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Yankee Stadium's First Opening Day

It was 77 years ago today - April 18, 1923 - that "The House That Ruth Built" opened for business.

The New York Yankees’ first home opponent was the Boston Red Sox. No one back then was bold enough to predict the fabulous and outstanding moments the future held in store for the brand new American League park.

The press release first announcing the new stadium indicated it would be shaped like the Yale Bowl and that it would contain towering battlements enclosing the entire park so that those lacking tickets would not even be able to get a glimpse of the action.

Built at a cost of $2.5 million, "The Yankee Stadium", as it was originally named, had a brick-lined vault with electronic equipment under second base, making it possible to have a boxing ring and press area on the infield.

Yankee Stadium was the first ballpark to be called a stadium, the last privately financed major league park. It was a gigantic horseshoe shaped by triple-decked grandstands. Huge wooden bleachers circled the park. The 10,712 upper-grandstand seats and 14,543 lower grandstand seats were fixed in place by 135,000 individual steel castings on which 400,000 pieces of maple lumber were fastened by more than a million screws.

A massive crowd showed up for the proudest moment in the history of the South Bronx. Many in the huge assemblage wore heavy sweaters, coats and hats. Some sported dinner jackets. The announced attendance was 74,217, later changed to 60,000. More than 25,000 were turned away. They would linger outside in the cold listening to the sounds of music and the roar of the crowd inside the stadium.

At game time, the temperature was a nippy 49 degrees. Wind whipped the two Yankee pennants and blew dust from the dirt road that led to the stadium. The dominant sound of the day was the march beat played by the Seventh Regiment Band, directed by John Phillip Sousa. Seated in the celebrity box were Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, New York State Governor Al Smith and Yankee owner Colonel Jacob Ruppert.

At 3:25 in the afternoon, Babe Ruth was presented with an oversized bat handsomely laid out in a glass case. At 3:30, Governor Smith threw out the first ball to Yankee catcher Wally Schang. At 3:35, home plate umpire Tommy Connolly bellowed: "Play ball!"

Babe Ruth said: "I'd give a year of my life if I can hit a home run in the first game in this new park". His wish and that of the tens of thousands in attendance came true. The Babe came to bat in the third inning. There were two Yankee base runners. Boston pitcher Howard Ehmke tried to fool Ruth with a slow pitch. The Sultan of Swat turned it into a fast pitch, hammering it on a line into the right-field bleachers. It was the first home run in Yankee Stadium history; Ruth got his wish.

The huge crowd was on its feet roaring as Ruth crossed the plate, removed his cap, extended it at arm's length in front of him, and waved to the ecstatic assemblage - witnesses to baseball history. The game played out into the lengthening afternoon shadows. "Sailor Bob" Shawkey, sporting a red sweatshirt under his jersey, pitched the Yankees to a 4-1 victory, making the first Opening Day at Yankee Stadium a matter of record.

Harvey Frommer is the proud author of the "New York Yankee Encyclopedia". 

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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