gone, the elevators are going. The Concourse Plaza, where so many
Yankees used to live, is now a home for senior citizens. There
has been much talk lately of building a new Yankee Stadium on
Manhattan's West Side. Or in New Jersey. For those whose lives
have been touched by the spirit of Yankee Stadium, such a thought
is tantamount to a sacrilege.
"Can you imagine moving the Statue of Liberty to Montauk Point?"
"How about moving Carnegie Hall to Hoboken?" says Sugar. Yankee
Stadium may not be the house it was when Ruth built it, but it
remains on the same plot of land Ruppert and Huston picked out
when they decided to stick it to McGraw's Giants, and it has
been hallowed by the triumphs and failures of the great athletes
who played there and were, in turn, shaped by the experience.
Mickey Mantle used to have this recurring nightmare about the
Stadium: He is dressed in his Yankees uniform, wearing spikes. He
can hear Sheppard announcing the lineup one player at a time, his
voice echoing like Gehrig's farewell. "Catching catching, number
8 number 8, Yogi Yogi Berra Berra...." Mantle is outside, on the
street, and he is trying, frantically, to get in. All the gates
are locked, but he can see inside. The Stadium is full. He hears
Sheppard call his name: "In centerfield centerfield, number 7
number 7, Mickey Mickey Mantle Mantle...." He rattles the gates,
a prisoner locked outside, but no one is there to help him, and
he cannot get in.
Maybe this was Mantle's final legacy, this nightmare he
bequeathed to us. That we would one day go to Yankee Stadium and
the gates would be locked, the monuments moved, and we could not
get in. And then not even the memories would be buried there.
pitcher Fischer, "you'd never been to the big leagues."
exhorted his players to "win just one for the Gipper."
made the greatest catch in America."
Charles had butterflied Marciano's nose like a shrimp.
in which they won 10 pennants and eight World Series.
Sheppard, "but what a magician that Unitas was!"
early out there," as Yogi famously said.