Bidding Adieu to The House That Ruth BuiltPosted: September 19, 2008
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.