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On April 15, 1976, Yankee Stadium reopened after two years of renovations. What was most noticeable about the newly modified playing field was that the three monuments in center field were no longer there. The monuments erected to honor Miller Huggins (1932), Lou Gehrig (1941), and Babe Ruth (1949) had been moved behind the new outfield wall, as were the Ed Barrow, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Jacob Ruppert plaques. Added was one for Casey Stengel, who had died in 1975. With the creation of Monument Park, the power alley in left-center was 430 feet from home plate instead of 457 feet. The Yankees then brought the fences in another 19 feet and displayed their retired numbers on the barrier that had been the outfield fence from 1976 to 1984. They created a special walkway so fans could visit the monument area in left-center field before games. Because of the popularity of the monument area, the access paths were widened further prior to the 1988 season, moving the fence in left-center from 411 feet to 399 feet - still the longest power alley in baseball. Before they were erected in Monument Park, the three monuments had stood on the playing field at Yankee Stadium with the four plaques behind them on the center field wall. Where were the retired numbers displayed? On July 20, 1972, Arthur Daley in The New York Times reported that after Number 8 was retired on July 22, in honor of Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra, "The uniform will go up on the gallery wall in the Stadium Club alongside Babe Ruth's 3, Lou Gehrig's 4, Joe DiMaggio's 5, Mickey Mantle's 7 and Casey Stengel's 37."
While the retired numbers currently displayed on the wall in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium are painted, circular reproductions of Yankee pinstripes with the blue uniform number superimposed, framed swatches of actual Yankee pinstripes (with the blue felt retired numbers stitched on) were displayed inside the Stadium before its 1974-75 renovation. The offered relic is the Lou Gehrig pinstripe and 4 from the Stadium club walls.
A 1997 letter from John Golden of Golden Glen Entertainment explains that he "procured the retired numbers of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio (numbers 3, 4 and 5) from the owner of a sports collectable (sic) store in Nyack, NY in 1976. He acquired them through the contractor in charge of the Yankee Stadium renovation who had secured the right to sell certain Yankee artifacts and memorabilia (the retired numbers were part of that transaction). In the spring of 1990, I decided to authenticate the numbers and I brought them to the stadium and was told that Nick Priore was the person to see. To that end, I met with Mr. Priore who was the clubhouse manager and, at the time had been with the organization for 31 years. He authenticated that they were, in fact, the retired numbers that hung in the stadium prior to the commencement of the refurbishing of Yankee Stadium." Priore had been assistant to longtime clubhouse manager Pete Sheehy since 1965 and succeeded him upon his death in 1985. Priore noted that the numbers were hung with bronze plaques. In April 1997, Mr. Golden placed the three retired numbers and name plaques in a sale conducted by Clean Sweep Auctions of New Hyde Park, New York. A letter to the winning bidder from Steve Verkman of Clean Sweep Auctions confirms this fact. Golden's and Verkman's original letters, and Priore's original certification on New York Yankee team letterhead, accompany Gehrig's retired number and name plaque. Additionally, the number is accompanied by a photocopy of an original Louis Requena photograph from 1969 showing the Ruth and Gehrig remembrances (along with those of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle) hanging in their Stadium Club milieu. As presented here the piece have been reframed in a gilt-wood surround that replicates the appearance it projected during its decades of Stadium Club service.
This blue felt, 7-3/8"-tall Number "4"—universally identified with the great Lou Gehrig—is sewn on authentic Yankee pinstripes. The piece has been matted and framed in the original style to 20-1/2" x 22" dimensions. Stitched in blue script below the number are the words "Lou Gehrig Number retired July 4, 1939." Light tanning at the top and perimeter from prior framing remain evident. The piece is accompanied by the original bronze "LOU GEHRIG" plaque (which hung beneath his retired number) measuring 13-1/4" x 4-1/2" x 5/8". Each block letter is 1-3/8" high. Each letter was individually engraved in gilt, and a speck of coating on the "O" and a half-inch portion on the final "G" are now absent. It is widely recorded that Lou Gehrig's Number 4 was retired on July 4, 1939, but that is not the case. That was "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day" at the Stadium, when 61,808 fans paid tribute to the Captain of the Yankees as he told them "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." It wasn't until January 6, 1940 that Yankees President Edward G. Barrow announced that Gehrig's Number 4 would never again be worn by another Yankee, the first time in baseball history that a major league club had so honored a player.