Bronx historians honor baseball’s cathedral

Bronx historians Gary Hermalyn and Anthony Greene have written a book on Yankee Stadium. It features more than 200 vintage photos, programs and illustrations. Courtesy of Arcadia Publishing

There are Yankee fans and then there are Bronx Yankee fans. The former worship the Bombers from afar, cloak the ball club in myth and visit the ballpark on vacation. The latter scream at the Bombers from the bleachers, wear pinstripes to work and pass the ballpark daily.

Likewise, there are Yankee Stadium books. A score have hit the shelves recently. And then there are Bronx Yankee Stadium books. Yankee Stadium 1923-2008 is the latter, an intimate look at baseball’s cathedral and the borough the Bombers call home. Penned by Bronx County Historical Society executive director Gary Hermalyn and Fordham University graduate Anthony Greene, it chronicles the ascension, decline and rebirth of Yankee Stadium and the Bronx side by side.

The book is packed with rare illustrations – the Union Baseball Club of Morrisania in 1867 – photos – Major League Baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Bronx Democratic boss Edward Flynn in 1923 – and programs – Fordham football versus NYU in 1939.

More than other Yankee Stadium books, this one covers the venue’s legendary football brawls and boxing bouts in detail. In 1958, Yankee Stadium played host to “The Greatest Game Ever,” a hardscrabble National Football League contest. The New York Giants lost 28-17 to the Baltimore Colts but won millions of fans in the Bronx. In 1957, “Sugar” Ray Robinson lost his middleweight belt to Carmen Basilio at Yankee Stadium. The fight lasted 15 rounds. Joe Louis and Nazi-backed Max Schmeling met twice at Yankee Stadium, in 1936 and 1938.

One photo in particular speaks to the book’s Bronx bent. Circa 1960, a dozen middle-aged Bronx women posed in fur coats and hats to promote cancer awareness. Yankee Stadium served as the backdrop.

“So many books treat Yankee Stadium as if it was on an island,” Greene said. “We wanted to show Yankee Stadium as part of the downtown Bronx.”

When owner Jacob Ruppert commissioned Yankee Stadium, he hoped it would match the emerging grandeur of the Bronx – the Grand Concourse, the original borough courthouse, Macombs Dam Park and the Third Avenue el. The stadium and the Concourse Plaza Hotel opened together in 1923.

“There was a positive relationship between the stadium and the Bronx until the 1960s,” Greene said. “The stadium was part of a culture-sports-government corridor.”

Greene, who worked at the Bronx County Historical Society for some time and is a part-time Yankee Stadium tour guide, thinks the new Yankee Stadium will anchor a vibrant downtown Bronx again. Born in Staten Island, Greene spent his childhood in Pennsylvania and is a lifelong Bombers fan. He went wild when Hideki Matsui nailed a leadoff home run in 2005. Greene and Hermalyn will sign copies of the book – due out on Monday, July 20 – at the Queens Historical Society on Sunday, July 26 at 2:30 p.m.

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