Yankee Stadium, home of the New York Yankees, is the only stadium built by a player: It is “The House that Ruth Built.” Babe Ruth, of course, used his bat and glove—not hammer and saw—to build the historic structure. His popularity drew the fans that provided the financial means whereby a permanent home went up to house the first great home-run hitter in the history of baseball, a stadium that would feature 25 World Series champions by the end of the twentieth century and become the most famous ballpark ever.
The Yankees, fans might be surprised to know, were not an original American League ballclub. They started as the Baltimore Orioles in 1901, and when the team was moved to New York for the 1903 season, they were known as the New York Highlanders. That name became associated with the team’s original home, Hilltop Park, located at the highest elevation on Manhattan Island. Known as the Yankees in 1913, the team moved into the Polo Grounds, renting space from the National League Giants through 1922.
The franchise enjoyed little success until Babe Ruth was acquired from the Boston Red Sox prior to the 1920 season. Ruth had set the home-run record in 1919 with 29; in his first season with New York, he almost doubled that total, smashing 54 round-trippers. The fans loved him, even if managers did not always share that feeling, and they turned out in droves to see the next mighty blast fly off his bat. Season attendance soared from 619,164 in 1919 to 1,289,422 in 1920.
Yankee Stadium was built on a 10-acre lot in the Bronx carved out of the William Waldorf Astor estate across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds. The stadium originally had massive dimensions to center and left-center, measuring 487 feet to dead center and 500 feet at its deepest point in left-center. Right field was much more agreeable, especially to the left-handed Ruth—only about 295 feet at its shortest. Center field became known as “Death Valley” because of the certain fate that met fly balls hit there.
The ballpark sat as many as 70,000 in its early history and struck visitors as