By Alex Parrish
Frommer, Harvey. Remembering Yankee Stadium: An Oral and Narrative History of “The House That Ruth Built”. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2016. Pp. xiv+226. 14 black and white photographs and index. $17.95 paperback.
The New York Yankees are one of the most successful and recognizable sports teams in the world. Some of the most iconic players in MLB history, including Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Derek Jeter, played all or most of their careers with the Bronx Bombers. Equally iconic was the home of the Yankees from 1923-2008, the aptly-named Yankee Stadium. Nicknamed “The House That Ruth Built,” Yankee Stadium was more than just an athletic venue. For over 8 decades, Yankee Stadium was for some the architectural epitome of class, while for others it was a garish monument to greed and elitism.
Harvey Frommer’s book, Remembering Yankee Stadium: An Oral and Narrative History of “The House That Ruth Built”, recounts the 8-decade history of the Stadium through a blend of original research and stories from those who experienced the Stadium. Among the notable “voices” are recording artist Michael Bolton, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Hall of Famers Whitey Ford, Phil Rizzuto, and George Kell. This particular edition is a paperback reprint of the 2008 hardback that was released when the original Yankee Stadium was being replaced.
The primary audience for this book is baseball fans. Specifically, and obviously, Yankee fans are the ones for whom this book is written. It recounts story after story of people and moments throughout Yankee Stadium’s 85-year history, with each chapter covering a particular decade, from the 1920s to the 2000s. No lengthy thesis is given or needed. The argument made by the “voices” and Frommer himself echo the profound words attributed on page 1 to Babe Ruth; reflecting on Yankee Stadium, Ruth exclaimed that it was “Some ball yard!”
The book covers all of the legendary moments and figures in Yankee Stadium history, from its beginnings as an escape from the Polo Grounds to the final days of Joe Torre’s career as manager of the Yankees, with every World Series in between. The unique blend of fan and player accounts presents an intriguing look at how a venue becomes something more. While not all Yankee greats were interviewed, no famous Yank went unmentioned. Ruth, Berra, Ford, DiMaggio, Rizzuto, Mantle, Gehrig, Jackson, Mattingly, Jeter, Rivera, and more have their stories in Yankee Stadium stunningly revisited, frequently with large photographs. The majestic photography, personal accounts, and quality narration make the book an exciting and informative read.
While not an academic book, the 2008 edition could have some value in sociology and religious studies courses as an example of how sports venues and figures become mythologized and/or worshiped. Stories of how individuals “worshiped” the Yankees (p. 78), the comparisons with New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral (p. 89), and even the “holy dust” a fan got from swiping his finger on a Yankee Stadium scoreboard display the intriguing religious quality sports can present (p. 95). Moreover, the collected accounts represent a Durkheimian collective effervescence and social organization around the Yankees, with the Stadium serving as the sacred space for the civil religion of the New York Yankees.
It is necessary to explain why it I used the 2008 hardback as opposed to the 2016 paperback reprint. There are a number of major problems with the 2016 edition that ought to have kept it from being printed at all. The first and most glaring is the atrocious copy editing. While the 2008 hardback had a few errors, the 2016 edition is riddled with grammar errors, misspellings, or wrong words inserted for others. For example, the third sentence on page one reads as follows: “Beginning life as the Baltimore Orioles in 1901. The franchise moved to Manhattan in 1903….” The period instead of a comma after the dependent clause is not present in the 2008 edition. On page three, the sentence reads, “It was thought that those plans would create a foreboding sports facility, too much a tower and not a place to play baseball, a place where the sun would shine only when overheard.” The word ought to be “overhead,” as it is in the original edition. Finally, a humorous but still careless error occurs on page 33: “As it got under way, reverence for the past was displayed at the Stadium on April 16 when a plague in Jake Ruppert’s memory was placed on the center-field wall close to the flagpole.” Again, the 2008 edition, from whence this reprint supposedly comes, has no such error, but reads “plaque.” These are just 3 of the 30 obvious errors I counted from pages 1 to 97 (I stopped counting after 30).
A second frustration is the way the first-hand accounts and the narrative portions are arranged. In the 2016 edition, the narrative accounts look like block quotes, as if they are adding further information about the paragraph immediately preceding. Before reading the 2008 edition, the prose seemed choppy and poorly arranged. The 2008 edition, however, makes it clear that the narrative accounts are separate from the first-hand accounts, and uses a different color, bolded font for the first-hand accounts, while keeping a traditional font for the narrative. A third aggravation was the lack of photographs in the 2016 edition. There is rarely a page without a photograph in the 2008 edition, yet, the only photographs are 8 pages of small black and white photographs placed near the middle of the book.
Frankly, the 2016 paperback reprint by Lyons Press is an insult. It is an insult to those of us who value quality sports writing and history and work to produce and review such works. It is an insult to those who spend their money on a book that uses the praise and reviews of the 2008 edition to promote the 2016 edition, giving a dishonest illusion that the books are essentially the same. And finally, it is an insult to author Harvey Frommer, who, unless one reads the 2008 edition, appears to be a novice writer. The only value in the 2016 edition is in displaying what happens when copy editors do not do their jobs.
In summary, I highly recommend the 2008 hardback edition published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang, and strongly caution against purchasing the embarrassment that is the 2016 paperback published by Lyons Press.
Alex is a PhD student at the Nazarene Theological College and the University of Manchester in Manchester, England. His academic interests include American religious history, Alaskan religion and culture, pop culture and religion, and sports and religion. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.