By Jane Feehan
(For more Fort Lauderdale/Miami history, visit my history blog at: janeshistorynook.blogspot.com)
The Yankees ball club had won their fifth consecutive world championship by 1953. In 1961 they had chalked up their 19th world championship in 39 seasons. Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra were celebrities known in most American households whether their baseball games were watched or not. In 1962 they moved their spring training camp from St. Petersburg to Fort Lauderdale.
Fort Lauderdale hotelier George “Bob” Gill encouraged friend Dan Topping, Sr., major owner* of the Yankees, to bring the team to his town. Topping owned homes in Miami and Palm Beach; the move would make sense. A proposal to construct a stadium for $450,000 (with a seating capacity of 8,340) was introduced to the city in 1960. A Yankee spring training presence would bolster the area as a camp site. The Baltimore Orioles were already in Miami; the Los Angeles Dodgers practiced at Vero Beach and the Kansas City A’s were in West Palm.
The inaugural game March 10, 1962 proved to be a Fort Lauderdale hit. The Yankees played the Baltimore Orioles before 7,584 fans at the new ball park off NW 55th Street. Cletis Boyer, “of all people,” hit the first ball out of “Little Yankee” stadium. Boyer, batting eighth in the Yankee lineup, hit only .244 the previous season. He popped a Billy Hoeft ball over the left field wall at the 350-foot mark in the second inning.
But the crowd reserved their biggest cheers that day for Mickey Mantle when he crashed a 400-foot home run with Roger Maris on base, scoring two more runs. The Yanks topped the Orioles 4-1 during that inaugural game.
The Yankees trained at Fort Lauderdale Stadium - and were seen about town - until 1995. Their contribution to the city’s place as a tourist destination – and great place to live – was invaluable.
* Del Webb was also a Yankee club owner at the time.
Palm Beach Post, Oct. 18, 1960
Miami News, Mar 11, 1962
Drury, Jack. Fort Lauderdale, Playground of the Stars (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2008).
Tags: Fort Lauderdale history, Yankees Ball Club history, spring training in Fort Lauderdale, Bob Gill, Dan Topping, Sr., Cletis Boyer, Mickey Mantle, spring traing Florida, Yankees, film industry researcher