Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The House That Ruth Built

Baseball's most storied playing grounds, Yankee Stadium in New York, played host to one of baseball's premier events last night as the stars shined for MLB's annual All-Star game extravaganza. The game was awarded to the Big Apple to honor the grand old ball yard in its final season. It is slated for demolition this winter, to be replaced by the New Yankee Stadium. The stadium was nicknamed "The House That Ruth Built" because it literally was just that. Early in their history, the New York Yankees played their games at The Polo Grounds, a park that was the real home of the New York Giants ball club. The Giants threatened to evict the Yanks, so the club ownership purchased a plot of land in the Bronx and built the most magnificent facility of it's kind at the time. Ruth had been baseball's biggest star as a pitcher and hitter for the Boston Red Sox, who sold him to the Yankees while he was still a young player. Yankee Stadium opened its doors for the 1923 season, and Ruth christened it by hitting the first home run there. The stadium's signature feature was a white frieze or facade that runs all along the top of the outfield, and following various renovations over the years at least part of the frieze was always maintained. The New Yankee Stadium will incorporate one as well as a homage. The stadium has played host to 37 World Series over the years, with the Yanks clinching wins in 16 of those series at the stadium, the most recent back in 1999. Beginning in the 1951 season, Bob Sheppard became the public address announcer, and still serves in that role, though he has appeared less frequently as he battles illness associated with old age the past couple seasons. Sheppard's booming voice over the loud speakers became affectionately known as "The Voice of God". Yankee Stadium has played host to numerous events besides baseball. In December 1958, what has become known as 'The Greatest Game Ever Played' in the NFL took place there as the Johnny Unitas-led Baltimore Colts rallied to dramatically defeat the New York Giants 23-17 for the world championship. Legendary college football coach Knute Rockne gave his famous "win one for The Gipper" speech at halftime of a 1928 game to his Notre Dame charges, who went on to down Army 12-6. One of the most important boxing matches ever took place there in 1938 when black American Joe Louis fought Max Schmeling, a German from Hitler's Nazi-era machine. Schmeling had beaten Louis 2 years earlier, and there was a highly charged political climate to the fight as Louis knocked the German out in the first round. Louis fought there 8 times, and Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson also won there. In last night's All-Star finale at the stadium, the stars didn't seem to want to say goodbye. The game dragged in to the 15th inning with numerous tremendous defensive plays before the AL won on a sacrifice fly. J.D. Drew of the hated Red Sox proved to be the MVP in one final twist of irony. The House That Ruth Built is closing down in a few months, but it will be forever remembered, and last night's MLB All-Star classic was just one of many unforgettable events there.

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