Yankee Stadium: The House That Ruth Built Opens in 1923

By davidfunk74
Apr. 18, 2015

On April 18, 1923, one of the most popular venues in sports history opened its doors. It was on this day that Yankee Stadium in New York opened for the first event as the Yankees played the Boston Red Sox in an MLB game.

It is estimated that over 74,000 were on hand for the game(although it was likely about 60,000 or less). Hundreds of fans were turned away by the fire department, but stood outside to hear the roars of the crowd inside.

The idea for building the new ballpark came as a result of the growing resentment involving the Yankees and New York Giants, who both shared the Polo Grounds as their home facility beginning in 1913.

Prior to playing at the Polo Grounds along with the Giants, the Yankees' home ballpark was at Hilltop Park beginning in 1903.

Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast Huston, who both owned the Yankees since 1915, took a big risk in wanting to build the new stadium. Most sports facilities in those days had a 30,000-seat capacity or less, and Ruppert and Huston wanted one to hold 60,000 which caused serious concern.

However, the Yankees had Babe Ruth for drawing power to hold that many people in a stadium or more.

In 1921, Ruth helped power the Yankees to their first ever American League pennant, but lost to the rival Giants in the World Series. But the Yankees drew over 1.3 million fans which was substantially more than the Giants in 1921.

Giants owner Charles Stoneham insisted that the Yankees find a new ballpark to play in after the relationship between the two franchises became more strained. Stoneham was hoping they would move far away out of the city so they could draw more fans, but it was the Yankees that eventually prevailed as kings of New York.

So the Yankees built a park(and a dynasty in the process), and by the end of the 1950s, they were the only team left playing in New York as the Giants and Dodgers moved west. The Mets would came in as an expansion team in 1962.

Beginning in May 1922, construction of Yankee Stadium began. Ownership had looked in Manhattan at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum as well as atop railroad tracks on the West Side, and to Long Island City in Queens. Ruppert and Huston purchased a lumberyard in the Bronx for $600,000 from William Waldorf Astor. The stadium cost was $2.5 million all paid by Ruppert and Huston and took only 284 days of work to build on ten acres of land.

Yankee Stadium would be built along the lines of the world famous Roman Coliseum just like Ruppert and Huston envisioned.

The stadium had an original seating capacity of 58,000 upon completion. By the time the stadium closed in 2009, the seating capacity was less than that at 57,000. It was the first stadium of its kind to have three tiers, which were all added by the mid-1920s. The wooden seats at the stadium were replaced with concrete ones that were completely done by 1938.

Yankee Stadium -- throughout its baseball history -- was known for favoring left-handed batters because of the shorter length in right field. Originally, the right field line was 295 feet(90 m), right center field was 425 feet, left field was 285 feet, left center field was 460 feet, and center field was 490 feet. Center field was given the name "Death Valley" while the right field fences were called the "short porch". After the last renovation, the left field line was 318 feet, center field was 408 feet, and right field line was 314 feet.

The first game against the Red Sox witnessed New York governor Alfred E. Smith throwing out the first pitch, and he would later become the Democratic Party representative in the U.S. Presidential elections in 1928. Major League Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Red Sox owner Harry Frazee were on hand for the pre-game dedication ceremony.

Before the game, Ruth said he'd give a year of his life if he hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees starting pitcher for the Yankee Stadium opener was Bob Shawkey. The Red Sox starter was Howard Ehmke.

With no score going into the bottom of the 3rd inning, the Yankees put up four runs. Ruth hit a three-run home run in the inning off Ehmke, and became the first player to hit a home run at the new ballpark. Just before the homer, Joe Dugan hit an RBI single that scored Shawkey for the first run at Yankee Stadium.

The Red Sox got in the board in the 7th inning when Norm McMillan tripled to score George Burns

But that's all the scoring Boston would do as "The House That Ruth Built" had arrived in a 4-1 Yankees win.

Shawkey allowed only three hits, two walks, and struck out five batters for the win.

Reportedly, Ruth later said that first home run he hit at Yankee Stadium was his favorite homer in his entire career.

In 1998, the first home run ball that Ruth at Yankee Stadium was sold for $126,500 by Lelands -- a sports memorabilia auction house -- but the person didn't want to be identified.

The success of the Yankees coincided with them frequently drawing record crowds at games, which was largely because of the immense popularity of Ruth. Fred Lieb of the Evening Telegram was the first to call Yankee Stadium "The House That Ruth Built" because his drawing power made the ballpark possible. The name stuck.

The Yankees became the second team in history to a win a World Series(their first as a franchise) in a stadium's inaugural year. Coincidentally enough, the team they beat to win their first World Series was the Giants -- the very club that told them to get their own ballpark in the first place.

Previously in 1912, the Red Sox won it all when Fenway Park opened up that year. It wasn't done again until 2006 when the St. Louis Cardinals won with the opening of Busch Stadium. And the Yankees once again did it in 2009 -- opening up New Yankee Stadium -- to win their 27th World Series title.

The wear and tear of the ballpark began to take notice by the 1960s, and renovations had to be made. They closed the ballpark at the end of the 1973 season to address the renovations, and wouldn't open it again until 1976. The ballpark had a very different look after it was done. It was the year before that George Steinbrenner had bought the franchise for $10 million.

Mayor John Lindsay stepped in to buy the Yankees in 1972 for $24 million and lease back it to them so that renovations could be completed. The New York Mets(who were an expansion team in 1962) could not prevent the Yankees from sharing Shea Stadium because they were also owned by the city.

One of the added features that took place during the renovations was of Monument Park. Monument Park had originally been a stand-in play in center field, but they moved the plaques of legendary stars such as Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and others behind the wall after renovation. After the ballpark closed in 2008, the plaques and monument were moved to the new stadium.

Since the opening of Yankee Stadium, they've won the most professional championships of any team in North America. In 85 years at the stadium, the Yankees won 26 World Series titles in 37 tries. They were the first, and currently the only stadium, to host 100 World Series games, which is a testament to their success. A World Series title was clinched a record 16 times at the stadium, including nine by the Yankees.

The last game ever played at Yankee Stadium was on September 21, 2008 when New York beat the Baltimore Orioles 7-3. Fittingly enough, the Yankees were founded in 1901 as the Baltimore Orioles before taking their current name and city in 1913.

New Yankee Stadium began construction in 2006, and was opened up for the start of the 2009 season. The cost was $1.6 billion to construct the new facility that took nearly all the previous Yankee Stadium features to the new ballpark.

Although Yankee Stadium was a risk to construct, it ended up being a very high reward in terms of success as well as financially. The Yankees have since become the most successful team in baseball history, and its most popular franchise.

The venue hosted some of the greatest moments in sports history, but no single athlete impacted the stadium with drawing power more than Babe Ruth.

Not only was it "The House That Ruth Built", it was a place the Yankees built that helped bring fans back to the game of baseball after its negative image from the Black Sox scandal in 1919. From there on, the stadium housed some of the greatest moments in sports history, which includes the "win one for the Gipper" speech game between Notre Dame and Army, the famous 1958 NFL Championship Game, and Joe Louis/Max Schmeling boxing rematch. Don Larsen also threw the only perfect game in World Series history in 1956 at Yankee Stadium against the Dodgers.

Athletes such as Ruth, Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Joe Louis were allowed to showcase their talent while becoming legendary sports heroes. "The House That Ruth Built" will always hold its place as one of the most popular venues ever around the world.

Here's a video from biography.com that talks about the day Yankee Stadium opened and Ruth hitting the first home run there.


Be sure to visit the official Babe Ruth site and Yankee Stadium ballpark history page.

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