Person of the Week: Yankee Stadium

After 85 years, the stadium that fathered legends will host its final game.

ByABC News
September 19, 2008, 5:45 PM

Sept. 19, 2008— -- Tonight we take a bit of liberty with our "Person of the Week." Instead of choosing someone who has done something remarkable, we chose a place that has seen so much that is remarkable. This 85-year-old is world famous, has fathered countless legends, has hosted millions of guests and has been the subject of endless childhood and adult fantasies. On Sunday, Yankee Stadium will hold its last baseball game.

It's known as just "The Stadium," "The Diamond in the Bronx" or "The House That Ruth Built."

"More than anything, Yankee Stadium is the cathedral -- not just of baseball, but of sports," said Bill Madden, the New York Daily News' national baseball columnist.

"I'll miss everything. I'll miss the energy -- all the things that maybe the fans don't get an opportunity to see," said Derek Jeter, the Yankees' all-star shortstop. "You know, [I'll miss] walking from the clubhouse to the dugout, down the tunnel, seeing the Joe DiMaggio sign hanging."

That sign holds a famous quote from Joltin' Joe: "I thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee."

The stadium really was built for Babe Ruth.

"Babe Ruth was acquired by the Yankees in 1919 from the Red Sox," Madden explained. "And he instantly became the biggest player in the game because, in those days, they didn't hit home runs the way Babe Ruth hit home runs."

In fact, in his first year with the Yankees, Ruth hit 54 home runs, more than any other Major League team combined.

At the time, the Yankees were playing at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, home to the New York Giants baseball team.  But when Ruth joined the Yankees, the team started drawing bigger crowds.

"It became an untenable situation for the Giants management," said Tony Morante, tour director of Yankee Stadium. "So, they asked the Yankees to leave."

So, Yankees owners Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston and Jacob Ruppert took a gamble, bought 10 acres in the South Bronx and built the country's first triple-tiered ballpark -- the first to be called a stadium.  Where other ballparks sat 30,000, Yankee Stadium would seat more than 57,000.

"It was a big bawdy era; it was called the age of wonderful nonsense.  We just had gotten out of World War I.  The people were still holed up," Morante said. "All of a sudden, they were breaking out and they're coming out to see the Babe do his thing." 

And Ruth didn't disappoint; he hit a home run in the very first game at the new stadium and led the Yankees to the first of 26 World Series championships.

Some of the greatest moments in baseball happened at Yankee Stadium -- including Don Larson's perfect game, Jackie Robinson stealing home and Reggie Jackson hitting three home runs in one game, all during the World Series.

The roster of talent that called the Stadium home is unrivaled, and has included Ruth, Lou Gehrig, DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Jackson, Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

Though the stadium was built for baseball, it was also home to other sporting spectaculars. In 1938, Joe Louis knocked out Nazi-backed Max Schmeling in the first round. Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali won there, too.

The 1958 Giants-Colts football game went to sudden death overtime in what has been called the greatest game ever played.

"The important thing that occurred on that day was that it was nationally televised and people across the country saw this brand of football," explained Morante. "Up until that point, it was college football that was [watched by] the eye of the American people."

The stadium hosted the first papal mass on U.S. soil, and events by Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Pope Benedict XIV in April 2008, and has welcomed many presidents, preachers and pop stars.

They are building a new stadium across the street. However, many in the neighborhood aren't happy about it.

"They are going to have to blast me out," threatened Nick Testa, Yankees equipment assistant.

"This here is the hallowed ground. Not across the street, but here," said Madden. "Here is where the monuments were. Here is where all these championships were won, on this field."

Jeter is a bit more sanguine.

"I am going to miss Yankee Stadium. I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't," he said. "Then, on the other hand, you're pretty excited to go to the new stadium.  And, you know, it's up to us to develop a history over there." 

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