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New York's Yankee Stadium Closes Forever

One of the most storied buildings in Major League Baseball - Yankee Stadium - is set to host its final baseball game Sunday night. As VOA's David Byrd reports, the "House that Ruth Built" will be torn down and replaced with a new state-of-the-art facility.

Sunday evening, an era ends. Yankee Stadium's public address system will blare out Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" for the last time. The balls will be put away, the bronze images of New York Yankee heroes like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris will be packed with an almost religious reverence to be moved to their new home.

And Yankee Stadium will be no more.

The House that Ruth Built

Built in the early 1920s, Yankee Stadium was America's first three-deck sports facility. The land in New York's South Bronx was purchased from William Waldorf Astor for $675,000. The stadium cost $2.5 million to build.

The Yankees originally played at New York's Polo Grounds, which the American League club rented from their National League rivals the New York Giants. But the Yankees started drawing bigger crowds and they wanted their own facility. Babe Ruth hit the first home run in the new park in New York's 4-1 win over the Boston Red Sox on April 18, 1923. A New York reporter then dubbed the stadium "the House that Ruth Built" and the name stuck.

During its lifetime, Yankee Stadium has witnessed some of the most storied moments in baseball, including 26 World Series titles won by the so-called "Bronx Bombers." One of those moments was a perfect game pitched by Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series. Larsen says he did not know he achieved perfection until the final frame of the contest.

"I didn't know it was a perfect game until someone told me in the clubhouse after. I knew I had the no hitter going," he said. "You expect the guys to get a base hit, that doesn't bother you. You don't go out and try to do stuff like that. You just try to go out and do a decent job and hope you come in on the winning end."

Other pitchers to throw a perfect game at Yankee Stadium included David Wells in 1998 and David Cone a year later. Roger Maris hit his record-setting 61st home run there in 1961. Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in Game Six to help the Yankees win the 1977 World Series.

The stadium was also where former first baseman Lou Gehrig gave his speech in which he called himself the "luckiest man on the face of the earth." The man know as "The Iron Horse" lay in state at the stadium when he died from the disease that now bears his name.

The list of Hall of Famers to play for the Yankees reads like a who's who of baseball, including Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Joe DiMaggio, Gehrig and Reggie Jackson. Current Yankees' manager Joe Girardi says no other venue can compare with Yankee Stadium.

Girardi said that "This place has been the house of numerous, numerous championships. This place has meant a lot to the history of baseball, the history of this country because of all the things that have happened here. And I think everyone appreciates it and everyone wants a piece of it."

Longtime Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard says that Yankee Stadium has always felt like something sacred, something that represented all of America. Shepard went on to say "I think of it as a kind of baseball cathedral. Almost like St. Patrick's Cathedral except devoted not to the Lord, but to baseball."

Historic Events

Baseball is not the only event the stadium has hosted. In 1928, legendary Notre Dame college football coach Knute Rockne urged his team to beat Army for ailing teammate George Gipp - forever known as "win one for the Gipper." In 1938, as Adolf Hitler drove the world to the brink of war, American Joe Louis defeated German Max Schmelling at Yankee Stadium to win the world heavyweight boxing title.

The New York football Giants played there and lost the 1958 NFL Championship to the Baltimore Colts in overtime.

The stadium has also hosted three Popes - Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI - all said mass there. Former South African president Nelson Mandela led a rally there, and there have been numerous music concerts there including by U2, Billy Joel and Pink Floyd.

The New Ballpark

The stadium was renovated in the 1970s, but now a new ballpark is being built across 161st Street. The new $1.3 billion New Yankee Stadium is 63 percent larger than the old venue. It features a martini bar, steak house, art gallery and luxury boxes for high-paying customers. More comfortable seating has been installed with the best seats going for $2,500 a game.

Some of the old landmarks will remain - fans will still have to take the Four Line subway to reach the field. The original limestone exterior will be replicated, as will the eagle medallions outside the stadium entrance. The cathedral windows and the frieze in the outfield will make the trip. And the memories - and ghosts - of Yankee Stadium will also make the trip when the Yankees play their first game at New Yankee Stadium next April.