The words said by New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi seemed as if they came in a private conversation; however, they were uttered during a post-game interview. As a New York Mets fan listening to the radio, I immediately noticed that this revealed truth is salient and yet seems to be lost on most Yankees fans, and thinking about it I see this as either being the Yankees’ greatest strength or ending up to be their Achilles’ heel.
What did Girardi say? He spoke candidly about what the team needed to do to have success in the post-season. “We still need to win some games because we want to have home-field advantage.” After a follow-up question, Girardi reiterated the obvious: “It’s (home-field advantage) real important. I really believe that we were built around this ballpark.”
“Aha!” I thought, how true this is because the Yankees have always been built around that ballpark. When the first Yankee Stadium opened with Babe Ruth as the star, a convenient right field “porch” made it possible for the Sultan of Swat to bang lots of homers. Of course, we can argue that Ruth could hit homers in any park, but playing half of his games in Yankee Stadium certainly didn’t hurt him. This is also true for Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, and current players like Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira.
Girardi’s revelation may not be a surprise to many, but I think it is crucial to understanding the Yankees’ success story. When he says that the team is “built around this ballpark” we can understand that he means that Granderson and Teixeira need the dimensions (314 feet down the right field line and 318 feet down the left field line), as do the other players, to succeed. We can only guess about how many championships might have never been if the Yankees played in a different stadium.
Take my suffering New York Mets and their home ballpark. Citi Field is like the Grand Canyon of baseball parks compared to the home run friendly Yankee Stadium. How many homers are lost in the field that Citi helped build will never be known, but just take a look at David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, and others whose power has diminished while playing there.
Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks coined the phrase “the friendly confines” when referring to Wrigley Field. We can well understand his liking the park where he had so much success (512 career home runs), but imagine someone like Willie Mays who went from the Polo Grounds in New York to a place like Candlestick Park in San Francisco, where he lost so many homers in the wind. How many homers would Mays have hit if he had played in a more homer friendly arena? In my humble opinion he would have had more than Hank Aaron, who for many years played in a very homer-friendly Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta.
So Joe Girardi revealed a truth which may or may not be ugly, depending on your point of view. Yankees fans will no doubt scoff at the notion that their team’s history of success is based on the dimensions of Yankee Stadium, but most everyone else knows the truth: the House that Ruth Built was designed to have Ruth and other Yankees players hit lots of homers.
Certainly, opposing players might be seen to have the same advantage, but I beg to differ. I think that many great opposing players came into Yankee Stadium salivating for the chance to chip the ball into the short right field porch, but the execution of that is not so easy as it is for those Yanks who play eighty-one games a year there. Trying to pull the ball many hitters came up short, just as many guys who tried to poke one over the Green Monster in Boston’s Fenway Park found out.
By the way, Girardi got his wish. By sweeping the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and with the Boston Red Sox losing to the lowly Baltimore Orioles, the Yankees have clinched the division. It seems Girardi is going to get what he wants: to have the home-field advantage during the playoffs. Now we have to see if that will be a deciding factor in the Yankees going all the way. Girardi got what he wanted; for the rest of us, it seems that is the reason why they are known as those Damn Yankees!
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