As a New York Yankees employee from 1958 to 2018, I had the good fortune to witness or par take in the Stadium’s illustrious history.
My dad, a Stadium usher, took me to my first game in 1949. The impression of walking out of the passage way in the upper deck behind home plate will last forever. As I was used to the small black and white TV at home, taking in the lush green manicured grass, the azure blue skies dressed in puffy white cumulus clouds, and the aromas from the Stadium vendors, the bombardment of my senses was pure fantasy.
At that time, ushers were allowed to take their youngsters to the game with no expense. The ushers had a shape-up seniority assignment, which took about an hour. While waiting for my dad to be assigned, I went to the right-field seating area. The gates were not open yet, allowing me to scramble for baseballs that landed in that area without much competition. At times, I would come home with two or three baseballs which I shared with my Little League teammates… making me a popular kid!
My visits to the Stadium came to a screeching halt in 1958 when my dad informed me that if I wanted to continue to go to the games, I would now have to earn it as a part-time usher. So he flipped me an usher’s mitt (used to clean off the seats), which I reluctantly took, beginning my 60 years of employment in Yankee Stadium while building its reputation as the mecca for outdoor events in our country. And, on December 28, 1958, I witnessed what many still consider the greatest football game ever played as the underdog New York Giants lost to the favored Baltimore Colts but in a very close contest.
In the following year, a new and exclusive section was added to the mezzanine section of the Stadium, extending from the press box in front of the box seats down the third-base line toward the left-field foul pole. This area, known as the Mezzanine Loge, was built at the behest of corporations such as Howard Johnson, Spencer Advertising, Mele Manufacturing, Hansen Real Estate, Bankers Trust Company, and WABC, to name a few. This secluded area is where I worked with my father from the late 1960s to 1973, when the pre-renovation Stadium was in its final year. I assisted the patrons of this section in procuring refreshments.
The 1950s were the greatest decade in the Yankees’ history as they went to the World Series fall classic eight times and won six of those World Series. At the heart of the team’s success was a strapping blond haired and blue-eyed phenom from Oklahoma who possessed great power and speed to match—Mickey Mantle. By the end of the decade, Mickey’s popularity had significantly grown. But, unfortunately, this be came a problem.
As soon as the game ended, fans were permitted to exit by way of the field to the center-field area by the monuments. If the Yankees won, there was a mad rush by some fans to take advantage of this opportunity to approach Mickey Mantle. However, the fans became unruly from time to time, expressing their ardor for their hero, jostling Mickey. So Mickey asked for security to help escort him off the field. Six ushers immediately jumped the low fence at the game’s end onto the field to meet The Mick by second base, forming a cordon around him to ensure his safe return to the dugout. The operation, called the “suicide squad,” usually went to the younger, faster ushers like me. Remembering when I was called on to guard my idol, Mickey Mantle, was one of my biggest thrills.
I joined the US Navy in 1962 for a four-year stint. While my ship was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1965, the Vatican announced that Pope Paul VI would come to Yankee Stadium. It was the first time a pope left the Vatican in Italy to visit the Western Hemisphere. Naturally, Yankee Stadium was the venue that he chose. The Stadium beckoned! So I hitchhiked my way up to New York to participate in this joyous celebration, which 90,000 people attended.
The Yankees stars who contributed to the great success the team enjoyed had passed their prime with a resounding thud as the team hit rock-bottom in 1966. But the memories of those championship seasons came back to life when June 8, 1969, was proclaimed Mickey Mantle Day. Players representing those great years with Mickey participated in paying homage to him. I was assigned to the area by third base in the loge level, where I witnessed the ceremonies.
Announcer Mel Allen, the Voice of the Yankees, introduced Mickey Mantle: “Ladies and gentlemen, a magnificent Yankee, the great number seven, Mickey Mantle.” At this point, I stopped working as the sell out crowd gave Mantle a nine-minute standing ovation. By this time, tears streamed down my face. So it was with the men to my right and left. There could not have been a dry eye in the house as we remembered Mickey Mantle’s thrills.
In 1973 I took an elective course at Fordham University while pursuing a degree at night involving walking tours of the Bronx. Although I was a ne’er-do-well in my early academic years, the Bronx tours that two historians took us on piqued my interest consider ably. I befriended the Bronx historian and instructor, Dr. Gary Hermalyn. Over the next few years, we would have lunch at the Stadium from time to time and we would visit different parts of the ballpark, which led to his proposal for me to conduct a public walking tour. Little did I know at the time that this was a portent of bigger things to come. In due time, I became the Bronx County Historical Society VP. The BCHS was instrumental in helping to prepare the tour’s route.
In January of that 1973 there was a changing of the guard. Mr. George M. Steinbrenner, a shipping magnate, became the principal owner and managing partner of the New York Yankees and held the position until his passing in 2010. With a consortium of 13 partners, he purchased the Yankees from CBS in January 1973 for $10 million. During his tenure, he brought seven World Series championships to New York and its fans.
With the passing of five decades of wear and tear, the Stadium was in dire need of refurbishment, which began immediately after the 1973 season ended. The projected cost of the refurbishment was $28 million, but when completed, the price tag had reached over $100 million. New York City Mayor John Lindsay was instrumental in keeping the Yankees franchise in New York. He did not wish to see them emulate the Yankees’ former Stadium tenants, the NFL New York Giants, and move to the Meadowlands in New Jersey.
In May of 1973 I experienced a seismic shift in my employment as I shed my usher’s uniform for business apparel as I took a position in the club’s Group and Season Sales Department.
“Winning, after breathing, is the most important thing in life” was a quote that “The Boss” lived by to the nth degree. This attitude permeated the entire administration. He vowed to bring his mediocre team to a championship in three years, and true to his vow, watched the Yankees climb back to the top of the American League in their newly renovated ballpark in 1976.
Yankees President and General Manager Gabe Paul offered the 6,000 season-ticket holders an opportunity to obtain a seat from their complement of seats from the original Stadium. The Invirex Demolition Co. moved 6,000 seats to the players’ parking lot across the street from the Stadium. I oversaw the seats’ disbursement, which became a real “event” helping lead to a revival in the field of collectibles and memorabilia.
After 1976 with the advent of free agency and thanks to wise trades by sage GM Gabe Paul, the Yankees won back-to-back World Series championships in 1977 and 1978. Joyous celebrations were rampant in Yankeeland, capped off by ticker-tape parades up Broadway (the Canyon of Heroes) and World Series rings for the players.
Then in 1979, tragedy befell the Yankees. Their captain, catcher Thurman Munson, who was the first Yankee to be named captain since Lou Gehrig in 1939, perished in a plane crash in his new Cessna Citation jet plane while on a test run in Canton, Ohio, on August 2, 1979. Munson played for the Yankees in all his 11 seasons; he never visited the disabled list, and he was voted an All-Star in seven of those years. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1970, an MVP Award in 1976, and three Gold Glove Awards. Thur man’s devotion to his family led him to seek a pilot’s license so he could travel from New York to be with his family on his days off…against the best wishes of Mr. Steinbrenner. When they sat down to discuss Munson’s 1979 contract, Mr. Steinbrenner had finally granted permission to Thurman to fly his airplane. After the fatal crash, Mr. Steinbrenner wanted a halt in play to remember the captain but Commissioner Bowie Kuhn issued an order not to miss a scheduled game. Nonetheless, defying the order, Mr. Steinbrenner took the entire Yankee squad to Ohio for the funeral service. He said they planned to be back in time for the game but if not, they would forfeit. I couldn’t have been prouder of being a Yankee than at this time!
During the first couple of days of mourning, with emotions pretty much spent, we started to talk about the lighter side of Thurman’s gruff exterior. I’ll never forget a run-in I had with him in July of 1975, while I worked in the Group and Season Sales Department. We offered a program in which a community or organization that purchased 1,000 tickets to a game would be entitled to certain perks including 20 complimentary seats to the game, four VIP seats by the Yankees dugout, radio and TV promotions, and a ceremony by the Yankees dugout to present a plaque to the Yankee of their choice.
Pepsi-Cola of Bristol, Connecticut, was one such sponsor, purchasing tickets for a twin bill (a term we don’t hear too often today) at Shea Stadium, the Yankees’ home for the 1974 and 1975 seasons while Yankee Stadium was being refurbished. Two aces, Bill Lee of the Red Sox and Catfish Hunter of the Yankees, tossed up goose eggs through the first eight innings. The Red Sox broke the tie by pushing a run across in the top of the ninth inning. A plaque was to be presented to Munson by the Yankees dugout between games. How ever, when I went down to the dugout there was no Thurman. I went into the clubhouse by his locker…no Thurm. “Where’s Thurm?” I shouted out. “He’s in the bathroom” (language was a bit saltier), came the reply. As I entered the bathroom, I shouted, “Thurm, Thurm, it’s Tony Morante!” His gruff reply from the stall was, “Whadda you want?” I answered, “We set up a presentation with your friend from Pepsi for a presentation that I told you about.” He responded with, “Hell no, I ain’t goin’!” Thurm had taken the bitter defeat hard and was in no mood to participate. Yankees sub Fred Stanley helped out by accepting the plaque.
Peace ended the decade of the 1970s as Pope John Paul II visited Yankee Stadium. Shortly after that, the Bronx Historical Society approached me to conduct a walking tour of the Stadium on Veterans Day. Bronx Borough President Stanley Simon led an entourage of 125 people, mostly from his office, to attend. The tour was a game-changer in my life. It led to my work with Yankee Stadium tours.
After touring VIPs at the Stadium for the next five years, we opened the historical tours to schoolchildren in 1985. They caught on immediately. The one-hour tour consisted of the press box, the field, Monument Park, the dugout, and, the clubhouse. The revenue from the Stadium tours benefited the Yankee Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) arm of the Yankees, which helped to bring educational and recreational programs to inner-city youths. In 1990 we opened the tours to the public. Also, in this year, I was honored to escort Nelson Mandela around Monument Park, which was one of my greatest thrills. In addition, at this time, we instituted the Yankee Caravan, bringing players to schools and hospitals to talk about life.
Around this time, after 14 seasons of mediocre play, the team began to reap the benefits of its farm system and returned to postseason play in 1995, at the precipice of a new dynasty. The Yankees went on to win four World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000, and were proclaimed “The Team of the Century.” Exciting celebrations followed the World Series victories, including ticker-tape parades from the Battery by floats up Broadway, the Canyon of Heroes, to City Hall for mayoral proclamations, and a great picnic to follow. Shortly after the 1996 World Series, I was called up to Mr. Steinbrenner’s office, where I was presented with the 1996 World Series Championship ring in my name! What a great feeling it was for me!
In 1998 Mr. Steinbrenner permitted me to open a Yankee Stadium Tours Department. Tours began to grow rapidly at the start of the new century. A big push came in 2003 when the great Japanese ballplayer Hideki Matsui came to the Yankees. Since baseball was introduced to Japan in 1872, the game had become the national pastime in Japan. Matsui’s arrival brought a tremendous infusion of Japanese tourists to Yankee Stadium during the period through 2009, when he left the Yankees. I myself conducted countless tours for enthusiastic Japanese tourists and the Japanese media. Hysterically, many tourists who had seen me on TV in Japan (something unbeknownst to me) asked me to take a picture with them. When I questioned the Japanese interpreter, “Why all the fuss?” the reply was that the tourists recognized me from TV back home. I was honored! This period in time had a great influence on the globalization of our game.
In addition to the tours, we designed presentations on leadership in collaboration with middle-school teachers. Also, the Stadium Tours department presented a 45-minute PowerPoint educational program to the students on the Suite Level of the original Stadium. I also visited the middle schools with the program. In 2008, our last season in the Stadium, we opened special tours in conjunction with the Wounded Warrior Foundation and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, including introductions to the ballplayers during batting practice. Over 150,000 people attended the Stadium Tours in our final season. Then, in 2009, the Yankees christened the new Yankee Stadium by winning the World Series, the same way that they christened the original stadium in 1923, replete with ceremonies and a ticker-tape parade up Broadway.
In July 2010, two Yankee icons passed away within three days of each other, Bob Sheppard, the Yankees public-address announcer for 57 years (1951-2007), and George Steinbrenner.
The erudite and dulcet tones of Shep’s voice were given the sobriquet “The Voice of God” by Reggie Jack son. And Derek Jeter insisted on being introduced as he stepped into the batter’s box by Shep’s recording, “Now batting, number 2, Derek Jeeetah” until he retired.
Shep and I had a lot of fun in the press room before lunch or dinner. He had his own private table for four in the press room’s corner where only invited guests were allowed to sit in his company. I was one of the guests from time to time. Being that he was a St. John’s University professor and I, a Fordham University grad uate, there was always live banter between us on who had the greatest sports teams. We enjoyed the laughter!
My relationship with “The Boss,” Mr. Steinbrenner, was also unique. After giving me the opportunity to open the Yankee Stadium Tours Department, he said, “Tony, you don’t have to report to anybody, just let me know how you’re doing.” So, year after year, as the tours were steadily improving, I sent favorable reports on their growth. The letters of acknowledgment that he sent to me are treasured.
Although Mr. Steinbrenner showed a lot of bluster, he was a humble man. One of his many quotes that stuck with me was, “If you do a good deed for some one and more than two people know about it, you and that person, then you are doing it for the wrong reason.” Once, while leading a Stadium tour, I stopped the group by an exhibit of The Boss in the Yankees Museum and told of his benevolent side that maybe most did not see. Someone in the crowd shouted out how much gratitude he had for Mr. Steinbrenner after he helped his family out of dire straits. To my dismay, The Boss’s daughter Jennifer was on the tour and reprimanded me as we left the museum for showing off the benevolence of her father.
In 2014 the National Assessment for Educational Progress stated that only 18 percent of our eighth-grade students were proficient in social studies. It was alarming to realize that 82 percent of our youngsters were at risk. So I designed a program that would help those struggling students understand American history through the eyes of baseball. In retirement, and not wanting to abandon the program, I wrote the book BASEBALL The New York Game—How the National Pastime Paralleled U.S. History, which was published in 2021.
Circuses, rodeos, Negro baseball, Women’s Professional Baseball Exhibitions, three Papal masses, Jehovah’s Witnesses assemblies, college and professional football, soccer, boxing, circuses, rodeos, and other interdenominational faith healings, besides 26 World Series championships, all passed through this structure that for 84 years1 was one of our country’s crown jewels, Yankee Stadium.
Thank you, my family, friends, and colleagues for helping me to wrap my life around our national pas time. You helped me achieve the distinction of being inducted into the 2022 Class of the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame.
TONY MORANTE, a SABR member since 1995, started working at Yankee Stadium in 1958 as an usher and instituted the Yankee Stadium Tour program in 1985, bringing Yankees history to life for school children, visitors, and employee orientations until his retirement in 2018. Morante served in the United States Navy and is a graduate of Fordham University. Since retiring from work at the Stadium, Morante has presented his work on baseball history in Cooperstown and for various SABR chapters, and in 2021 published a book presenting US history through the lens of baseball entitled Baseball: The New York Game.
1. Although the Stadium was technically used for 84 seasons (1923-73, 1976-2008), it is generally talked about in terms of its 85-year lifespan (1923-2008).
https://sabr.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/research-collection4_350x300.jpg300350Davy Andrews/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/sabr_logo.pngDavy Andrews2023-05-26 13:47:182023-05-26 13:47:18Special Excerpt: My Six Decades with the Yankees