A Reflection on The Late, Great Yankee Stadium With Vintage Photographs
I visited the new Yankee Stadium once in 2009 when it first opened. The feeling was a bit surreal. It was like being in Yankee Stadium, but it wasn’t. The main difference for me was the surrounding neighborhood and looking out past the right-center field bleachers and not seeing the apartment buildings and the Bronx County Court House.
The new Yankee Stadium is a glorified mall.
The old Yankee Stadium that existed from 1923 – 1973 was where the storied history of the Yankees took place. Even after the renovation of Yankee Stadium from 1974-1975 which included taking out the old wooden seats and the removal of the beams that could block your view from many of those seats, the stadium still retained some of the old charm, even though it lost a bit of its character. From 1976 -2008 the Yankees played in the same spot where Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Red Ruffing, Hank Bauer, Whitey Ford Joe DiMaggio and Bill Dickey saw action.
The Yankees of the last 35 years; Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer, Ron Guidry, Mel Stottlemyre, Paul O’Neill, Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter could look around and seep in the history of this altered palace of baseball, even if there were heavy cosmetic changes to the outside and inside of the stadium itself.
There was no more “Death Valley” in left center field where the wall was 457 feet away from home plate. The seating capacity was no longer 70,000+. It was more like 57,000 if you crammed people in to every nook and cranny. But it was still where the Yankee greats had roamed and the presence of those who had triumphed before them was felt by players and fans alike.
Across the street there is a new ballpark called Yankee Stadium. What the Yankees possess is a stadium where multi-millionaire players enter and exit through garages unseen by the public, play baseball and have limited interaction with the fans.
It is where multi-millionaire spectators have premium seating and can be distracted with non-stop, blaring music and an interactive scoreboard. These spectators have unlimited food being served to them, while texting on their mobile devices and are close to the action in walled off seclusion from the rest of the $300 and under “riff raff” fans.
It is where millions of dollars will be paid by taxpayers for many years to come to build this pale imitation of a great ballpark.
Here are some vintage photos of the original Yankee Stadium with some notes and memories. (Click on any photo to enlarge and click again in some cases to get a high resolution view)
Yankee Stadium in April 1923, right before opening.
The stadium as seen again in 1923. The mezzanine and upper grandstands were not completed until later in the 1920’s.
A large crowd at the stadium on Friday, July 26, 1929. The Yankees shut out the St. Louis Browns 9-0. About to deliver a pitch is Yankees hurler Ed Wells who won his eighth game of the year. Bill Dickey hit two home runs and Lou Gehrig walloped his 24th home run for the Yankees in the winning effort. How hard was it to hit a home run to dead center? For the first few years of operation the center field fence in Yankee Stadium was 490 feet away!
The All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium on July 11, 1939. A crowd of 62,892 saw the American League triumph over the National League 3-1. This was the second All-Star game held in New York. The 1934 All-Star game was played across the Harlem River at the Giants home field, the Polo Grounds.
Fans line up outside the left field bleachers to buy tickets to an important game – note the bunting draped over the upper deck.
When Yankee Stadium was filled to capacity it looked like this. (photo © Daily News)
In the foreground is Yankee Stadium and in the background across the Harlem River is the Polo Grounds. The Giants abandoned New York, and the Polo Grounds, leaving for San Francisco following the 1957 season. After four seasons with no baseball, the expansion New York Mets played in the Polo Grounds for their first two seasons in 1962 and 1963, before moving to their own ballpark in Flushing, Queens – Shea Stadium. The Polo Grounds were torn down in 1964. The site is now a housing project.
The 1943 World Series is underway. The Yankees would defeat the St. Louis Cardinals four games to one in five closely battled games.
It is July 4, 1961 at 1:56 in the afternoon and the stadium has filled up to see the Yankees play the Detroit Tigers in a doubleheader. The Bronx County Courthouse is the large building in the upper right hand corner of the photo.
In the old stadium, there was no monument park. The three monuments to the Yankee greats (Lou Gehrig, Miller Huggins and Babe Ruth) were in play on the field at the deepest part of center field. I remember Bobby Murcer chasing down a ball that scooted behind the monuments. I also remember thinking (as probably many small children did,) that maybe those players were buried out in center field.
Looking in from the monuments, this is the view Mickey Mantle had of Yankee Stadium.
Here from the field level seats between third base and left field you can see the monuments placement in relation to the rest of the outfield. The classic scoreboard is also in the background beyond the right field bleachers. As announcer Mel Allen used to say when a Yankee hit a home run, “that was a Ballantine Blast.” See, they even had annoying sponsored slogans and endorsements back then.
One of the great thrills for a fan was after some games concluded you could exit through the field. That was a dream come true – to be able to walk on the same ground that Berra, Mantle, Kubek, Richardson, Maris and even Horace Clarke traversed. The stadium ushers and fans were civil towards one another and they would actually allow you on to the field as soon as the game ended and as many of the pitchers were exiting the bullpen in the outfield to get to the dugouts. I met “Sudden” Sam McDowell this way. We’ll save that for another time, because that is a story in itself.
In the 1970’s, when I was attending quite a few games, another joy was before a game you could come and watch batting practice from literally anywhere in the ballpark. The Yankees usually were just finishing their B.P. as the fans were allowed into the ballpark, so it was usually the visiting team you got to see practicing. There were no walls, fences or guards keeping the fans from moving about the stands. You could go anywhere in the stadium you wanted except from the bleachers to the main ballpark and vice versa. There were usually only a few hundred people there so every hard hit echoed like a rifle shot in a canyon.
You could hang out by the dugout and pester players for autographs; which many times they would sign. You might station yourself down the third or first base line to catch foul balls. Or you could just watch batting practice up close from the best seats in the house, even if you weren’t in possession of those tickets for the game.
The expensive field boxes were affordable -even for a kid in 1973 – the price $4.00. When the stadium was renovated after 1976 the first row field boxes were still relatively inexpensive at about $7.50 during the late 1970’s. We normally did not sit there. We almost always sat in general admission in the upper deck. That cost $1.25. After the renovation – $1.50. The stadium was almost never sold out except for Old Timer’s Day and Bat Day so you could sit practically anywhere in the upper deck, except the upper box seats.
When the park started getting filled up just before game time, an usher (not a guard) would ask to see your tickets if you were down in the lower deck. Sometimes you would be lucky and they wouldn’t chase you away if you didn’t have tickets for those box seats. But that was rare. What was more common was people would slip the usher two or three dollars and he would dust off the seats with that filthy, textured thick rag of a glove you see on this usher’s hand in the photograph, and let you stay where you were sitting.
As a child I thought the ushers came with the stadium; in other words they were all so old that they were indentured servants or had worked there since Babe Ruth opened the place in 1923. The ushers were generally grouchy guys who worked the lower deck and many of them had in fact been there for 30 or more years. They knew who had season seats and who didn’t- so upon reflection many years later, I now understand why they got peeved at people trying to sit in seats they didn’t belong in, unless the ushers got their palms greased – even if there were only 15,000 in the ball park for most games.
This is the final at bat at the old Yankee Stadium, September 30, 1973. John Hiller is on the mound for the Tigers and Mike Hegan, son of long time Yankee coach Jim Hegan is at bat for the Yankees. The Yankees lost to the Tigers 8-5.
Renovation began on Yankee Stadium following the 1973 season. They took down the beams in the stands, shortened the mezzanine and shifted heights and contours of the outfield walls. A new state of the art scoreboard would be installed in 1976. They also removed the famous copper facade/frieze that lined the roof of the upper deck and put it into storage to be possibly used again when the stadium re-opened. It was promptly lost and never seen again. The theory was, it was stolen out of storage and sold for scrap metal. The renovated stadium had a replica facade built. The seats from the stadium were removed and sold at New York department stores like Korvettes and Alexander’s for anywhere form $7.50 for single seats to $25 and up for multiple seats. I begged my mother to buy 2 seats bolted together, but she thought I was crazy.
Maybe I was, but I miss the old Yankee Stadium and wish I had those seats.