Bob Sheppard has been at the Stadium's public address microphone since 1951, announcing all regular- and postseason baseball games in his precise, resonant voice, but among his most cherished memories are those from the Giants' football games he worked. Sheppard was at the Stadium on Dec. 28, 1958, for the Greatest Game Ever Played, the overtime NFL championship game between the Giants and the Colts. What he remembers now is the Colts' final drive in regulation; losing 17-14, they had the ball on their own 14 with two minutes left. He can still see quarterback Johnny Unitas finding flanker Raymond Berry again and again. "It drove me crazy," Sheppard says. "We almost had it in the bag. The Colts only had two minutes and all those yards to go, and I thought, It's safe. We have a good defense. But what a magician that Unitas was! He had me saying, over and over and over on the P.A., Unitas to Berry, first down.... Unitas to Berry, first down.... Unitas to Berry, first down!" Steve Myhra kicked a field goal to tie the score 17-17, and the Colts won it in sudden death when fullback Alan Ameche plunged through a hole at the one to score. "A huge hole," moans Sheppard.
That game was played less than three months after the Yankees beat the Milwaukee Braves in the seventh game to win the 1958 World Series. That victory crowned a 12-year stretch in which the Yankees won 10 pennants and eight World Series—a record five tides in a row from 1949 to '53. The Stadium itself had changed very little since '23. By then the Yankees had installed those monuments close to the wall in center, the first, in 1932, honoring Huggins, who had died three years before, and then stones commemorating Gehrig ('41) and Ruth ('49). The monuments were in the field of play, and nothing tested a centerfielder more than having to run down a ball that was rattling around between the monuments and the wall. The Yankees shortened the Stadium's deepest fences in 1937—centerfield went from 490 feet to 461, left center went from 460 to 457 and right center from 429 feet to 407—but it still took a Thor-like blast to reach the bleachers. It is no wonder so many memories of those years involve outfielders dashing madly after long fly balls.
In the sixth game of the '47 Series, with the Yankees leading the Dodgers three games to two, DiMaggio came to bat with two men on in the sixth and the Dodgers leading 8-5. Leftfielder Al Gionfriddo was playing near the line when DiMaggio ripped a 415-foot drive toward the bullpen in leftfield. Gionfriddo, thinking he had no chance, took off after it anyway, head down. Twice he looked back over his left shoulder. On the rooftops of the nearby Gerard Avenue apartment buildings, men with binoculars watched him run and listened as Dodgers play-by-play man Red Barber shouted over the radio, "Gionfriddo's going backbackbackbackback!" DiMaggio was rounding first as Gionfriddo neared the wall: "I saw it coming over my head," Gionfriddo recalls, "and I knew I had to jump, and so I jumped, with my back toward the plate, and I reached out and caught the ball in midair, as I am turning, and I came down and hit the bullpen gate with my butt."
Barber cried out, "Oh, doctor!"
DiMaggio, that most taciturn of men, kicked the dirt as he pulled up near second base. "In all the years I played with him, that's the only time Joe showed any emotion," Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto says. "Ever." The Dodgers won the game 8-6 but lost the Series.
Rizzuto remembers Ruth's coming to the park long after he'd retired in '34, even when he was sick and dying of throat cancer, and sitting in the dugout cheerily spinning tales. "He used to sit on the bench in that camel hair coat and camel hair hat with that big cigar. His voice was just about gone with cancer, but he'd tell us stories about the old days, like how he'd eat hot dogs during games. Some innings, when he wasn't going to bat, he'd just stay out in rightfield and walk to the hot dog vendor under the stands and eat hot dogs among the people...."
Two months before Ruth died, in '48, he returned a final time to celebrate the Stadium's 25th anniversary, and Herald Tribune photographer Nat Fein got a picture of him on a stool in the clubhouse. "He was so sick, it took two men to dress him," Fein recalls. "The Yankees were playing Cleveland that day, and Ruth took Bob Feller's bat and leaned on it, like a cane, as he's coming out of the dugout." Fein took a picture of Ruth from behind, with the number 3 on his back for the last time. That picture won the Pulitzer Prize in '49.
The Stadium touched everyone who played in it. Former Brooklyn pitcher Carl Erskine grew up in Anderson, Ind. (pop. 55,000), hearing about Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio and dreaming about playing in the Stadium one day. And there he was, in the '49 World Series, walking into the visitors' clubhouse recently vacated by the Yankees, who had switched dressing rooms. "We walked in, awestruck, a bunch of kids," says Erskine, "and here were two lockers with two uniforms in them: Ruth's and Gehrig's. All cleaned and pressed and hanging there. I think they did it on purpose: We'll shake these kids up real good.
"The Stadium had an aura. There was a feeling of privilege and almost a disbelief that you're walking on the same field as those greats of the past. I stood on the mound there one day, and I'm looking around at 70,000 people, and I had this thought: That's more people than live in Anderson!"
In the sixth game of the '51 Series, the Yankees were leading the Giants three games to two when rightfielder Hank Bauer struck a bases-loaded triple in the sixth, giving the Yanks a 4-1 lead that they carried into the ninth. The finish was a circus. The Giants loaded the bases with nobody out and Irvin coming to bat. Stengel called on lefty Bob Kuzava. Irvin hit a bolt to left center that Bobby Brown, the Yankees' third baseman, says traveled about 450 feet before leftfielder Gene Woodling chased it down. That scored the runner from third and advanced the other two. Bobby Thomson then struck a nearly identical shot to left center that Woodling grabbed on the run. The runner scored from third, making it 4-3. With the tying run on third, pinch hitter Sal Yvars came to bat. "I can still see it," Sheppard says. "Yvars hit a screaming line drive to right."