Yankee Stadium, at left, with the new Stadium across 161st Street in the Bronx.
It’s been compared to the Colosseum, been called The House That Ruth Built.
Mel Allen, the late Yankee broadcaster, once said, “St. Patrick’s is the Yankee Stadium of cathedrals.”
It has hosted Popes and Cardinals, Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, Knute Rockne and Vince Lombardi, John Philip Sousa and U2.
I have so many memories of Yankee Stadium, all of them precious.
When I think of The House that Ruth Built, I really remember two Yankee Stadiums, each unique in its own right and each evoking a different set of memories.
My earliest recollections go back to the original Stadium, green facade, monuments on the field, Death Valley in left-center. My Dad took me to my first game there 50 years ago, and the color of the field and the Stadium contrasted with the black and white televised images I had seen. And for years afterward I thought Ruth, Gehrig and Miller Huggins were actually buried underneath the monuments in center field.
I recall Hall of Famers Mantle and Berra and Ford, and seeing Ted Williams, Mantle and Roger Maris hit home runs in the same game. As a fifth grader, I remember getting sick and missing a September game where Maris hit home run #56 on his way to 61 in 1961.
I recall going to many Sunday doubleheaders with my father and brother and friends and cousins, sitting in the upper deck and seeing some terrible Yankee teams in the late 60s and early 70s. I saw a Friday twi-night doubleheader against the Tigers in 1968, when the second game wound up in a 19-inning tie. We stayed ’till the end.
And of course there were some New York football Giants games in the 60s, featuring Y.A. Tittle, Frank Gifford, Sam Huff and others.
The original Yankee Stadium closed its doors in 1973, and the Yankees moved to Flushing where they called Shea Stadium home for two years. Those were not good memories.
In 1976, a remodeled Stadium opened, sans facade and center-field monuments and with a smaller Death Valley, but with a great big scoreboard above the bleachers and a new Yankee team under Billy Martin. My first game there in 1976, my father, my younger sister, my cousin and I saw Chris Chambliss hit a home run to right-center, a precursor to his dramatic shot that beat the Kansas City Royals and gave the Yankees the American League pennant that October.
Derek Jeter and the 1996 Yankees
After back-to-back World Championships in 1977 and 1978, the Yankees slipped into another dry period in the 1980s and early 1990s, with Don Mattingly one of the few bright spots. That is until 1996, when a kid named Derek Jeter arrived on the scene and helped the Bombers won their first World Series in 18 years.
And that paternal baseball bond spread into the next generation, as my son and I saw some classic Yankee games during those dynasty years, perhaps none more memorable than David Wells’ perfect game in 1998, when I came oh-so-close to catching a Bernie Williams home run.
My nephew and brother-in-law were there with us that day, my nephew’s second major league game. I told him afterwards he could go to a thousand games, 10,000 games, but he’d never see another perfect game.
Overjoyed, I saw the Yankees win a World Series game against the Padres in 1998, and with my brother saw the Yanks eliminate the Braves in four straight in 1999 (“Ball game over, World Series over, Millennium over!.”).
I recall how the Yankees gave the people of New York a lift when the needed it most, with a dramatic post-season run in 2001 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
I sat with my son and two duaghters in the upper deck on a drizzly Friday night in 2003 when Roger Clemens won his 300th game, and was there four months later when Aaron Boone drilled the home run that beat the Red Sox for the American League pennant.
So many loved ones, so many great players, so many memories, but time moves on. And next year, Yankee Stadium moves across the street to a new home.
I’m looking forward to my first game in the new Yankee Stadium, yet with the sad realization that things will never be quite the same. Somehow, they never are.
This is the second of a three-part retrospective on the moments that shaped Yankee Stadium, New York and the world of sports.
Overall, there will be three categories — anything but baseball, baseball regular season, and baseball post-season.
This is the regular season baseball category….we’ll follow up soon with a top 10 devoted to World Series and post-season play at the Stadium.
Remember you read it first in the SportsLifer.
Top 10 regular season baseball moments at Yankee Stadium (chronological order)
Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, April 18, 1923
1. The Stadium opens with pomp and circumstance and Babe Ruth’s home run beats Boston, 4-1. 1923
2. Babe Ruth hits one over the right-field fence and becomes the first player to hit 60 home runs in a season, 1927
3. Dying Yankee captain Lou Gehrig, at left, being hugged by Babe Ruth, tells a crowd of more than 60,000 “Today I consider myself the “luckiest man on the face of the earth,” 1939
4. Joe DiMaggio begins his immortal 56-game hitting streak by going 1-for-4 against the White Sox, 1941
5. The Yankees edge the Red Sox in the final two games of the season to win the pennant by a game, 1949
6. Roger Maris breaks Babe Ruth’s record with his 61st home run on the final day of the season, 1961
7. Mickey Mantle just misses hitting a ball out of the Stadium when he homers off the right field facade, 1963
8. Ron Guidry strikes out 18 batters to silence the Angels in a team record-setting performance, 1978
9. On the day they buried their captain, Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer’s 5 RBIs give the Yankees a dramatic win, 1979
10. Double Perfect: David Wells, right, and David Cone pitch perfect games a year apart, 1998 and 1999
Other Yankee No-Hitters: Monte Pearson (1938), Allie Reynolds (1951), Dave Righetti (1983), Jim Abbott (1993) and Doc Gooden (1996).
Opposing No-Hitters: Bob Feller (1946), Virgil Trucks (1952) and an army Houston Astros pitchers (2003).
Babe Ruth’s final appearance in The House That Ruth Built, 1948
Umps over-rule George Brett’s homer in the “Pine Tar” game, 1983
Tom Seaver gets 300th win as White Sox beat Yankees on Phil Rizzuto Day, 1985
Roger Clemens wins 300th game; reaches 4,000 K’s, 2003
Derek Jeter dives into the stands against the Red Sox, 2004
The cycle and the no-hitter are strange baseball companions, like Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, “The Odd Couple.”
Throughout baseball history, there have been 276 occurrences (30 before the turn of the 20th Century where batters have hit for the cycle — single, double, triple, home run — in the same game.
Over the same period, there have been 255 no-hitters (42 before the turn of the century). Of those no-hitters, only 17 were perfect games, 15 since 1900. Cy Young and Sandy Koufax are in this exclusive club
A natural cycle — single, double, triple and home run in order — is even more unusual than a perfect game. Only 14 batters in major league history have gone for the natural cycle, including Hall of Famers Tony Lazzeri, (right) Charlie Gehringer and Billy Williams
Lazzeri is the only player ever to finish a natural cycle with a grand slam on June 3, 1932. However, this achievement was overshadowed by his popular Yankees teammate Lou Gehrig, who picked that same day to become the first player in the American League to hit four home runs in the same game. But the headlines the next day went to New York Giants manager John McGraw, who decided to announce his retirement after a 31-year career.
Personal Note: I’ve been lucky enough to witness both a natural cycle and a perfect game. Jim Hickman (left) did the honors for the Mets in 1963 in a game against the Cardinals at the Polo Grounds. And Yankees left-hander David Wells threw a perfect game against the Twins in 1998, 27 men up, 27 men down, baseball immortality.