Academic journal article Nine

Reciprocal Grandeur: Babe Ruth and Yankee Stadium

Academic journal article Nine

Reciprocal Grandeur: Babe Ruth and Yankee Stadium

Article excerpt

Joe Louis, Pope Paul VI, Robert Merrill, Y. A. Tittle, Billy Graham, Marianne Moore, Johnny Unitas, Josh Gibson, Jackie Gleason, Pele, and Muhammad Ali, not to mention Yankee superstars Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Stengel, Rizzuto, Berra, Jackson, Mattingly, Jeter--these names represent a mere handful of the many notables who have contributed to the history of Yankee Stadium. But however great the stadium's pantheon of stars may be, no one has done as much to build the legacy, legend, and lore of the big ballpark in the Bronx as George Herman Ruth. When on opening day of 1923, Fred Lieb of the New York World baptized the stadium "The House That Ruth Built," he foresaw the reciprocal grandeur between the Babe and Yankee Stadium that would enlarge the reputations of both ballplayer and ballpark and endure beyond the Babe's death and the stadium's renovation.

On opening day of 1920, the Yankees still enjoyed a reasonably cordial relationship with Charles Stoneham's and John McGraw's Giants, New York's premier team and the Yankees' landlord in the Polo Grounds. In fact McGraw, five years earlier, had helped Yankee owners Jacob Rupert and Tillinghast Huston purchase the club. (1) However, when the newly acquired Babe Ruth began blasting home runs at a pace that would give him 54 for the season--25 more than his record 29 for Boston the year before--fans began filling the Polo Grounds in record numbers to see New York's "other team." With Ruth's home run total nearly doubling, the Yankees' attendance did the same as they became the first team to draw over a million fans, 350,000 more than their landlords. (2) In response to the Yankees' success, in what may be a story as apocryphal as it is fitting, it is reported that John McGraw or Charles Stoneham said, "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." (3)

The Yankees, however, did not need an eviction notice from the Giants to see that the Polo Grounds was an inadequate showplace for the talents of their new slugger. As early as August 1920, with the Babe on a pace to hit more homers than most teams, Rupert and Huston met with American League owners who supported their proposal that the team build a new park because the then limited capacity of the Polo Grounds had necessitated turning away thousands of fans on several dates. (4) Evidently, the magnates recognized Ruth's drawing power as a boon to all of the league, not only the Yankees. After working out a two-year extension of their lease with the Giants, Rupert and Huston began to plan the construction of a facility large enough for the game's largest hero.

From 1921 until 1923 when the stadium opened, Ruth's exploits on the diamond and escapades off it launched him to celebrity status as towering as his home runs. In 1921, in likely the best year ever by any player, he swatted 59 into the seats, drove in 170 runs, scored 177 more, powered a slugging average of .846, batted .378, and walked 144 times for an on-base percentage over .500. At a time when even the game's top stars were not earning $20,000, Ruth's statistics won him a contract for $52,000 for 1923--"I always wanted to make a grand a week," he said. (5) Such a phenomena was Ruth that scientists at Columbia University eagerly examined him and declared the coordination between his brain and muscles 30 percent superior to that of the average person. (6) Off the field he was the nocturnal pal of movie stars Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, the enfant terrible of speakeasies and brothels around the league, a frequent visitor to traffic court, and, despite these antics, the idol and friend of children across the nation. So big was Ruth that he even defied the order of Kenesaw Mountain Landis when the iron-fisted commissioner barred him from playing in a barnstorming tour after the 1921 season. Suspended until May 20, 1922, as a result, and nagged by injuries and suspensions for arguing with umpires, Ruth still went on in his shortened season to lead the league in slugging average at . …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.