Lyle Spatz, a baseball historian and author of several books about the Yankees, takes a look at every season-opening game in the team’s history. In New York Yankees Openers: An Opening Day History of Baseball’s Most Famous Team, 1903-2017 (McFarland; softback; $39.95; 471 pages), Spatz does more than present a dry listing of every Opening Day game. There are scene-setting descriptions, political and social issue that faced Americans every year, and nuggets of baseball trivia that will please both novices and experts of the game.
This book is a second edition. Spatz originally covered the Opening Days from 1903 through 1996. This update adds in the season-openers from 1997 to 2017, with a short paragraph about New York’s 2018 opener against the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s a chronological look, but it’s the type of book where a reader can skip around to a favorite year and see how the Yankees did.
There is a loose narrative that references previous years, but each opener can easily stand alone as a capsule of that year’s season.
The Yankees have played in five homes during their existence seasons, beginning at Hilltop Park in 1903 when the franchise was known as the Highlanders. The team moved into the Polo Grounds in 1913 and officially became known as the Yankees, and 10 years later opened Yankee Stadium. While the old ballpark was being renovated during the 1974-75 seasons, the Yankees played at Shea Stadium. Returning to a fixed up Yankee Stadium in 1976, the team remained there until opening a new Yankee Stadium across from the old location in 2009.
Here are some fun facts that a reader will glean from Spatz’s research:
- From 1903 to 1960, the only teams the Yankees would face on Opening Day were the Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Athletics or Washington Senators. The Senators moved to Minnesota for the 1961 season and made their Midwest debut as the Twins at Yankee Stadium.
- In 1917, the Yankees paraded around the Polo Grounds field while “executing a precise set of military drills.
- It is not surprising that the Yankees and Red Sox have competed against each other in 31 Opening Day games. The original Washington Senators are next with 21, while the Philadelphia Athletics tangled with New York 15 times. Since the first expansion in 1961, the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians have met the Yankees five times each to open a season.
- Until 1963, the Yankees had never opened a season more than 250 miles from New York. In ’63 New York traveled to Kansas City to face the Athletics.
- The Yankees won their only home opener at Shea Stadium in 1974, defeating the Cleveland Indians 6-1.
- In 1975, Cleveland hosted New York in a game that had significant social meaning. Since the founding of the National League in 1876, Spatz writes, “427 different men had served as big-league managers. Some had been good. Some had been bad. All had been Caucasians. That changed when Frank Robinson became the majors’ first black manager and homered in his first at-bat as the Indians’ designated hitter, lifting Cleveland to a 5-3 victory.
- The Chicago White Sox, a charter member of the American League, did not play the Yankees in a season-opener until 1982—and only because a blizzard had canceled several games previously.
- The Yankees played an Opening Day game outside the United States for the first time in 2003, when New York beat Toronto 8-4. They went even farther in 2004, traveling to the Tokyo Dome in Japan and losing 8-3 to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
“I have tried to convey to the reader the flavor of the period — what people were thinking, feeling and saying then — while also attempting to add some historical perspective,” Spatz writes.
He succeeds. Through research from box scores, newspaper articles—and in later years, from Retrosheet — Spatz gives the reader an insight into the pageantry and anticipation that has always accompanied Opening Day games.