The Giants and the Yankees have shared a unique relationship over the years. Since the 1920's, the trajectory of both clubs has drastically changed. While the Giants were ultimately forced to move across the country, the Yankees became synonymous with winning. Their hallowed stadium became the gold standard for every sporting venue to appear on the map of the United States. But it wasn't always like that. In the early days, the Giants had the opportunity to be the Yankees' landlord.
Nestled in the Washington Heights District of New York City stood Hilltop Park. Built in 1903 as the home of the New York Highlanders, it stretched as far as 424 feet in right-center field and could hold as many as 26,000 total viewers. All in all, the Highlanders enjoyed a number of winning seasons at Hilltop Park, but never finished higher than second place in the AL.
They grew accustomed to the wide expansive confines of their young park and were beginning to grow a fan base when fate intervened. On April 14, 1911, the Polo Grounds burned to the ground, causing chaos for all involved and putting an end to the old-school all wooden stadium. The Giants had begun the year losing their first two games to the Phillies and now their home had burned to the ground. Desperate for a solution, they sought out the quickest solution possible.
Wanting to be a good neighbor, the Highlanders generously offered Hilltop Park to the Giants to use until the Polo Grounds could be repaired and rebuilt. By June of that year, New York's venerable ballpark had been fully rebuilt -this time, eschewing lumber for concrete- and both the Giants and Highlanders were back separated in their own confines. Little did they know that just two years later, they would be park-mates once again.
In 1913, the lease to Hilltop Park expired, forcing the newly-named Yankees to search for a new home. Fondly remembering the three months that they had spent at Hilltop Park just two years earlier, the Giants offered the Polo Ground for the Yankees to use.
In their first year sharing the Polo Grounds, the Giants and the Yankees could not have been more different. While the Giants were trucking their way to a third straight World Series defeat, the Yankees were stumbling to a 57-94 finish while attracting 357,551 fans, slightly more than half of the Giants' 630,000 output for the year.
Losing so many World Series in such a short amount of time would wear any team down and the Giants were no exception, finishing second, eighth and fourth in 1914, 1915 and 1916. But even in their darkest moments, they were still outdrawing their park-mates. It was as if New York City knew that despite their misfortunes, the Giants still held the heart of the city in the palm of their hands.
Interestingly, the Giants' attendance actually went down in 1917, despite returning to the World Series where they would lose to the White Sox. The following year, the Yankees found a way to outdraw the Giants. It was a strange year for both clubs as neither organization could draw more than 285,000 for the year.
With the end of the Great War on the horizon, both the Giants and the Yankees began to realize that new economic opportunities would soon abound. In 1920, the Yankees signed the AL's best pitcher and a burgeoning slugger, Babe Ruth. While he had dominated on the mound for the Red Sox, he was quickly becoming adept at the plate, slamming a league-record 29 homeruns the year before.
In their first year with the Great Bambino, the Yankees immediately doubled their attendance, eclipsing one million for the first time in their history. What's more, they ran circles around the Giants, outgaining them by more than 300,000 fans. Much of their box office success was due to Babe Ruth's astounding 54 home runs, more than several teams that year. Up until very recently, baseball had been all about fundamentals, dominated with excellent pitching and decisive base hits. When Babe Ruth discovered his stroke, the game changed forever. No longer would the game be dominated by a small-ball approach. Now teams could win through the air.
While neither team made the World Series in 1920, things were vastly different in 1921. After years of pilfering the Red Sox of the players that had made their dynasty hum in the 1910s, the Yankees were primed for a run at the pennant. Everything went right for the Yankees as they won 98 games and made their first World Series while again outdrawing the Giants at the gates.
The two teams were on a collision course all year and faced off against one another in the World Series. In many ways, it was like a sibling rivalry where the big brother Giants were angry that the little brother Yankees were getting so much more attention.
Babe Ruth had dominated at the plate all year and had launched 58 balls into orbit, causing the Giants great concern. But the Giants were led by one of the most tactful managers of the era and thus had a plan in place. Noting Ruth's tendency to swing at anything, the Giants manager John McGraw told his pitchers to take something off of their fastballs, believing that an eager Ruth would swing too early. He was proven correct as the Giants prevailed 5-3.
Due in part to Babe Ruth's repeated suspensions in 1922, the Yankees' return to the World Series was not nearly as smooth. But despite his absences, the Yankees still outdrew the Giants by 100, 000, further frustrating Giants' ownership. After the Giants swept the Yankees in the World Series, the Yankees were officially kicked out of the Polo Grounds.
Like a miffed spend-thrift tenant who had socked away money for years and years, the Yankees set about buying a plot of land that would be an eternal eyesore to their former park-mates. It was just their luck that the Bronx wasn't as densely populated as it would be in later days and they quickly found a vacant lot just across the East River from their former home. With rage flowing through their veins and pockets full of money, the Yankees built their new cathedral in just 284 days, just in time for Opening Day.
What came forth from the hastily put-together construction was much more than the fathers of the game could have imagined. The cement structure rose just above the surrounding dirt and sparse neighborhood. Sturdy as an ox, the structure was peppered with windows, making it seem like an office building. Inside baseball's cathedral and hanging over the top of the stadium was a unique design. Yarning for their new stadium to have an "air of dignity", Yankees owners requested that Osborn Engineering put up a facade that would hang over the nosebleed seats.
While the Yankees saw this as beautiful, the opponents might as well have viewed this as a curtain coming down on their chances of victory. Soon, the facade would represent so much of what Yankee Stadium stood for. But there was more. Walking towards the home plate side, one could see an assortment of letters that spelled out baseball's greatest dynasty: Yankee Stadium.
It was as if Yankee ownership had spoken their dominance into existence simply by spelling out the name of the new jewel of the game. While the Polo Grounds was still grand, it resembled a bathtub. Meanwhile, Yankee Stadium resembled a cathedral. As intended, it was immediately an eyesore for Giants' management.
Empowered within their new confines, the Yankees won 98 games while Babe Ruth hit 41 home runs, including the very first in Yankee Stadium history. Strangely, despite living in a larger venue than ever before, the Yankees attracted fewer customers than the year before, but they still outdrew the Giants by nearly 200, 000.
For the third year in a row, the two teams were on a collision course all year and met in the World Series. But in the end, there was a distinct difference. The Yankees won. And they've been winning ever since.