The New York Yankees opened their original colossal new stadium 100 years ago in 1923.
Yankee Stadium also became known as “The House That Ruth Built.” Babe Ruth came to the Yankees from the Boston Red Sox in 1920 when the Yankees played their home games in the Polo Grounds, home of the National League New York Giants. Ruth was mostly a pitcher for his Boston years and one of the best in the American League.
Because of his hitting talents, the Yanks thought he would be more valuable to the team as an everyday player. He quickly proved them right. In his first Yankee season in 1920, Ruth batted .376 with 54 home runs. He proved that was no fluke as he batted .378 with 59 homers the following year. Yankees management saw Ruth’s great popularity and large crowds and quickly acted to build their own stadium.
An injury caused him to miss a chunk of the 1922 season, but Ruth still managed a .315 average with 35 home runs. Opening Day on April 18, 1923, was a happening as Ruth homered before a thunderous crowd of 74,217 paying fans. A hundred years ago in 1923, Ruth only missed two games while playing in 152 and batted a whopping .393 and knocked in 170 runs, more than an average of one RBI per game, while hitting 41 round-trippers. He was the most popular man in New York and probably in the whole country.
The Yankees won their first World Series as they downed the New York Giants, four games to two. Ruth was the biggest star of the Series as he batted .368 with three home runs. The 1923 World Series was the first ever to be broadcast via radio by New York station WFAF.
Joseph Rosenblum Bennett grew up in the Bronx, not far from the site of the future Yankee Stadium. He was good enough to be offered a minor league contract by the Philadelphia Phillies and brought up to the major leagues in 1923. On July 5, he was inserted at third base, but he never got to bat and that would be the only time he appeared in a major league game.
Two more New York born Jews would reach the major leagues in 1923. Morris (Moe) Berg was a brilliant student and graduated Princeton magna cum laude in 1923. Berg took French, German, Greek Latin, Italian and Sanskrit, excelling at languages and baseball, playing all infield positions.
Princeton and Yale played a college championship game at Yankee Stadium on June 26, 1923, and scouts liked the way Berg played at shortstop, and also liked his Jewish name for the New York market. The Yankees and Giants already had star shortstops but the Brooklyn Dodgers opted for Berg and he received $5,000 to sign a professional contract.
Berg debuted as the Brooklyn shortstop only a day after he played for Princeton. Moe singled in a run in his very first game but only batted .186 in 49 games in the ’23 season. He would use his signing bonus to attend graduate school at the Sorbonne in Paris and earn a law degree over three off seasons. Berg would eventually go on to a long major league career as a backup catcher and gain more fame for his role during World War II as a spy for the United States and infiltrating Nazi top level scientists to report on German nuclear plans. Moe Berg’s life and legend would become books and movies.
Moses Solomon was tearing up the minor leagues with a .421 average and 49 homers for Hutchinson, Kansas. The New York Giants signed him and rushed him from the low level minor leagues directly to the Polo Grounds. Manager John McGraw thought the slugger was just the ticket to lure the large Jewish fan base.
Quickly nicknamed, “The Jewish Babe Ruth,” and “The Rabbi of Swat,” Solomon collected three hits in two games for a .375 average. He wasn’t with the Giants long enough to be eligible for the World Series, but manager McGraw insisted that he stay with the team and watch the Series even though he wouldn’t receive any payment.
“If you leave,” the fiery McGraw threatened, “you will not return to the Giants.” Solomon had an offer to play football and opted to leave to boost his income. McGraw made good on this threat and sold Solomon’s contract to Toledo of the American Association minor leagues. While Solomon was considered to have major league hitting ability, his fielding ability was not. He would remain in the minor leagues for the next five seasons before moving to Miami, where he became a major building contractor.
During this period, Adolf Hitler was beginning his rise to power. While serving eight months in jail for helping to engineer the Nazi Party takeover of the government in Bavaria, Hitler spent much of his sentence writing most of Mein Kampf. Brutal pogroms began in many parts of Europe resulting in thousands of deaths and severe injuries to Jews in villages and cities.
The terrible situation for the Jews of Europe would only get worse as the days wore on.