The Yankees celebrated their 109th Opening Day in New York City and their 88th in the Bronx since they moved out of the hallowed and hulking Polo Grounds, which was located in Manhattan under the shadow of Coogan’s Bluff. John McGraw the feisty Grand Poobah of the Giants went against conventional wisdom and economic good sense and asked the Yankee co-owners; Jacob Ruppert and Til Huston to take their team and leave. It is a mystery why he did that. The Yankees were big draws and outdrew the Giants in 1920 (in this year the Yankees set a major league record, drawing 1,289,422 into the Polo Grounds 350,000 more than the Giants), 1921, and 1922 and most would have thought that the added revenue would have been hard to resist. Maybe the Giants felt that they were being overshadowed by the presence of their new star Babe Ruth. John McGraw, an exponent of “inside” baseball or “little ball” as they term it today, hated Babe Ruth and his home runs. He said in 1921, “The Yankees will have to build a park in Queens or some other out-of-the-way place. Let them go away and wither on the vine.”
They moved directly across the Harlem River and built “The House that Ruth Built.” The 58,000 seat concrete and steel edifice opened up on April 18, 1923 at the cost of $2.5 million. It was built in 258 working days and featured the first triple-deck grandstand. The Opening attendance, with Governor Alfred E. Smith throwing out the first ball, was reputed to be over 74,000, but later on it was revised to about 60,000. John Philip Sousa and the Seventh Regiment Band led the procession of players, Yankees and Red Sox to the centerfield flag pole the raising of the 1922 pennant. There were few changes since 1923. The right field triple deck grandstands were extended around the foul pole to the bleachers in the late 1930’s, and some of the outfield distances were re-adjusted before the great re-building in 1974-5. Originally center field in the old ballpark was 490 feet. It was later reduced to 461 feet and to its present day 408 feet. Deepest right center was an astronomical 550 feet, but quickly reduced to 457 feet and its present day 420 feet. The right field foul line remained at 296 feet until the renovation where it was lengthened to 314 feet and the fence was raised from 4 feet to 8 feet. Left field was originally 280.5 feet but was quickly adjusted to 301 and it is presently 318 feet with and 8-foot wall. Since those long-gone days, the old Yankee Stadium was completely re-built to a new configuration, and in 2008 it shut its gates as the new one opened up in the spring of 2009.
So “another opening and another show,” commenced on this first March starting date in Yankee history. In the tradition of the late Generalissimo George M. Steinbrenner III, his heirs and their managers, dragooned 75 West Point Cadets to parade the colors, two F-18 buzzed the throng of 40K+, the Star Spangled Banner was warbled and strangely enough Mike Mussina threw out the first ball. He got to the mound, threw the ball to his former catcher, now DH, Jorge Posoda, and before anyone could blink the game was afoot. Guy Fairstein and I settled in, had our sandwiches and decided that both teams were compensated enough to risk freezing to death. By the 4th inning, the cold, wet breezes reached almost minus Kelvin temperature levels and we sought shelter in the great concourses that surround the stadium. We found warmth in the Yankee Museum, took some photos of the signed baseballs, and then after some other activities, we headed back to the parking lot. The Yanks won 6-3, and despite the ugly weather, all was well with the world.