Babe Ruth joined the Yankees baseball team in 1920, after his contract was sold by the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees. Babe Ruth's popularity drew huge crowds to the Polo Grounds, the field that the Yankee's had shared with the New York Giants since 1913. In fact, the Yankees became the first professional baseball team to draw more than one million fans in a single season. Facing eviction by the indignant Giants, the owners of the Yankees decided to build a spectacular ballpark of their own.
In 1921, the Yankees purchased ten acres of land that had been part of the estate of William Waldorf Astor, famous capitalist and author. The land was located in the west Bronx, directly across the Harlem River from Polo Grounds, and cost the team 5,000. After a year of construction costing .5 million, Yankee Stadium opened for its inaugural game on April 18, 1923 against the Boston Red Sox.
Reportedly, 74,200 baseball fans packed Yankee Stadium for a first glimpse of baseball's grandest facility. Thousands more milled around outside after the fire department finally ordered the gates closed. During the inaugural game, Babe Ruth christened his new home with the first home run in the stadium. Since it was widely recognized that Ruth's tremendous drawing power made the new stadium possible, it would immediately become known as "The House That Ruth Built". Later in that season, Yankee Stadium hosted the first of 33 World Series and the Yankees won their first World Championship over their former landlord, the Giants. To date, the Yankees have won a staggering 26 world titles, thus the Stadium also became known as “The Home of Champions”.
The new stadium greatly favored left-handed hitters. Under the original configuration, the outfield distances were 295 feet from home plate to the right field foul pole, 395 feet to left field, 460 ft to left center, and 490 ft to straightaway center. Left-center field became known as Death Valley for hitters, and the term "Death Valley" would be commonly used for the outfield areas of baseball parks where it was difficult to hit a homerun.
Many of baseball’s greatest players have called Yankee Stadium home including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Monuments to past Yankee greats were placed deep in Death Valley. The first monument honoring manager Miller Huggins was unveiled in 1932, and Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth followed with plaques in 1941 and 1949, respectively. Another monument was dedicated for
Joe DiMaggio in 1999, and other plaques commemorate Yankee greats such as Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Lefty Gomez, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Don Mattingly, Phil Rizzuto, and Casey Stengel.
Following the Stadium's 50th-Anniversary season in 1973, the Yankees moved to Shea Stadium for two seasons while the aging Yankee Stadium was closed and virtually demolished and then rebuilt. The newly modernized stadium reopened on April 15, 1976. Improvements included the removal of the numerous, obstructive steel columns which supported the second and third decks as well as the roof, which improved sight lines of the fans.
Yankee Stadium has also been the home of scores of other sports, entertainment and cultural events. While the Yankees were on the road or out of season, Yankee Stadium opened its gates to college and pro football, soccer, political assemblies, religious conventions, concerts and even the circus.
Plans are underway for a new stadium across the street from the old one. The Yankees officially broke ground on August 16, 2006, and plan to open the new stadium in 2009. If the new stadium is built on schedule, 2008 will be the final season at Yankee Stadium.
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