Bock’s Score: Remembering The Big Ball Yard In The Bronx

Most memorabilia events offer the usual items – gloves, balls, bats, uniforms – the nuts and bolts of baseball. However, the current Steiner Sports Spring Fever Auction, which runs through May 6, has something very different. It is offering the original blueprints used in the construction of Yankee Stadium, perhaps the most iconic venue is all of sports.

Think about the history that was written in what sportscasters liked to call “the big ball yard in the south Bronx.’’ Before it was replaced in 2009, the original Yankee Stadium was home to one of the greatest dynasties in all sports. The Montreal Canadiens in hockey and the Boston Celtics in basketball had great runs of success. Nobody, however, could match the 26 world championships that the Yankees won in the days when they played at the original Yankee Stadium.

It is hard to imagine but there was a time when the Yankees were second class citizens in New York, without a ballpark to call their own. They played in the Polo Grounds, home of the Giants, where manager John McGraw, a martinet, ruled the landscape. As long as the Yankees were a baseball afterthought, McGraw was fine with having them as tenants. Then they swindled the Boston Red Sox out of Babe Ruth and suddenly with his habit of hitting multiple home runs, the Yankees became very relevant, outdrawing the Giants at the gate, and becoming very annoying to Mr. McGraw.

So, like any irritable landlord, McGraw and the Giants served eviction notice to the Yankees. They responded by purchasing what once had been farmland from the estate of William Waldorf Astor for $675,000 and building their own ballpark just across the Harlem River, almost in the shadow of the Polo Grounds. It would be a majestic triple decked structure called Yankee Stadium and it would change the landscape of baseball forever.

Designing the new stadium became the job of Osborne Engineering and ground was broken on May 5, 1922. Five days later, construction began and within 284 working days, the project was completed. It stands as one of the most astonishing building projects in history. The Stadium sat an incredible 70,000 fans and was topped by a handsome copper frieze that ringed the roof of the ballpark, a distinctive touch atop a very impressive structure.

The dimensions were a bit odd. The right field stands were less than 300 feet from home plate, an inviting target for a left-handed slugger like, oh, yes, this fellow named Ruth. The left field stands were much further away, often frustrating later right-handed sluggers like Joe DiMaggio.

Opening Day in 1923 was a festive affair with over 74,000 fans jamming this new baseball gem. John Philip Sousa led the Seventh Regiment Band and a procession of players to the center field flagpole. Ruth punctuated the occasion with a game-winning three-run home run. Almost immediately, the Stadium became known as the House That Ruth Built.

It became home to some of baseball’s most iconic moments – Ruth’s record 60th home run in 1927, Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech in 1939, Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series and two more perfect games by David Cone and David Wells. But over the years, as it aged, there was a clamor to update the place. After its 50th year as home to the Yankees, the Stadium underwent a two-year upgrade. The Yankees played the 1974 and 1975 seasons at Shea Stadium before returning to the Bronx in 1976.

 Spruced up, the original Stadium remained the Yankees home three more decades. But owner George Steinbrenner tired of the old place and demanded a new home. In 2009, the team moved to a new ballpark constructed just up the street from their old home. For some, the new place looked more like a museum or a shopping mall than a ballpark and many fans were saddened when the original Yankee Stadium, the one designed by Osborne Engineering, came down.

The new Yankee Stadium maintained some of the original place’s touches like the frieze on the roof and the sea of monuments, saluting the great players who wore Yankee pinstripes. The largest monument, a 7-by-5 foot, 760-pound bronze affair, is a tribute to a non-player.

 It honors George M. Steinbrenner, and carries his nickname: The Boss.

About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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