This annotated week in baseball history: Feb. 10-Feb. 16, 2008by Richard Barbieri
February 15, 2008
On Feb. 10, 2008, Richard visited the supreme location for all things sport in the world. He comes back with a couple of photos, an explanation for his theory and what all of this has to do with baseball.
Although such matters are endlessly up for debate, certain sites in certain fields are widely accepted as the definitive location for that field. For opera, it is La Scala in Milan, where Otello and Madama Butterfly had their premieres. For prehistory, Stonehenge is the definitive location.
When it comes to sport, there are some contenders. The Coliseum in Los Angeles has hosted two Olympic games, football for USC since 1923, two NFL franchises and an eclectic mix of failed sports leagues: the XFL, USFL, NASL, AAFC.
The recently demolished Wembley Stadium in London hosted a World Cup final, Olympic games and a series of NFL preseason games. No less a figure than Pelé called it “the church of football.” (He meant soccer.)
But for me, only one stadium is the definitive location for sport, and it is in New York. Built in 1923, and renovated during the mid-1970s, Yankee Stadium has been host to an almost comical amount of history for a park not even a hundred years old.
Before even considering its sport heritage, Yankee Stadium has been the location of masses conducted by two Popes, Paul VI and John Paul II. (The plaques honoring those masses are pictured below.) Pope Benedict XVI has announced his intention to visit the stadium and conduct mass during his American tour for a third visit. The stadium also hosted more than 120,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses during a 1950 event.
Yankee Stadium was also the site chosen by the City of New York to host a memorial service for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. On a happier note, it was the site of a rally in 1990 to celebrate the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid in South Africa.
But the primary activity of the stadium is, of course, sport, and here Yankee Stadium again rises above the crowd. Its baseball history is naturally unsurpassed. More than a third of all World Series have been played at Yankee Stadium, and it has hosted nearly half of all Series since its opening, with 16 Series-clinching victories taking place at the House that Ruth Built.
The Stadium is also home to a quarter of the 40 walk-off home runs in baseball postseason history (more than double any other park) and the only stadium to see more than one series-clinching walk-off homer.
But raw numbers cannot do the history justice. Although attendance figures are hazy for the Opening Day in 1923, the attendance surely shattered the record for baseball. Yankee Stadium’s opening also introduced a new element into baseball: the warning track. Although designed as a quarter-mile track around the field, the barrier soon took on its more common usage and spread to parks around the league.
Some of the most notable games—and moments—in baseball history have taken place at Yankee Stadium. On Sept. 30, 1927, Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run of the season. That would stand as the single-season record until Oct. 1, 1961, when Roger Maris hit his 61st home run of the season, setting a record that would stand until 1998.
On July 4, 1939, the Yankees declared a day to celebrate the career of Lou Gehrig. It was on the field that day that Gehrig gave the address now known as the “Luckiest Man” speech. While less-known (and somewhat less distinguished as a piece of oratory), Babe Ruth's farewell speech to baseball came on the field at Yankee Stadium in 1947.
Yankee Stadium also has a wealth of postseason moments. Chris Chambliss hit a walk-off homer in 1976, giving the Yankees their first pennant since 1964. Aaron Boone’s ALCS walk-off in 2003 was seemingly another example of the hammer-and-nail relationship between the Yankees and Red Sox. The next season, the nail would finally get the last laugh, as the Red Sox came back from an 0-3 deficit, decisively winning the final game at Yankee Stadium.
At Yankee Stadium in 1956, Don Larsen took the mound for the Yankees opposing the Dodgers in the World Series. Two hours and six minutes later Larsen returned to the dugout carrying Yogi Berra in his arms, having pitched the first and only World Series perfect game.
On the other side, Yankee Stadium was the site of one of the great individual hitting accomplishments of all time, with the Dodgers again the victim. This time the hero was Reggie Jackson. After walking his first time at the plate, Jackson homered in his second, third and fourth at-bats. He joined Babe Ruth—who did in St. Louis—as the only players with three home runs in a postseason game.
In addition to the baseball history of Yankee Stadium, one must consider other sports events held there. The stadium was host to famed moments in the history of boxing, college football and professional football.
Yankee Stadium hosted many championship fights—including the first one ever televised—but none more memorable than June 22, 1938. On that date, Joe Louis took on Max Schmeling, in a fight seen by many as the clash of American and Nazi cultures. Louis easily defeated the German, prompting the famous statement that Louis—who was black—was “a credit to his race—the human race.”
Whether George Gipp ever actually told Knute Rockne to someday tell his players to “Win one for the Gipper” is a matter of debate. Nevertheless, Rockne’s use of the speech as a motivational tactic was brilliant, and after having played a scoreless first half at the stadium, Rockne’s 1928 Notre Dame football team went on to defeat Army 12-6.
In December of 1958 Yankee Stadium hosted what some football historians still regard as the Greatest Game Ever Played. A championship game between the home Giants and visiting Colts, it was the first NFL game to reach sudden death overtime. After the Colts tied the game with a field goal with just seven seconds remaining, the two teams played on.
In the overtime period, Johnny Unitas helped lead the Colts to a dramatic victory, one that is often cited as bringing professional football to the forefront of American sport.
An overwhelming number of historical baseball moments. One of the most significant boxing matches of all time. Football games, both college and professional, the memories of which have survived through the ages. That sheer variety of notable moments, all in one place, is what gives Yankee Stadium its title.
So the next time you see the scene below—and remember, it won’t be seen for much longer—reflect on Yankee Stadium, the iconic location of sport.
Questions, comments and thinly veiled threats can be mailed to Richard on the back of a twenty dollar bill or e-mailed to him at RichardBarbieri@yahoo.com