Baseball’s growing popularity in the 1920s can be measured by structural and cultural changes that helped transform the game, including the building of commodious new ballparks; the emergence of sports pages in daily urban newspapers; and the enormous popularity of radio broadcasts of baseball games.But baseball’s grip on the American popular imagination also was fueled by the emergence in the 1920s of the game’s most dominant player, George Herman “Babe” Ruth. Ruth’s rise to stardom in these years was an essential part of an era when celebrities came to dominate the various forms of American popular culture: sports, especially baseball; radio; and the movies. In these short articles that appeared in the Literary Digest in 1921 and 1923, two baseball writers described the importance of the Ruthian home run and the majesty of Yankee Stadium, the new temple that Yankee management built in 1923 to accommodate the Babe.
Three years ago home runs had declined to the lowest point, both in the number made and in the estimation of baseball fans, recorded in the past decade. “Batting science” was the watchword both of those who coached from the sidelines and those who howled from the bleachers, and the spectacular home run did not appeal. Then came Babe Ruth, the same who is now going stronger than ever, and “overthrew the whole system of batting science” in favor of a “brand-new system of his own.” The home-run epidemic might better be called the Babe-Ruth epidemic, for the habit began with the so-called and so-much-admired “Bambino.” This is the moral which F.C. Lane, one of the Baseball Magazine’s experts of the diamond, draws from the present “mad scramble for circuit clouts.” The career of Babe Ruth well illustrates the power of a dominating personality, says Mr. Lane:
Home runs are not hit by carefully drilling the ball through a hole in the infield. They are hit by banging the ball over the fence, or, at least, over the outfielders' heads. In this there is a certain science, to be sure, but there is still more brute strength. Reverting to the time-worn proverb, it is essentially a “Triumph of brawn over brain.”
“The Babe-Ruth Epidemic in Baseball,” Literary Digest, 25 June 1921.
New York’s World-Beating New Stadium
The Yankees‘ new home, now practically completed, is the largest stadium in the world. It also cost the most. It will seat the largest number of people, incomparably the largest number, when its three huge tiers of seats are completed all the way around the field. It is unique in having a middle tier, or “mezzanine floor” with seats, which greatly increases the seating capacity. Last, but not least, the field is shorter than the Yankees’ old field by some twenty feet toward the right field extension—and it is notable that Babe Ruth’s homers are practically all lifted in this direction. All of these details, and others, are attracting comment from the sports writers of the country. F. C. Lane, of Baseball, finds something symbolical, as well as huge, in the vast new baseball park. He introduces the subject thus, in the May issue:
Travelers approaching New York from the sea are greeted by the lofty torch of the Statue of Liberty. Visitors arriving from the north over the tracks of the New York Central or New Haven Railroads are confronted by the imposing pile of the new Yankee Stadium. The approaches to the world’s metropolis are appropriate in either case. To the sojourner from Europe, New York means opportunity. To the visitor from other parts of America, New York is the amusement center of the continent. And that spirit of diversion finds fitting expression in the colossal monument of athletic sport.
The Yankee Stadium is indeed the last word in ball parks. But not the least of its merits is its advantage of position. From the plain of the Harlem River it looms up like the great Pyramid of Cheops from the sands of Egypt.
The historic Polo Grounds [home of the New York Giants of the National League] just across the muddy Harlem nestles in a cove at the foot of Coogan’s Bluff, and the broad sweep of its curving grandstand is lost against the craggy background of cliffs bristling with apartment houses. The Yankee Stadium suffers from no such contrast. It fairly dominates the whole Harlem River valley. There is nothing behind it but blue sky. Stores and dwellings and the rolling hills of the Bronx are too far removed to interfere with this perspective. The Polo Grounds are lost in the infinite detail of Manhattan Island. The Yankee Stadium stands out in bold relief and the measuring eye gives it full credit for every ounce of cement and every foot of structural steel that went into its huge frame. As an anonymous spectator remarked, viewing the new park from the bridge which spans the Harlem, “Big as it is, it looks even bigger”. . . .
Nearly ten acres of valuable city real estate are embraced within the outer wall of the Yankee Stadium. Of this large tract some four acres is appropriated by the diamond and playing-field. The recently constructed diamond is of the approved turtle-backed type. The distance from home-plate to the stands along the right and left-field foul lines is approximately equal to the distance between home-plate and the right-field wall at the Polo Grounds. It will therefore be just as easy to hit a home run into the right-field stands in the Yankee Stadium and a shade easier into the left-field stands close to the foul line. From the foul lines, however, the stands recede rapidly into the distance, and it would take a terrific wallop even from Babe Ruth’s huge bat to drive a ball into the remoter section of the bleachers.
Foolish stories have floated about that the playing-field was designedly limited so as to enable Babe Ruth to break his home-run record. One needs but to glance at these stories to see their falsity. Babe Ruth is at the best a temporary attraction. A few seasons at the most and his great feats will be but a memory. The Yankee Stadium, however, is a permanent institution. It was built not as a setting for one player, however brilliant a star.
Source: "New York’s World-Beating New Stadium," Literary Digest, 28 April 1923.
See Also:Poet William Carlos Williams Describes the Crowd at the Ballpark
The National Pastime in the 1920s: The Rise of the Baseball Fan