clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

1998 Yankees Diary, April 13: The Walls are Tumbling Down

Five hundred pounds of steel and concrete fall from the upper deck prior to game.

Yankee Stadium seat on the loge level was crushed when a 500 Photo by Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Last August, the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres were forced to sit through a delay because the lights went out at Oracle Park. The Arizona Diamondbacks cannot open or close the roof at Chase Field while fans are in the seats due to the risk of cables snapping. The Oakland Athletics have essentially tanked their organization in an effort to leave a ballpark filled with mold and animal waste that regularly has sewage leaks.

Much like any other building, ballparks occasionally run into structural problems. Most of the time, they’re a nuisance but relatively harmless; anything fairly significant is typically noticed and fixed before something bad happens (with the exception of Oakland’s sewage problem, but that’s a story for another coast). Every once in a while, however, something slips through the cracks, resulting in something breaking that, if the circumstances are wrong, could have resulted in a catastrophe.

On April 13, 1998, the Yankees narrowly avoided such calamity.

The time was 3:00 PM, and the New York Yankees and Anaheim Angels were just starting to head onto the field for batting practice prior to that night’s game when suddenly “there was a real loud bang and explosion,” as Anaheim strength and conditioning coach Bill LeSeur put it when speaking to the media later that day. While his initial impression was there was an earthquake — not a surprising conclusion, given that he normally lived in California — he quickly saw the culprit: a 500-pound concrete and steel beam had fallen from the upper deck into the field level seats along the third base line.

City inspectors (R) look at damage (top) to Yankee Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images

The collapse happened at a fortunate time; had it occurred just two hours later, the stands would have been filled with people, and more than just a seat would have likely been crushed. The game was, not surprisingly, quickly cancelled, and both city officials and stadium personnel went right to work.

The beam that had collapsed likely dated back to the stadium’s original 1923 construction (not the mid-’70s renovation) and served as an expansion joint that allowed the upper deck to shift a bit “to absorb the shock from the fans.” Replacing it, and ensuring that none of the other expansion joints had been damaged, was a prerequisite for the re-opening of the stadium. Not surprisingly, this took quite a bit of time — Yankee Stadium would not open back up for 11 days.

The Yankees and Angels would famously play a game at Shea Stadium two days later with the Yanks as the home team in Queens for the first time since The House That Ruth Built’s renovations from 1974-75. More on that later. (They’d also swap home series with the Detroit Tigers for the weekend.)

Despite the scheduling hurdles, the Yankees did not lose any momentum on the diamond, as you will see in upcoming days. In fact, you can even make the case that the incident cast its longest shadow not on the field, but across the street. At the time, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had been fighting with the city of New York for a new stadium, arguing that the team needed a modern sports venue, not an “antiquated relic.” And while it would be another eight years before construction would finally begin on the new stadium, this near-disaster highlighted the stadium’s age and the possible need for a newer facility—one less likely to drop concrete on the fans.