Yankee lore began quickly

Updated: September 30, 2003, 1:03 PM ET
By Joe Goldstein | Special to ESPN.com

It was a fast start.

Two Tammanyites, gambling house proprietor Frank Farrell and New York City Police Commissioner (Big) Bill Devery, bought the Baltimore Orioles of the American League for $18,000 on Jan. 9, 1903.

By March 12, "The Greater New York Club of the American League" was officially admitted to the American League and the site leased from the New York Institute for the Blind at Broadway between 165th and 168th Streets and bounded by 11th Ave. (now Riverside Drive) and Fort Washington Rd. (now Fort Washington Ave.) included a completed ball park. The grandstand held 6,000 and three other sections could accommodate an additional 10,000 fans.

The park was called Hilltop and the team was called Hilltoppers or Highlanders.

The team, managed by Clark Griffith, was defeated in its debut in Washington, 3-1. The great Jack Chesbro was charged with the loss.

On April 30, the famed 69th Regiment Band plays for the 19,243 attending the Highlanders home opener as the New York team beat Washington, 6-2. Chesbro was the winner this time. (A note of significance: Lou Gehrig is born the same day in Yorkville; he weighed 14 pounds at birth.)

By 1908, the team had established itself. And it was a year of banner importance:

  • 1. Respected baseball chronicler Tom Meany determined this was the year the Highlanders became the Yankees.

  • 2. President Theodore Roosevelt visited Panama (the first President to travel abroad).

  • 3. The Model T Ford was introduced and sold for $850.

  • 4. Ty Cobb "was caught sharpening his spikes as Yankees take the field against Detroit," according to "The Baseball Timeline."

  • 5. The Mills Commission was established to answer the question "Who invented baseball?" It settled on Abner Doubleday and fixed the year as 1839 in Cooperstown.

    By 1913, the team had spring training in Bermuda. It played its first regular-season game on April 17 in the Polo Grounds, where the Senators beat the Yankees, 9-3.

    That same year, the Woolworth Building opened on lower Broadway, a 792-foot high edifice which is still part of the New York City skyline. The 16th ammendment was also passed, establishing the income tax. Other events: Ebbets Field opens and Gus Dorais and Knute Rockne of Notre Dame introduce the forward pass to college football.

    The end of the Farrell-Devery ownership of the Yankees came in 1915. John McGraw, the New York Giants manager, introduced millionaire brewer Colonel Jacob Ruppert to millionaire engineer and contractor Colonel Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston and suggested they buy the Yankees.

    The purchase price? $460,000 -- not a bad return for Devery and Farrell, as they paid $18,000 12 years earlier.

    Colonel Ruppert was a fascinating figure. He was a four-term Democratic congressman representing the Yorkville area of Manhattan's East Side (1899-1907). He spoke with a heavy German accent, which surprised many, but noted New York City historian Pete Hamill says it was not uncommon for Yorkville residents to speak with German accents "as Yorkville was almost completely German."

    The "Colonel" title was an actual rank acquired by serving in the Seventh Regiment of the New York National Guard (67th St. and Park Ave.). It was New York governor David Hill who appointed Ruppert a colonel at age 22.

    Colonel Ruppert, as he was always addressed, died in 1939. He left $40 million to two relatives and the same amount to Miss Helen Wyant, a show girl.

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