“There was a real loud bang and explosion. Extremely loud,” said Bill LeSuer to Randy Kennedy on April 14th, 1998. “I looked up and there was a real big puff of smoke. When I saw the hole, I realized something had fallen.”
LeSuer, then the Angels strength and conditioning coach, was the only person to witness a 500 lb. steel and concrete expansion joint crash down from the Yankee Stadium upper deck onto the loge seats below one day earlier. He’d been checking out Monument Park before batting practice and was walking across the outfield back to the dugout.
“I heard a tremendous bang, saw a big puff of smoke and chunks of concrete coming down,” LeSuer explained to Mike DiGiovanna. “I looked around and said, ‘Is there anyone else here who saw that?’ I realized I was talking to myself. There was no one else here.”
The expansion joint fell at approximately 3pm ET and demolished a seat below. Had it fallen when the ballpark was open, someone would’ve been crushed. That night’s game, as well as the next night’s game, were immediately postponed. Engineers were brought in to inspect the aging ballpark.
“It’s just fortunate that it happened here today instead of yesterday,” Joe Torre said to Kennedy, referring to the previous day’s afternoon game against the Athletics. David Cone added, “Yankee Stadium is crumbling. Everybody is in a little disarray right now.”
The Yankees and MLB had to scramble to adjust their schedule. It was possible the ballpark could be reopened in time for the third game of the series with the Angels. It was also possible the series with the Angels as well as the following series with the Tigers would have to be postponed, or moved to an alternate site.
The expansion joint collapsed on a Monday and moving that night’s game to Shea Stadium wasn’t logistically possible. They couldn’t prepare the ballpark and make ticket arrangements in time. Eventually it was decided the third game of the series would be played at Shea Stadium. The first two games would be made it up when the Angels came back to town in August.
Thanks to the collapsing expansion joint that fortunately injured no one, Shea Stadium became the first ballpark in modern baseball history to host two games featuring four different teams on April 15th. The Yankees and Angels played a game at 12pm ET while the Mets hosted the Cubs for their regularly scheduled game at 7pm ET.
The expansion joint collapsed Monday, on Tuesday the Yankees played a four-and-a-half inning exhibition game against Double-A Norwich at Yankee Stadium to stay sharp, and on Wednesday they “hosted” the Angels at Shea Stadium. The Yankees were the home team. They wore white pinstripes at Shea Stadium.
To prepare for Wednesday’s game at Shea Stadium, the Yankees dressed in their home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, then bused out to Queens with a police escort through morning rush hour traffic. They used the visiting clubhouse at Shea Stadium with permission from the Cubs, who’d already unloaded their uniforms and equipment. The Angels had to use an old auxiliary clubhouse used by the New York Jets back in the day.
As for the game itself, the Yankees hammered Ken Hill for five runs on ten hits in four innings, and David Wells held the Angels to three runs in eight innings. The Yankees won 6-3. Here’s the box score. The highlight of the game was Darryl Strawberry hitting a home run in his old stomping grounds — he is Shea Stadium’s all-time home run king — and the Shea Stadium apple rising before the operators realizing it probably wasn’t a good idea to raise it for a Yankee.
Between the game at Shea Stadium and the two makeup games in August, the Angels series had been successfully rescheduled. Ongoing repairs at Yankee Stadium meant that weekend’s series against the Tigers would have to be moved as well. Eventually the American League and the Yankees persuaded the Tigers to swap home series. They’d play in Detroit from April 17th to 19th, then at Yankee Stadium from April 24th to 27th, instead of vice versa.
The Yankees went to Detroit that weekend, won two of three, then went to Toronto and swept three games from the Blue Jays. They finally returned home to a fully repaired and inspected Yankee Stadium on April 24th, eleven days after the expansion joint collapsed. They won nine of ten games in the interim.
“These guys have a toughness,” said George Steinbrenner, who used the expansion joint collapse as part of his campaign for a new ballpark, to Buster Olney. “After all they’ve been through this week, to play this way.”