Saturday, July 29, 2006
Yankee Stadium History Part 1
Yankee Stadium is often referred to as "The House that Ruth Built", but it is usually referred to as "The Stadium". It was the first baseball park to be labeled a "Stadium" rather than a "Field," a "Park," or a "Grounds," and it conformed to the usage of the term in ancient Greece, where a stadium was a foot-race arena. Yankee Stadium's field was initially surrounded by a (misshapen) quarter-mile running track, which effectively also served as an early "warning track" for fielders, a feature now standard in all major league ballparks.
Yankee Stadium favors left-handed batters because of a shorter right-field fence, which was once called "Ruthville" and is now known as "the short porch", although the field has become much more symmetric over the years. In contrast, the park has been less favorable for right-handed batters. Under the original configuration, the outfield distances were 295 feet from home plate to left field, 460 ft to left center, and 490 ft to straightaway center. 
Left-center soon came to be called "Death Valley," in reference to the high number of balls hit to that area that would have cleared the wall easily in other parks but resulted in simple fly ball outs in Yankee Stadium. Although the fence has been moved in several times over the years to make it more hitter friendly, the park remains one of the most difficult for right-handed hitters, as evidenced by the fact that in 2005, Alex Rodriguez became the first right-handed Yankee hitter to hit 40 home runs in a season since 1937, when Joe DiMaggio belted 46. Rodriguez set a new team record for right-handed batters with 48. According to baseball historian Bill James, Joe DiMaggio lost more home runs due to his home park disadvantage than any player in history. Two lefthanders have done better: Roger Maris with 61 in 1961, and Babe Ruth on four occasions with a peak of 60 in 1927. Switch-hitting Mickey Mantle hit 54 in 1961.
A story that has become somewhat of an urban legend purports that the stadium's design was tailored to fit the left-handed power exhibited by Babe Ruth. However, a look at aerial photographs of the area shows that the stadium is built on a triangular plot of land originally owned by one of the Yankee owners, and that the stadium, like many other parks of that era and many newer "retro" parks, was fit into that plot. Additionally, an elevated train line still runs beyond the right field bleachers, and was present when the stadium was first built. Making the right field area larger would have necessitated eliminating seating and possibly building a high "Green Monster"-like wall.
A good depiction of the atmosphere of the pre-renovation stadium can be seen in the latter scenes of the 1959 Mervyn LeRoy film The FBI Story, which starred James Stewart. In these scenes, FBI agents tracked a suspected Soviet espionage courier. These scenes show the arrival of an elevated train at the station near the right field bleachers, football action and crowd scenes and reaction during a New York Giants game, groups of people waiting at a concession stand, and scenes outside the main stadium concourse.
The seats behind center field are painted black and not occupied during baseball games; known as a "batter's eye," this allows batters to track the ball as it is pitched, as the "black bleachers" section is directly in front of them. If fans were allowed to sit in this section, it would create an unfair pitcher's advantage, as it would make it virtually impossible for batters to track the ball if a substantial number of fans were wearing white shirts.
Perhaps the best known of all baseball stadiums, Yankee Stadium is the scene of such memorable events as Babe Ruth's then-record 60th home run in 1927; tearful farewell addresses by Lou Gehrig in 1939 and Babe Ruth in 1948; Don Larsen's perfect World Series game in 1956; Roger Maris's then-record 61st home run in 1961; Reggie Jackson's three home runs in a World Series game in 1977; and on-field celebrations of World Series championships. In addition, the 1939 and 1977 Major League Baseball All-Star Games were held there, as well as the second 1960 All-Star Game.
One hypothesis is that the "Bronx cheer" was so named because of its popularity among Yankees fans.
Posted by Steve Kenul at 7:03 PM