Food prices soar. Irish rebels battle troops. Wall Street is rocked by fraud scandal. State legislature weighs crackdown on pornography. Detective is accused of accepting bribe. Monetary crisis looms abroad.
The front pages of the Manhattan dailies read like a typical 1973 bad-news day, except that the dateline was April 18, 1923, and the big story was not the closing of gas stations but the opening of Yankee Stadium, a glittering new edifice rising like an ivory Taj Mahal in the gray wilderness of the Bronx.
Attending journalists were unabashedly awed by the splendor and sheer numerical wonder of it all. Luminaries from all walks, it was reported, joined a sellout throng of 74,200 in a triple-tiered monument to baseball that was fashioned from 20,000 cubic yards of concrete and 3,000 tons of steel. Outside, a milling crowd of 25,000, including one scoundrel who was arrested for trying to scalp a $1.10 grandstand ticket for $1.25, vainly tried to storm walls made "impenetrable to all human eyes, save those of aviators, by towering embattlements."
Inside, John Philip Sousa, resplendent in his bandmaster's finery, led the Seventh Regiment Band, a full complement of Yankee and Boston Red Sox players, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Colonel Jake Ruppert and assorted politicians across 13,000 cubic yards of fresh topsoil, past bleachers made of 950,000 board feet of Pacific Coast fir shipped via the Panama Canal, to center field for a flag-raising ceremony.
Then, after Governor Alfred E. Smith tossed out the first ball, all that remained was for the redoubtable George Herman Ruth to fittingly dedicate the Yankees' new home with a baptism of firepower. Leaning his generous bulk into a 2-2 pitch served up by Howard Ehmke, the Babe stroked a three-run homer into the Pacific Coast fir seats in right field to ensure a 4-1 Yankee victory, and "the biggest crowd in baseball history rose to its feet and let loose the biggest shout in baseball history."
That was 50 long, storied years ago, and if any echoes still linger they are drowned out these days by the insistent clamor of jackhammers, bulldozers and wrecking balls. Those towering embattlements look as impenetrable as ever, but the sight inside the ball park one chill, drizzly day last week was not becoming to all human eyes. The field, scene of 27 World Series as well as dozens of football games and boxing matches, was a rutted, soupy quagmire strewn with debris. The Yankee dugout, the lair of such wily old grizzlies as Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel, looked like a bombed-out artillery bunker. And down at first base, churning deep into the turf once patrolled by Lou Gehrig, a massive crane reached up and impersonally tore away the park's most distinctive feature, the copper frieze that was strung like a lace doily around the overhanging roof.
Like its modern tenants, Yankee Stadium has fallen on hard times. The city fathers have decreed that it be reduced to a shell and then totally remodeled to show the world, says Mayor John Lindsay, that "we not only honor the past but look with great expectation to the future." So what took $2.5 million and 284 days to erect will require $30 million and 2� years to tear down and rebuild. That is called progress, big-city style.
The Yankees, who will share Shea Stadium with the Mets until their refurbished digs are reopened for the 1976 season, are dutifully looking Janus-like to their past and future, as directed. Home plate in the House That Ruth Built was presented to the Babe's widow, first base was given to Mrs. Gehrig, and such familiar relics as a flagpole, topped with a Louisville Slugger weathervane that is allegedly one of Ruth's old war clubs, and the monuments and plaques that once graced the distant center-field reaches of " Death Valley" are being saved for enshrinement in Yankee Stadium II.
There are still heaps of mementos for the average fan to have and hold—for a price, naturally. For the past five weeks some 60,000 devoted scroungers have trooped to the ball park for a kind of glorified garage sale run by the company in charge of demolition. For sale—and open to some good old-fashioned Fulton Fish Market haggling—are blowups of team photos and such action shots as Don Larsen hurling the last pitch in his perfect 1956 World Series no-hitter ($150 to $350), box seats ($20 each), turnstiles ($100), hot-dog vendors' trays ($5), an equipment trunk ($75), a pair of mud-encrusted spikes ($15), a locker-room scale ($75), Joe Pepitone's old duffel bag ($50), a sheet of, alas, unused World Series tickets ($3) and such inspirational messages as the IN sign from a men's lavatory ($3), A TO Q RESERVED ($15), SCOUT ADMISSION 50� ($.50) and FANS THROWING OBJECTS OR IN ANY WAY INTERFERING WITH PLAY WILL BE EVICTED AND SUBJECTED TO ARREST ($35).
The bounty was irresistible to two fans who appeared the morning the sale opened, took one look around and said, "Lock entrance, please." Yoshio Kano, manager of the New York office of Japan's Daimaru department-store chain, and his associate were ready to buy everything from the foul-line poles to a box of diapers left behind by one of the player's wives. Explaining that their intent was to display the memorabilia in their stores and then sell it off, Kano said: "Japanese crazy for Yankees."