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First Yankees bat day was so successful it was a nightmare

Bat Day No. 2/ You Tube grab
On May 5 the New York Yankees will hold their 2019 "Bat Day."  The first 10,000 "guests" ages 14 and under will receive a commemorative baseball bat.  It is a far cry from the first "Bat Day" held by the Yankees on June 20, 1965, Father's Day, when 40,000 bats were distributed.

Some 72,245 "guests" jammed Yankee Stadium for the double-header between the defending American League champions and the first place Minnesota Twins.  The paid crowd was 71,245.  It was the largest crowd to watch a major league baseball game since July 4, 1961, when 74,246 watched the Yankees play the Tigers at the Stadium.  The clubs were in a heated pennant race that season and we all know about Maris and Mantle in '61.

The Yankees had not anticipated that they would start their decline in 1965, when they scheduled "Bat Day."  Their goal was to become more fan-friendly.  The ball club was winning pennants but losing fans, especially young fans, to the last place lovable Mets.  The Yankees outdrew the Mets in the Amazins' first season in 1962 by nearly a half-million fans, but the the tables were turning.  The Yankees outdrew the Mets by about 300,000 in 1963, but when the Amazins' moved into their new digs at Shea Stadium, it was game-set-match for New York's National League entry.  In 1964, the last place Mets outdrew the first-place Yanks by 500,000. 

By 1965, the Yankees had been sold to CBS and although the ball club's management team was still the same, the nation's number one television network knew the Yankees corporate image had to change.  Thus the Yankees joined Detroit and Cleveland in scheduling "Bat Day."  The promotion had been encouraged by the Hillerich and Bradsby Company, makers of the Louisville Slugger.

When the attendance was announced that day, the Yankee Stadium organist - it was the first year the Yankees had an organist, a response to an organist at Shea Stadium in 1964 - played "We're in the Money." 

With the Stadium, bursting with people, the gates had to be closed at 1:15 P.M., 10 minutes after the first game got underway.  Thousands, who entered the ballpark could not find seats and standing room only areas were inadequate.  Many fans were given their money back and left.

The heat was on Yankees GM Ralph Houk.  In those days a general manager's responsibility also included marketing the club, negotiating broadcast contracts and myriad other duties, in addition to putting together a roster and making trades.  What was Houk to do?

"The Major" had to act quicker than firing Yogi Berra and hiring Johnny Keane and he did, issuing the following statement:  "Despite the great interest in our first 'Bat Day,' we did not plan to hold another such event until next season.  However, the demand grew to such proportions this past week that we decided to take care of the many requests we have had from fans who could not be here today and we are happy to announce another 'Bat Day' on Saturday afternoon, Aug. 14."  Just like that, Houk had calmed the waters.  If only he could do the same for his failing team, which dropped a twin bill to the Twins and fell 11 games out of first.

The second 'Bat Day' was also a winner as the game attracted 51,244.  When added together, the two "Bat Days" accounted for one-tenth of the Yankees 1,213,552 season attendance.  The Mets outdrew the Bombers by a half-million at the gate that season too.

In time, the Yankees did a better job of handing the big crowds at their historic but decaying stadium and "Bat Day" became a popular attraction.  Photos of the kids being asked to hold their bats aloft were certain to make the next day's papers.

These days, the Yankees routinely outdraw the Mets at the gate.  They can thank George Steinbrenner and the club's success on the field for that.  Steinbrenner hated to lose to the Mets in anything, from games to attendance to publicity.

Somehow, however, the May 5 "Bat Day" won't seem the same, with just the first 10,000 "guests" 14 and under being given a baseball bat.  The photos may not even make the next day's papers.  Of course, these days there aren't many papers around either.
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