By Father Gabe Costa
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By virtually all accounts, September 22 — Mariano Rivera Day — was a smashing success at Yankee Stadium. It was a classic celebration of retirement for a man of class.
Almost lost in the festivities was the fact that Andy Pettitte, a member of the “Core Four” along with Rivera, was also bidding adieu as he was the starting pitcher on a day which was likely his last game at Yankee Stadium. Pettitte, of course, has had a distinguished career with the Yankees (modulo a three-year hiatus with the Houston Astros) with but one hiccup: a comparatively minor “flap” over steroids several years ago.
Barring a last minute Wild Card miracle, in a week or so, the lockers of Rivera and Pettitte will be cleared out, and no more baseball will be played in the Bronx in 2013. This means, of course, that Yankee Stadium will be the site of no World Series games this year.
The present home of the Bombers, Yankee Stadium III — still thought of, by many, as The House That Ruth Built — has not seen a Fall Classic since 2009, when the Yankees won their 27th title by topping the Philadelphia Phillies in six games. Prior to that, it was Yankee Stadium II which last hosted a Fall Classic in 2003.
This year marks 90 years since the World Series was first played at the first ballpark to be called a “stadium”, Yankee Stadium I. The very year it opened, 1923, the Yankees won their third American League pennant in a row, and would face — for the third year running — their intra-city rivals, John McGraw’s New York Giants.
For the record, the Yankees were still smarting from losing both the 1921 and 1922 World Series to the McGrawmen.
For more than a few years, the Yankees — known as the second-class citizens — had been tenants at the Polo Grounds, which was the Giants’ home turf. New York was a “National League town,” and McGraw was the high priest of “Inside Baseball”. Home runs were eschewed in favor of bunting, sacrifices, stolen bases and hit-and-run plays. Games which often ended in 1-0 and 2-1 scores.
That would all change when a rawboned pitcher-turned-outfielder from Baltimore, via Boston, arrived in New York in January of 1920, signaling — in many senses — the beginning of the Roaring Twenties. And in 1920, home runs filled the pages as they never had before. This iconic figure of Babe Ruth would strike the blow which would forever change the game. Not only that, but the Yankees would actually outdraw the landlord Jints.
The Old Guard was not amused.
The Yankees’ third-place finish in 1920 was merely a prelude to the next two years, which produced their first and second American League championships. The Yankees were smoking.
And McGraw read the handwriting on the wall.
Yet he and his boys would not go gently into the night. For at the end of the 1922 campaign, the Giants had vanquished the Yankees in the series for the second year in a row. And for all the home runs and the explosion in gate receipts, the Yankees still had yet to win a world title.
But the third time would be a charm. In the first year of its existence, Yankee Stadium set the stage for three of the six World Series games to be played that year.
And in the end the New York Yankees would prevail, winning their first of 27 World Series.
Some interesting facts about the 1923 World Series:
• The Yankees would finally beat their nemesis, winning the crown in six games. The Giants (New York or San Francisco) would never again beat the Yankees in a World Series.
• The odd-number games were played in Yankee Stadium, while the even-number contests were held at the Polo Grounds.
• The Yankees won only one game at the Stadium, while sweeping all three at the Polo Grounds.
• There were no off-days. The series started on October 10 and concluded on October 15.
• The first World Series home run in Yankee Stadium was hit by Casey Stengel in Game 1. Stengel, of course, would become a Hall of Fame manager while leading the Yankees to an unparalleled five straight World Series titles beginning in 1949.
That was a look back to 90 years ago.
Yankees fans wonder as to what the future will bring. Looking ahead with the realization that Rivera and Pettitte will be gone, that other key players are well past their primes and that the team will be mired in medical and/or legal issues, it brings a certain amount of trepidation for Bombers fans.
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