Before yesterday’s game, the Yankees announced that George M. Steinbrenner III will be honored with a monument, an honor bestowed on only five other figures in the team’s illustrious history. The tribute will be unveiled during a pre-game ceremony on September 20, at which point the Yankees’ principal owner of the last 37 years will take his rightful place in Monument Park alongside Miller Huggins, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio.
Make no mistake about it, even though the Steinbrenner family is essentially calling the shots, the Boss is more than worthy of this highest of honors. With the exception of Ruth, you could make the argument that no man contributed more to the Yankee brand than Steinbrenner, so it’s only fitting that he will be forever immortalized alongside the team’s other giants from the past. After all, if there was anything the Boss loved more than winning, it was the Yankees’ long and glorious history and tradition.
The first Yankee to be honored with a monument was Miller Huggins, who managed the Yankees to three championships and six pennants during his tenure as manager that lasted from 1918 up until the day he died on September 25, 1929 at the age of only 49. With the exception of Babe Ruth, no one was considered to be more responsible for the Yankees meteoric rise from an also-ran to a perennial contender. In addition to his success on the field, Huggins was also beloved by his players and widely respected throughout the game, so much so that all American League games were postponed on the day he passed away. Despite being diminutive in stature, the “Mighty Atom” was truly a giant in the game, so it was appropriate (and long overdue) that the Yankees decided to erect a permanent remembrance to Huggins in centerfield at Yankee Stadium. Huggins’ monument was finally installed between games of double header against the Red Sox on May 30, 1932, which fittingly was Memorial Day. Over 45,000 fans witnessed the dedication ceremony, which included both family members and local luminaries, including New York City Mayor James J. Walker.
Huggins’ monument stood alone (although a plaque to owner Colonel Jacob Ruppert was added in 1940) in center field until July 6, 1941, when a similar tribute to Lou Gehrig was placed by its side. Just over one month before the dedication, the Iron Horse succumbed to a rare form of paralysis that would eventually bear his name. Considering the proximity to his death, the dedication for Gehrig’s monument was a much more somber affair, with eulogies delivered by Gehrig’s widow, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, Bill Dickey as well as other local politicians and even Philadelphia Athletics’ manager Connie Mack, whose team was playing the Yankees that day.
Deep in centerfield at Yankee Stadium, where many of his base hits bounced, there stands today a monument which says in bronze the things about Lou Gehrig that are written on the hearts of all of us” – Harry Ferguson, United Press sportswriter, July 7, 1941
After suffering the ravages of throat cancer, Babe Ruth died on August 16, 1948, sending the baseball world into a prolonged state of mourning. Although the old Yankee Stadium itself could aptly be called a monument to Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat was officially recognized with a memorial on April 19, 1949, the opening game of that season. Once again, a regal ceremony was held to unveil the new monument, which was placed to the right of Huggins’, leaving the former skipper flanked by his two hitting stars. In addition to Mayor William O’Dwyer, Governor Thomas E. Dewey, perhaps still stinging from his narrow defeat to President Harry S. Truman in the November election, attended the affair.
Babe Ruth built this stadium. He rebuilt baseball for vast good. For us he never shall die. For us he lives on this field, as he lives on every other field on which a baseball is thrown, a bat is swung.” – Dan Daniel, BBWAA, speaking to the assembled crowd at the unveiling of Babe Ruth’s monument in center field at Yankee Stadium
For nearly 50 years after Ruth’s death, no other Yankee was honored in granite. During that time, the team continued to honor former luminaries with plaques and retired numbers, and even Monument Park itself was relocated to behind the centerfield wall when Yankee Stadium was renovated in the 1970s. However, the highest honor remained exclusive to the trinity of Ruth, Huggins and Gehrig. Sadly, that all changed when Mickey Mantle passed away on August 13, 1995.
Mickey Mantle was fond of saying that if he knew he would live so long, he would have taken better care of himself. Unfortunately, years of hard living caught up to Mantle at the age of 64, casting a pall over the game the likes of which had not been seen since the death of Babe Ruth. Just over one year after his passing, on August 25, 1996, the Yankees held Mickey Mantle Day, during which a monument to him was unveiled. Although Mayor Rudolph Guiliani was curiously absent from the festivities, many of Mantle’s surviving teammates were on hand for the ceremony, which was presided over by fellow Oklahoman Bobby Murcer and featured a speech by comedian and long-time friend Billy Crystal.
He made me want to be a ballplayer. Later, after I got to know him, he sent me one of the seats from the original Yankee Stadium with a note that read, ‘I wish you were still sitting here and I was still playing.’” – Billy Crystal to the crowd on Mickey Mantle Day, August 25, 1996, as quoted in the New York Daily News
Joe DiMaggio passed away on March 8, 1999, and the Yankees immediately honored the Yankee Clipper with his monument during a memorial held on April 25 of that season. In addition to former teammates from the 1951 season and several city politicians, the ceremony was also attended by John Cardinal O’Connor and featured a live rendition of Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson”, which poignantly included the line “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio”? Also, on that day, Mayor Rudolph Guiliani extended the tribute by officially renaming the West Side Highway to the Joe DiMaggio Highway.
Joe DiMaggio thanked [God] for making him a Yankee. Today we thank Joe DiMaggio for becoming a Yankee.” – John Cardinal O’Connor speaking at the dedication of Joe DiMaggio monument, April 25, 1999, as quoted in the New York Daily News
The Yankees will undoubtedly have a stirring ceremony planned for the unveiling of the latest granite memorial to reside in Monument Park, but like the five honorees before him, the mark that George Steinbrenner left on the Yankees and the game of baseball is more indelible than any monument could ever be. Still, it is fitting that the Boss will be honored in stone because for many years he was the foundation of the team’s success. After spending the last 40 years as the most diligent steward of the Yankee legacy, the Boss would undoubtedly be happy to know that he will forever be remembered as one of its cornerstones.
Monument Park Inventory, Honorees and Dates of Dedication
|Miller Huggins||5/30/1932||Jacob Ruppert||4/19/1940|
|Lou Gehrig||7/6/1941||Edward Barrow||4/15/1954|
|Babe Ruth||4/19/1949||Pope Paul VI||6/27/1966|
|Mickey Mantle||8/25/1996||Joe McCarthy||4/21/1976|
|Joe DiMaggio||4/25/1999||Casey Stengel||7/30/1976|
|9/11 Memorial||9/11/2002||.||Pope John Paul II||10/2/1979|
|George M. Steinbrenner III||9/20/2010||Thurman Munson||9/20/1980|
|Retired Numbers||Roger Maris||7/21/1984|
|1 Billy Martin||8/10/1986||Phil Rizzuto||8/4/1985|
|3 Babe Ruth||6/13/1948||Billy Martin||8/10/1986|
|4 Lou Gehrig||7/4/1939||Whitey Ford||8/2/1987|
|5 Joe DiMaggio||4/18/1952||Lefty Gomez||8/2/1987|
|7 Mickey Mantle||6/8/1969||Bill Dickey||8/21/1988|
|8 Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra||4/18/1972||Yogi Berra||8/21/1988|
|9 Roger Maris||7/21/1984||Allie Reynolds||8/26/1989|
|10 Phil Rizzuto||8/4/1985||Don Mattingly||8/31/1997|
|15 Thurman Munson||8/2/1979||Mel Allen||7/25/1998|
|16 Whitey Ford||4/6/1974||Bob Sheppard||5/7/2000|
|23 Don Mattingly||8/31/1997||Reggie Jackson||7/6/2002|
|32 Elston Howard||7/21/1984||Ron Guidry||8/23/2003|
|37 Casey Stengel||8/8/1970||Red Ruffing||7/10/2004|
|42 Jackie Robinson||4/15/1997||Jackie Robinson||4/17/2007|
|44 Reggie Jackson||8/14/1993||Pope Benedict XVI||4/20/2008|
|49 Ron Guidry||8/23/2003|