The history of Yankee Stadium begins in the year 1923 when New York Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert Jr. got tired of sharing the Polo Grounds with the New York Giants and wanted his own ballpark for his New York Yankees baseball team. Jacob Ruppert Jr. who was a wealthy businessman and also would serve four terms as a congressman in the United States House Of Representatives had the money and savoy to make it all happen. Jacob Ruppert Jr. was not the sole owner of the New York Yankees. Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston who was a civil engineer and businessman also owned part of the New York Yankees.
The two businessmen set out to build a ballpark, unlike any that had ever been built in the United States. The new home of the New York Yankees would become the first ballpark to utilize the word “stadium in its name. The reason behind the “stadium name was the new home would become the first ballpark to add a third tier for fans. Adding a third tier along with the sheer size of the building plans would make Yankee Stadium a home that could hold 67,224 fans. Plans were to build the stadium in the Bronx at 161st street and River Avenue.
The owners of the New York Yankees paid $675,000 for the land. The cost of building the stadium stood at 2.5 million dollars. That was an astonishing amount of money in the 1920s. Lending a hand to the building of the stadium would be none other than the legendary inventor Thomas Edison. The man who brought us the record player, movie camera, lightbulb, its grid delivery system, and of course so much more would play a role in the building of the Stadium with the special fortified concrete that he created. On April 23, 1923, Yankee Stadium opened its doors. The first ball game to be played at the house that Ruth built would pit the New York Yankees against the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees won 4-1 and the history of Yankee Stadium had begun.
Pre – Yankee Stadium
With nineteen American League East Division titles to their credit, as well as forty American League Pennants and twenty-seven World Series championships, only the National Hockey League’s Montreal Canadiens can honestly rival the impressive roster of accomplishments the New York Yankees have earned for themselves as a team. They also have forty-four players and eleven managers inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The vast majority of those greats came from the teams that played in the first Yankee Stadium.
Going Against Giants
Before the first Yankee Stadium was built in 1923, the New York Yankees shared a field in the Polo Grounds with the New York Giants. In 1901, just after Ban Johnson’s Western League upgraded from minor to major after becoming the American League, the rival National League was hostile to the idea of another professional baseball team based in New York. The Giants blocked the first attempt that would ultimately see that team move to Baltimore, Maryland to become the Orioles.
At the time, John McGraw was the manager and part-owner of the Orioles. He, however, clashed often with Johnson. During the 1902 season, McGraw abandoned the Orioles to manage the Giants. In the process, he took many of the players with him. When the 1902 season was over, the first Baltimore Orioles was officially disbanded.
Upon the start of the 1903 season, the American League and the National League reached an agreement to co-exist that finally allowed the AL to have a New York-based team of their own. The narrow decision to have this new team play alongside the Giants saw the New York Highlanders franchise awarded to Frank J. Farrell and William S. Devery.
Before officially becoming the New York Yankees in 1913, the team was often at odds against the New York Giants and their fan base. When these two teams had to share the Polo Grounds on the shore of Harlem River in Washington Heights, it was not an easy coexistence. During this time, the Yankees struggled as a team that would see some key management changes before a certain ball player named Babe Ruth would join the team’s roster.
Rising Above Giants
During the early 1920s, there were three American League teams that shared a detente. The Boston Red Sox, the Chicago White Sox, and the New York Yankees had trades going on between them that antagonized Ban Johnson. Dubbed “The Insurrectos,” the detente worked in favor of the Yankees as its payroll increased, allowing new players who later contributed to the team’s success originally came from the other two. The Red Sox’s owner at the time, Harry Frazee, saw dollar signs to fund his theatrical productions as he traded off Babe Ruth to the Yankees for a large sum of money.
What benefited Frazee and the Yankees was something that would prove to be a disaster for the Red Sox for eighty-six seasons. During this time, the team from Boston had yet to win so much as a single World Series championship. Throughout this time, the rivalry it had against the New York Yankees was epic. Curse of the Bambino was dubbed as the reason why Boston failed to achieve so much as a taste of what became so familiar in New York.
Thanks to the multitude of home runs batted by the bambino himself, Babe Ruth’s popularity gave the New York Yankees exactly what the team needed. It didn’t take long after the team’s acquisition of Ruth in 1921 that they would finally rival the New York Giants as the city’s favorite baseball team. It was also in 1921 the Yankees played their first World Series championship as they went up against the Giants. All eight of the games that were played were on the Polo Grounds they shared.
It was during this time John McGraw grumbled the New York Yankees need to find their own ballpark, even going as far as suggesting Queens. The idea was to have the Yankees place themselves as far away from his Giants as possible. When the Yankees were forced to leave Polo Grounds at the end of the 1922 season, instead of going clean across New York City just to please McGraw, they broke ground for a brand new ballpark straight across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds in the Bronx.
Despite the Yankees not being able to defeat their biggest rivals after competing against them in the 1921 and 1922 World Series, it was only a matter of time before the New York City version of King David would best the city’s version of Goliath. After a management rivalry saw Jacob Ruppert become the new owner of the Yankees in 1923, this became the start of a new era that had the Yankees cause the Giants to shrink even further as a dominant force in major league baseball.
After learning they were no longer allowed to call Polo Grounds their home, the New York Yankees found a new one after Yankee Stadium was built in the Bronx. It took eleven months to build a sporting venue that had 99,200 fans show up on its opening day. There would have been twenty-five thousand more but there wasn’t enough room available to accommodate them so they had to be turned away.
The first game played in the stadium saw Babe Ruth hit a home run. Already at that time, it was nicknamed “The House That Ruth Built” as he was the reason why the Yankees became so popular. Prior to him, the crowd attendance was about half. It wasn’t until after he made such a profound impression that the Yankees were able to build a stadium of their own.
As impressive as the 1923 season was, reality had it that the Yankees still had yet to overcome the Giants in the World Series. What became the third straight World Series standoff between the two teams saw the boys in the Bronx earned the right to call themselves champions.
Since then, the New York Yankees have dominated Major League Baseball with what became the start of several World Series championships. The majority of those victories came from Yankee Stadium. From 1923 until 2008, the original Bronx location served as the home base of the team. Upon completion of this impressive sporting venue, it cost over two million dollars. If it was built today, it would be just shy of the forty million dollar mark.
This was the same stadium the iconic Babe Ruth played in as the unlikely hero of baseball as a New York Yankee. This was the exact same stadium that’s been referred to as “The House That Ruth Built.” Clean through the 1920s and the 1930s, Ruth and the Yankees were an unstoppable force as a sports team.
The first season the Yankees played in the first Yankee Stadium ended with the first of twenty-six World Series championships won. For eighty-four years, the original Yankee Stadium was the team’s home.
Going into the 1927 season, the New York Yankees had a lineup that became known as “Murderer’s Row.” As far as many baseball historians are concerned, this was the greatest team ever to exist. However, this claim is often rivaled by the lineups belonging to the 1939, 1961, and 1998 seasons.
However, what made 1927 so legendary was it saw the Yankees become the first team in baseball history to hold the top spot clean through the entire season. In total, the team won 110 games that year and destroyed the Pittsburgh Pirates in just four games of its World Series championship. That victory was achieved before the sold-out crowd of Yankee Stadium.
This was also the season that saw Babe Ruth score sixty home runs, setting a record that hung on until Roger Maris broke it thirty-four seasons later. However, in Ruth’s defense, Maris had eight more games to pull this off as the length of the regular season in 1961 was longer than the 154 games that were played back in 1927. However, Maris was a Yankee at the time and this monumental achievement took place on October 1, 1961, at Yankee Stadium which had 23,154 fans in it. For the team, as well as the stadium, setting and breaking records when it came to hits and home runs were becoming regular events.
Joining Babe Ruth on Murderer’s Row was Lou Gehrig. He had a batting average of .373 with forty-seven home runs and 175 runs batted in. He actually broke Ruth’s RBI record that was set in 1921. Together, these men played their part to secure yet another World Series victory in 1928 after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in what was yet another four-game sweep.
Clubbing the Cubs
When former Chicago Cubs manager, Joe McCarthy, was hired by the New York Yankees to bring the team back on top in the American League in 1931, he did this in style. Thanks to him, he and his Yankees beat his former team in the 1932 World Series. For the Yankees, this four-game sweep gave them their twelfth championship victory. This was the same series that had Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” which had him fire a home run down the center of Chicago’s Wrigley Field. He visually called the shot out before actually making it, which made this moment in baseball history even more memorable.
Even though the Called Shot and the World Series win took place in Chicago, it still meant Yankee Stadium would feature yet another victory banner to add to its collection. What made this one stand out, however, was how it happened before Babe Ruth left the Yankees four years later to play his final season with another team, the National League’s Boston Braves. He officially retired on May 30th. However, if one thought Ruth’s departure from the Yankees meant the team’s magic went with him, they were quite mistaken.
With Ruth’s presence no longer taking center stage, this allowed Lou Gehrig to finally shine as the Yankee’s top star player. However, that only lasted for one season as Joe DiMaggio was about to pick up where the Babe left off. From 1936 until 1939, DiMaggio won over the fans who flocked to Yankee Stadium to watch him play his part to earn the team four straight World Series wins. From these four victories, it was the 1938 World Series championship against the Chicago Cubs that earned the Yankees the win on their home turf.
Gehrig was still able to make his mark as one of the Yankee superstars, at least until May 2, 1939. It was at that time he was forced into retirement due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. On July 4, 1939, while at Yankee Stadium, the team retired his jersey number “4” on what was called “Lou Gehrig Day.” There were very few dry eyes left among the crowd after Gehrig’s speech admitted he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth. On June 2, 1941, Gehrig succumbed to the disease that would later be called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” in his memory.
1939 also marked the year the Yankees’ owner, Jacob Ruppert, passed away. His heirs assumed control of the team until it was purchased in 1945 for $2.8 million USD by Del Webb, Dan Topping, and Larry MacPhail. The team, along with Yankee Stadium, was now under their control.
The Golden Era
1941 marked the year when Ted Williams from the Boston Red Sox enjoy a .400 batting average while Joe DiMaggio was unstoppable as a hitter as his streak stretched for fifty-six consecutive games. Deemed unbreakable, this is a record no player has been able to beat yet. This was also the same season that Yankee Stadium witnessed its home team defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the first of seven World Series meetings they had before the Dodgers relocated to Los Angeles.
Dubbed the Golden Era for the New York Yankees, the 1941 season also witnessed a humbling moment for the United States of America. The nation just entered World War II which saw many players go from sporting baseball uniforms to the military. At the time, not even baseball stars were immune to forcing them to drop their bats and head overseas to fight on behalf of Uncle Sam.
Even with stars like DiMaggio sent to the military, the Yankee players left behind were still able to beat the St. Louis Cardinals after the two met during the 1943 World Series. This was a sweet victory as they lost to the same team in 1942. What the Cardinals did to them in Yankee Stadium in 1942 the Yankees returned the favor in 1943 in Sportsman Park.
However, after the Yankees and Yankee Stadium were no longer owned by the estate of Ruppert, both met with a series of struggles that saw several management changes. As a result, there was a fear the magic that made the Bronx-based team could be lost. However, when the Yankees beat the Dodgers during the 1947 World Series in Yankee Stadium, the doubters were proven wrong.
Seeing Red and Dodging Bullets
When Casey Stengel took over the New York Yankees as its manager, it became the Cinderella story that brought back the magic to the team, as well as Yankee Stadium. This also marked the start of a new rivalry between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The 1949 season suggested the Red Sox were shoe-ins to play against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. However, the Yankees were able to knock them out at the end of that season by pulling off surprise victories that not only knocked the socks off the Sox but seize the victory over their other rivals, the Dodgers.
While both victories by the Yankees were not achieved in their own backyard, it was enough to keep the spark among New Yorkers alive that kept filling up the seats of Yankee Stadium. This was also the start of a new era that would do so much more than become a nationwide sensation.
Between Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra, the magic of the Yankees saw an incredible run of ten pennants won and seven World Series titles. These achievements added to the aura that gave the iconic Bronx location more reason to boast.
The first year of this incredible run began in 1950 when the World Series championship and Yankee Stadium witnessed the Yankees take out the Whiz Kids belonging to the Philadelphia Phillies in a four-game sweep. Although his career was winding down, Joe DiMaggio was still part of the Yankee lineup. When he retired at the end of the 1951 season, which also saw the Yankees win the World Series on their home turf again, the place was packed with over sixty thousand fans.
While the 1952 World Series win against the Dodgers was accomplished in Brooklyn, the pennant collection continued to decorate the Yankees’ stadium in the Bronx. In 1953, when the Yankees beat the Dodgers again, that one took place in the team’s home field.
Then came 1954’s oddball year that witnessed the Yankees fail to achieve the American League pennant when the Cleveland Indians robbed them of it after scoring a new record of 111 wins compared to their 103. This is what influenced Douglass Wallop to write a book titled “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.” It also became a musical comedy that year called Damn Yankees.
This was followed by yet another disappointing season as 1955 did see the Yankees reach the World Series but fail to overcome the dominance of the Dodgers after losing its seventh game in their own Yankee Stadium. It wouldn’t be until 1956 the Yankees would get their revenge against the Dodgers after Don Larson pitched the only perfect game in World Series history. This comeback didn’t take place in the Bronx but it still brought another pennant to find its place among the rest.
Neighbors No More
After the Yankees lost to the Milwaukee Braves, bringing the 1957 World Series to a seventh-game close in Yankee Stadium, this wasn’t the only loss New Yorkers experienced as baseball fans. This marked the final season for the Giants as they relocated to San Fransisco, as well as the Dodgers as they head for Los Angeles. The city was now down to just one professional baseball team. For what it’s worth, perhaps this served as a really good motivator to strike back against the Braves as the 1958 World Series saw the Yankees bring home another victorious pennant.
Going into the 1960s, Yankee Stadium was the one and only venue that housed a professional baseball team of New York origin. It was also during this time Roger Maris joined the team, just prior to Charles O. Finley putting an end to the trading of players between his newly acquired Kansas City Athletics and the team from the Bronx. With Maris on the team, his role as a key contributor to its legacy kept the momentum going, at least as a pennant decorator.
At the time, the duo of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris gave the fans good reason to fill up the seats of Yankee Stadium during the 1961 season. However, Mantle’s hip infection became so severe at the end he had no choice but to leave the lineup. Adding to the drama was Maris’s sixty-one home runs that surpassed the sixty Babe Ruth achieved in 1927. At the time, MLB Commissioner Ford Frick pointed out there was an eight-game difference between these two records. For three decades, they were kept separate from each other before deciding it belonged to Maris only. However, that record was broken in 1998 by Mark McGwire with seventy home runs.
1961 also marked the year the Yankees won another pennant, as well as a World Series victory. It was also the final year the Yankees would be the only professional baseball team in New York as the incoming New York Mets announced it would join as an expansion team with the National League.
The start of the 1962 MLB season featured the New York Mets putting Polo Grounds back on the map as one of the city’s major ballpark fields. This lasted for two seasons while Shea Stadium in nearby Flushing, Queens was being built. As soon as it was finished, the Mets moved into their new location.
In the meantime, 1962 witnessed the New York Yankees win yet another World Series championship, this time against what was now known as the San Fransisco Giants. This would be the final time Yankee Stadium would see a championship pennant added to its collection until 1977.
Even though the Yankees had no trouble making it to the 1963 World Series, their performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers was dwarfed, thanks to the unbeatable pitcher, Sandy Koufax. After this, Yogi Berra’s career as a player for the Yankees ended as he took up a management one. As a team, the Yankees did play in the 1964 World Series but lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in what marked the start of a decline for the team. It wouldn’t be until 1976 the Yankees and their stadium would make another appearance in MLB’s championship series.
In the meantime, however, the arrival of the New York Mets meant a new rival for the New York Yankees. Furthermore, the newly developed Shea Stadium brought home the reality that Yankee Stadium, despite its glorious history, was technically a relic compared to a venue that was considerably more modernized than it. Although routine maintenance and upgrades were implemented in order for the field in the Bronx to keep up, the talk of building a new Yankee Stadium became more frequent in conversation among New Yorkers, politicians, and sports fans.
New York Football Giants At Yankee Stadium
The New York Yankees were not the only New York team to call Yankee Stadium their home. The New York Giants of the NFL began playing their home games at Yankee Stadium in 1956. That same year the team won the NFL Championship Game. It was a team full of future Hall Of Famers including Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, tackle Roosevelt Brown, and Alex Webster. Head Coach Jim Lee Howell also employed a dream coaching staff with future coaching legends, Tom Landry, as head of the defense and Vince Lombardi running the offense. The NFL’s New York Giants played their home games at Yankee Stadium from 1956 to the mid-1970s when they played one season at Shea Stadium and one at the Yale Bowl before moving to their new home in the Meadowlands NJ called Giants Stadium in 1976.
Dubbed “The Cathedral of Baseball,” this landmark in the Bronx also had a legacy of hosting historical events and moments that extend beyond MLB and the NFL. This stadium also hosted several boxing matches over the course of time, as well as a venue for college football, concerts, boxing matches and religious conventions.
Over the course of time, the original Yankee Stadium underwent a series of alterations until it was observed going into the 1960s that it was in dire need of a major renovation. During the 1974 and 1975 seasons, the Yankees played their home ball games in Shea Stadium, sharing this venue with the New York Mets.
The Saga of Steinbrenner
When George Steinbrenner assumed ownership of the New York Yankees in 1973 from CBS, there was hope he would help bring the team back to its former glory. Three years later, it did enter the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds but lost in what was a four-game sweep in Yankee Stadium. However, they did redeem themselves in 1977 in their own stadium against the Los Angeles Dodgers. In many ways, this was a bittersweet victory as it was the Dodgers that the team that put an end to New York’s dominance as World Series champions fifteen years ago.
Going into the early 1980s, Steinbrenner began to campaign for a new stadium. This came right after the original Yankee Stadium was completely remodeled. In 1984, there was a story he was about to move the Yankees to New Jersey after Governor Thomas Kean authorized the use of the land for its Meadowlands Sports Complex. This came down to a 1987 referendum in New Jersey that had this proposal rejected. News of this came as a relief to New Yorkers who loved their Yankees. It also added fuel to the fire that unless the city learned to work with Steinbrenner, the threat of relocating their prized baseball team elsewhere continued.
In 1988, the controversial agreement was issued by Mayor Ed Koch saw an agreement to have taxpayers spend about ninety million dollars to renovate the original Yankee Stadium again. Although Steinbrenner agreed in principle, he backed out of the deal. Going into 1998, there were over a dozen proposals made to Steinbrenner to keep the Yankees in the Bronx. He rejected all of them as he seemed determined to abandon not just Yankee Stadium but the Bronx as well.
Going into 2001, when Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York City, he unveiled a plan to move the Yankees to West Side yard with a brand new, billion-dollar stadium. However, he feared since the proposed funding would come from taxpayers that may result in a citywide referendum, he held off until December 2001. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Giuliani had a tentative agreement on the table between the New York Mets and the New York Yankees to build new stadiums for both teams.
When Michael Bloomberg became New York City’s mayor in 2002, he saw flaws in Giuliani’s proposal that gave him reason to come up with new options. For the New York Mets, it was Citi Field. For the New York Yankees, it was across the street north from the original Yankee Stadium.
The groundbreaking ceremonies that took place for the new stadium took place on August 16, 2006. That date was chosen to honor Babe Ruth, who had died on that day fifty-eight years prior. The ceremonies included several notables present sporting Yankee-branded hard hats.
While the new stadium was being built, the Yankees continued to play in the original stadium for the 2007 and 2008 seasons. It was also during this time a certain construction worker buried a replica jersey of David Ortiz. Ortiz was a player for the Boston Red Sox. It was the worker’s idea to hex the Yankees as an act of revenge on behalf of his favorite team. When his deed was discovered by his coworkers, they forced him to have it removed. That jersey was then donated to the Jimmy Fund, a charity that began in 1948 by the Boston Braves.
Second Yankee Stadium
Ready in time for the 2009 season, the new Yankee Stadium continues to carry the legacy of one of the most popular and successful teams in the history of baseball. It took $2.3 billion USD to complete this project, which was the most expensive of its kind ever built. The best part about this story was the original Yankee Stadium wasn’t demolished simply to make room for this new home belonging to the New York Yankees. This one is just one block north and shares some of the design elements belonging to the iconic landmark.
Despite having fewer seats available for the crowd than in the original stadium, the fact that they’re more spacious and comfortable has worked in favor of this new stadium. Where it lost out in seat availability it gained in amenities and facilities. It was also designed to be more accessible for the fans who have tickets to see their favorite team from the stands. Even if fans don’t have tickets but want to check out the new stadium as a tourist, that’s easy enough to do.
Situated on the twenty-four site that used to be the home of Macombs Dam Park, the new Yankee Stadium met with several controversies long before it finally broke ground to build in 2006. One of the biggest concerns was issued by the public over its cost and loss of public parkland. However, this wasn’t just a baseball field. Thanks to the upgraded features the old Yankee Stadium doesn’t have, it can also host soccer matches. For the Major League Soccer expansion club, the New York City FC, this is a valuable piece of property. It also happens to be co-owned by the Yankees and the City Football Group.
Aside from baseball and soccer, the new Yankee Stadium has also held college football games as a neutral venue. It also held a series of concerts and other special events. However, this new structure was met with a considerable amount of criticism. High ticket prices and visually vacant Legends Suite Seats posed a negative impact on the image of this new stadium. This came at a time even when the 2009 World Series took place.
However, despite the critical remarks this new stadium has received, it carries on the tradition of setting new records. In 2009, Derek Jeter surpassed Lou Gehrig’s seventy-two-year record as the team’s all-time hit leader at 2,722. In 2010, it was Alex Rodriguez who became the youngest player to score six hundred home runs. This was accomplished on the Yankees’ home field. In 2011, it was also the first stadium to host three grand slams, achieved by the Yankees, in a single game. It also saw Jeter join the 3,000 hit club, collecting all of these while he was a Yankee team member. Before the 2011 season was over, Mariano Rivera became the all-time leader in regular season saves at 602.
Mixing Old and New
In 2008, the original Yankee Stadium was closed after the team’s season was over. When the new stadium opened in 2009, it sported the Yankee Stadium moniker. In 2010, the old stadium was demolished that has since established an eight-acre Heritage Field park accessible by the public.
As for the legacy of Yankee Stadium and its rich history, the replica of it is alive and well in the new stadium as it features the same frieze along the roof design. It also has Monument Park, a Hall of Fame featuring former Yankee players that made such a big impression on so many fans. While the original Yankee Stadium was a favorite attraction for locals and visitors alike, the new Yankee Stadium has also earned its place as a must-see. The history of what made the Yankees one of the most iconic sports teams in the world continues to make impressions clean out of the ballpark.
Written by Millie Zieler and Brian Kachejian
Jackson, Kenneth T. The Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.