By Bob Costas
(as told to Alex Belth)
To me Yankee Stadium means the original Yankee Stadium. I know the 1976-through-2008 version saw a lot of great moments and houses a lot of memories but since I’m from a generation prior to that, at least in terms of remembering baseball, my earliest memories are of the classic Yankee Stadium where Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, or for that matter, Bobby Murcer, played on exactly the same field with exactly the same dimensions as Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio. That’s what resonates most for me.
The first game I ever saw in person was the second to last day of the 1959 season. Saturday afternoon. It was one of those rare years in that era when the Yankees did not win the pennant. They finished third that year behind the White Sox and the Indians. I was seven-years-old. My father took me and my cousin.
My father was a huge baseball fan, very knowledgeable. His allegiances ran more towards the National League than the American. But there was that four season window, 1958-61, when the Yankees were the only team in New York. Most members of my family were either Giant fans or Dodger fans. But when I first became conscious of baseball the Yankees were the only New York team so they became my team. The Yankees televised a lot of games, even in that era. Mel Allen and Red Barber were in the booth along with the just-retired Phil Rizzuto. The games were on Channel 11 in black-and-white—I don’t think the Yankees started broadcasting in color until 1966.
Anyway, they were playing the Orioles that day. My cousin, who was older than me, was a Giants fan and loved Willie Mays just as much as I loved Mantle. Since the Giants weren’t involved he insisted on wearing an Orioles cap which infuriated me. I had a Yankee cap and we were seated in the lower left field stands. Not the bleachers but the lower left field stands, not far from the 402 sign that was just on the left field side of the bullpen.
There wasn’t that big of a crowd. My cousin and I had our gloves like kids always did and as the game moved along we moved down closer and closer because we were convinced that a home run or a ground rule double would soon land right in that area. And we weren’t just disappointed we were amazed that none did. The Yankees lost the game 7-2. I remember Johnny Blanchard hitting a home run. Mantle did not play which was an enormous letdown.
We didn’t keep score that day but we bought souvenirs. And I’ll be the one millionth person to testify to this but the thing you were struck by was the colors. Because your orientation to baseball, even if you were a very aware seven-year-old kid, was radio, black and white television and black-and-white pictures in the newspaper. And now you walk in and you’re struck by not just the color but how arresting the colors are. The orange of the warning track, how emerald green the grass was, how pure white the batter’s box and chalk lines and the bases were before the game started, the copper color of the façade. It was such an overwhelming place, the scale of it was enormous, and it was breathtaking, especially for a little kid.
Not to diminish the new Yankee Stadium, because many players and fans feel strongly about it and it had great features like Monument Park, but it wasn’t the old place. Not quite as awe-inspiring. The third baseball game I ever did on network Television was in 1980. I was 28-years-old. The Yankees were playing the Tigers on the last Saturday of the regular season. The Tigers were bad then, but they had beaten the Yankees the night before and that kept the Yankees’ clinching number at one. There were a bunch of other games—one involved the Dodgers and the other was the Phillies and Expos. These were supposed to be the featured games on NBC and the Yankee game was a back-up game in case of rain. And it did rain in Montreal and the game was delayed something like four hours. Eventually, the Phillies won that night, I think Schmidt hit a home run to clinch the division. So this combination of circumstances, a rain-out, the Yankees stalled at one, and suddenly this game went out to the whole country.
And I’m sure nobody outside of St. Louis had any idea who I was. I’m doing the game with Bobby Valentine. The Yankees win the game. Reggie hits a home run into the upper deck, his 41st and it ties Ben Ogilvie for the league lead. Gossage comes in and saves the game and they clinch the division. A memorable first time in the Yankee Stadium booth.
Subsequently, when I became part of the Game of Week team with Tony Kubek, we did many games at the Stadium. One happened to be Old Timers’ Day and Mickey Mantle came into the booth for a few innings. I tried to be as professional as I could, that is when I wasn’t pinching myself. Later, I did a number of playoff and World Series’ games there. But even with the pennant and World Series on the line I never heard the Stadium any louder than it was for Mickey Mantle Day in 1969. Mantle had retired prior to the ‘69 season and this was the final send-off day. They retired his uniform. The place was full which was remarkable because the capacity was huge back then and they didn’t sell out often. DiMaggio and Whitey Ford were part of the ceremony. Mickey’s remarks were simple, humble but in their own way eloquent and moving and there was a sustained 8-10 minute ovation. I don’t remember ever hearing a more appreciative reaction at a ballgame.