Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Welcome to Monument Blog

Welcome to Monument Blog. This is Uncle Mike of Uncle Mike's Musings.

This isn't a traditional blog that will be updated as often as I can. Rather, it's a salute to the people honored in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium.

It will include pictures of these people, pictures of their Plaques or Monuments, and information about them that I think is noteworthy, but not necessarily included on their Plaques or Monuments.


First, a brief history. The Yankees were not the first team to put things honoring past figures from their team on the field:

* The New York Giants put a monument in deep center field of the Polo Grounds, memorializing Eddie Grant, a 3rd baseman who was the 1st Major League Baseball player killed in World War I. They put it there on Memorial Day, May 29, 1921, and it remained there until the Giants left after the 1957 season. Supposedly, in fear that it would be stolen by fans, the plaque was removed from its marble slab before the game. When the Mets debuted at the Polo Grounds in 1962, the slab was still there, but the plaque was not.

No one knows for sure where the plaque is today. The Giants never found it among their possessions when they arrived in San Francisco. Someone in New Jersey claimed to have found it in 1997, but it was proven to be a fake.

Someone decided that the San Francisco Giants were under "The Curse of Captain Eddie," saying they would never win a World Series in San Francisco until they replaced the plaque, even though Grant never played for the West Coast edition of the team. In 2006, the Giants made a replica of the monument, and placed it on the concourse at AT&T Park. Since then, the Giants have won 3 World Series, ending the Curse (assuming it existed).

* Not long after the Grant monument was dedicated, the Cleveland Indians dedicated a plaque to Ray Chapman, their shortstop who was killed in 1920, the only MLB player who can definitively be proven to have died as the result of an on-field incident.

Oddly, it was at the Polo Grounds, against the Yankees, who shared it with the Giants from 1913 to 1922. Yankee pitcher Carl Mays had a submarine delivery (think Kent Tekulve or Dan Quisenberry), and he was a rotten guy, so people wanted to believe he hit Chapman on purpose. He spent the last 51 years of his life insisting that he hadn't, a statement backed up by the fact that the ball hit Chapman's head and rebounded back to him, leading him to throw the ball to 1st base, thinking Chapman had hit it -- every eyewitness account, including the newspaper reporters', confirms this. Some witnesses even said Chapman leaned into the pitch to the point where his head was over the plate, although more said that he simply froze, and didn't see the ball as it was late on a gray day (August 16, 1920).

The Indians put the plaque up on the field at League Park, and later moved it to Cleveland Municipal Stadium. For some reason now forgotten, it was taken down, and forgotten, until someone asked around about it, and no one could find it. Until they moved to Jacobs (now Progressive) Field in 1994, when a crate was found, and no one knew what was in it, but they figured it must be important, so they moved it to the new park -- and didn't open it!

Until 2007, when someone got curious, and there it was, heavily oxidized so that the text was illegible. It was cleaned up, and, that season, the Indians established their own version of "Monument Park" in center field, naming it Heritage Park. The Chapman plaque is its centerpiece.

(In 1909, Philadelphia Athletics catcher Doc Powers died from an injury sustained in a game, but it appears that he had actually aggravated an existing injury, so Chapman is usually counted as the only on-field fatality. As far as I know, the A's never dedicated anything to his memory.)

* The Pittsburgh Pirates installed a monument in deep center field at Forbes Field in 1932. It was named the Dreyfuss Monument. Team owner Barney Dreyfuss was grooming his son Samuel to be the next owner, but he died in 1931, just 35 years old. (Pneumonia -- no antibiotics in those days.) Heartbroken, Barney died a year later. His widow, Florence, inherited the team, and convinced William Benswanger, who married daughter Florence Dreyfuss, to take control of the team. He installed the monment, inscribing the names of both his father-in-law and his brother-in-law. It was moved to Three Rivers Stadium in 1970 and PNC Park in 2001.

* Since the Yankees established Monument Park, most teams have created team halls of fame, and some have some sort of display somewhere in the stadium. Notably, in 2010, the 2nd season of Citi Field, the Mets put a New York Mets Hall of Fame in a room to the 1st base side of the home plate rotunda (itself a museum honoring Jackie Robinson).

In 1978, the Philadelphia Phillies established the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame, every year honoring a Phillies great and an A's great, hanging them on a wall on the lower level concourse at Veterans Stadium, until 2003, when they moved out and headed into Citizens Bank Park. The A's plaques have been moved twice, and are now at Spike's Trophies store in Northeast Philly, while the Phils add a new legend from their own team every year to the Wall in center field's Ashburn Alley.


The Yankees placed a Monument to Miller Huggins, who had died in office as Yankee manager in 1929, in front of the flagpole, in play in deep center field at the original Yankee Stadium, in 1932. When Lou Gehrig died in 1941, and when Babe Ruth died in 1948, Monuments to them were placed flanking Huggins' Monument.

Film exists of Bobby Murcer chasing a long fly ball into deepest center field, and squeezing between the Huggins and Ruth Monuments to go get it. Legend also tells of Mickey Mantle, unable to chase down a long fly, running for it, all the way to the Monuments, and manager Casey Stengel yelling, "Huggins, Gehrig, Ruth, somebody, throw that ball back here!

Plaques were placed on the center field wall in memory of team owner Jacob Ruppert and general manager Ed Barrow. Later, a Plaque was added to commemorate the Mass delivered at The Stadium by Pope Paul VI, and Plaques were added for living ex-Yankees for the 1st time for Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.

This photo shows Mantle standing next to the Monuments. The Barrow Plaque is up, but I don't see the Plaque for the Papal Mass, so it's got to be between 1954 and 1965.

At the time, the Yankees permitted fans to leave the game by walking out onto the outfield grass (not the infield), and walk out to see the Monuments and Plaques, before leaving the Stadium via a gate in right-center field.

When Yankee Stadium was renovated in 1973, '74, '75 and '76, Monument Park was created. But it was set out of play, where fans couldn't see it. In 1985, the left and center field fences were brought in, making it accessible to fans. The fence was brought in further in 1988, creating the outfield distances that would remain for the rest of The Stadium's use, and have been kept at the new Stadium.

When the new Stadium was built in time for the 2009 season, a new Monument Park was created, and the established Monuments and Plaques were moved across 161st Street.

The new Monument Park has a lot more space than the old one, but it's almost hidden, to the point where someone gave it the nickname "Monument Cave."

Currently enshrined in the park, as of this past Saturday, June 20, 2015, are:

* 24 men inducted primarily as players. Some, but not all, with their uniform numbers retired.
* 1 player (Mariano Rivera) with his uniform number retired, but not yet with a Plaque.
* 5 men inducted primarily as managers, 1 of whom also played for the Yankees.
* 2 men inducted as owners.
* 1 man inducted as a general manager.
* 1 man inducted as a broadcaster, although some of the players have also broadcast for the Yankees.
* 1 man inducted as a public-address announcer.
* 3 Plaques in honor of visits by Popes who delivered Mass at the old Stadium.
* A Plaque in honor of Nelson Mandela's 1990 civil rights rally.
* A Plaque in honor of Jackie Robinson's reintegration of the game.
* A Plaque in honor of the victims and rescue workers of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
* And a Plaque explaining the origin of the Yankee "Interlocking NY" logo.

That's 42 separate notations. Some teams have more in their team halls of fame, although the Yankees have far and away the most retired numbers.

In my next entry, I'll begin listing the honorees, in the chronological order of their honoring -- not necessarily in the chronological order of their service with to the Yankees. In other words, Miller Huggins (became manager in 1918, Monument dedicated in 1932) comes before Jacob Ruppert (became owner in 1915, Plaque dedicated in 1940).

When I've exhausted the list, I'll post Baseball Hall of Fame plaques of men with connections to the Yankees, but not in Monument Park, and explain whether I think they should be added.

When that runs out, I'll tell of others whom I think should be be honored, or could be, but aren't yet.

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