All kinds of things take place in baseball
in January, but for most teams historically the month is a dead time.
That is not the case for the New York Yankees who seem to have a lock
on big doings in the first month of the year.
On January 9, 1903 - Frank Farrell and Bill Devery bought the defunct
American League Baltimore franchise for $18,000 and moved the team to
Manhattan. Farrell was a well known gambler; William S. "Big Bill"
Devery was a former New York City Chief of Police who bragged that he
had never read a book. Farrell and Devery owned hundreds of pool rooms
and nearly as many politicians, and they knew their way around town.
The sordid reputations of the new owners convinced American League
prez Ban Johnson that it would be wiser at the start to keep them
backstage. Front stage was for Joseph W. Gordon, dealer in coal,
ex-state assemblyman, ex-president of the New York Metropolitans of
the American Association. He was installed as the figurehead
president of the new team.
The formal name for the park was New York American League Ball Park.
But since it was situated at the highest point in Manhattan, it was
dubbed Hilltop Park.
The official name for the team was the New York Americans. But because
of its lofty location - fans and sportswriters used the nick-name
Hilltoppers. Others preferred Highlanders because of the elevated
playing site and because club president Gordon's name was reminiscent
of the fabled British Army unit - the Gordon Highlanders. Other names
employed to describe the new American League entry included: Hill
Dwellers, Porch Climbers, Burglars, Cliffmen.
The team had a decidedly local flavor. It also had a patch-work look
with seven first year performers and an assortment of other players
whose roots were with 11 teams. That first season the Highlanders won
72 games, finishing in fourth place - 17 games out of first, and
211,808 came out to see them play.
A slum of a ballpark right off the bat, Hilltop became more and more
ramshackle as time passed. At first players dressed in their hotel
since there was not even a clubhouse. Parking space was minimal,
too, until lots were set up in 1906 inside the grounds behind the
grandstand for carriages and cars.
There was also a promise by the Highlander owners that there would be
no advertising in the ballpark. That promise lasted until 1907 when
boards in the outfield were plastered with advertisements for Morocco
cigarettes at 15 cents a package, Regal shoes, F.C. Rye.
Highlander changes in managers and playing personnel were echoed by
tinkering with the team's uniform which at the start was black with a
N and Y on the jersey front. By 1909, the Yankee monogram was placed
on the uniform jersey's left sleeve and the front of the cap. Two
years later "NEW YORK" was spelled out in arched capital letters on
the jersey front.
In 1912, the Highlanders were frequently being referred to as Yankees
in newspapers. The New York Times noted: "The Yankees presented a
natty appearance in their new uniforms of white with black
pinstripes. The Yankee nick-name was coined by Jim Price, sports
editor of the New York Press. He like other journalists had complained
that Highlanders was too long a name to squeeze into newspaper
headlines. It was said that the red, white and blue flags that adorned
Hilltop Park gave Price the idea for the Yankee name.
Through the first decade of the New York American League franchise's
history - change was the only constant. But Devery and Farrell
out-did themselves in 19l3. Everything was changed.
For the 1913 season the Highlanders-Hilltoppers officially changed
their name to the New York Yankees. That was one change. Another was
the abandoning of Hilltop Park. The last game played there was on
October 5, 1912. The Yankees became tenants at the Polo Grounds of
the Giants who had won three pennants in a row.
The Yankees were a non prime time organization on the playing field
and off it, too. Farrell and Devery, the co-owners, who had begun as
friends, now barely spoke to each other. With their team a shambles
and their varied business forays fizzling, it was time for them to
Enter on January 11, 1915, Colonel Jake Ruppert and Col. Tillinghast
L'Hommedieu Huston. They paid the $460,000 price and became co-owners
of the New York Yankees, a franchise that had a 12 year record of
861-937, an average attendance of just 345,000 each season. Again,
that January thing for the Yankees!
There was still one more January jolt looming.
On January 3, 1920 - Babe Ruth's contract was purchased by the
Yankees from the Boston Red Sox for $125,000 and a $350,000 loan
against the mortgage on Fenway Park.
Who knows what this January has looming?