When Pope Paul VI delivered his homily at Yankee Stadium in 1965, he was actually speaking on ground owned by the Knights of Columbus. At the time, the Order served as the Yankees’ landlords. In 1953, some 30 years after the stadium opened, the Knights bought the nine acres on which Yankee Stadium was built. The decision grew out of Father McGivney’s vision — not as a lifelong baseball fan, but as the founder of a fraternal order to help provide for members’ families.
To continue fulfilling that vision in the mid-20th century, the Order began purchasing the properties of some large corporations and “leasing the properties back to the original owners at a rental that will give the Order an adequate interest return for the money invested,” wrote then-Supreme Knight Luke E. Hart in a letter to members.
“We gave them a 100-year lease for the ground at what turned out to be a reasonable, low rent,” explained Dechant.
But in the early 1970s, when representatives of the City of New York decided to renovate the stadium, they also wanted to own the land under it.
“It was not our wish to sell it, but we had no choice,” Dechant said. “We were proud to own it.”
Among the past supreme knight’s favorite memories are attending games with Bishop Greco. They sat in box seats behind home plate, and Yankees Manager Yogi Berra would hop the fence between innings “to visit with Bishop Greco,” said Dechant. “They were old friends.”
Many years earlier, one particular Knight made Yankee Stadium thrive, as evidenced by the popular nickname the stadium acquired: “The House That Ruth Built.”
“Ruth’s bat essentially bankrolled the building of Yankee Stadium, which was built to accommodate all the people who wanted to see him play,” wrote Christopher Kauffman in Faith and Fraternalism: The History of the Knights of Columbus. “A star pitcher for much of his career in Boston, the Yankees let him loose as a slugger and outfielder. Ruth hit 54 homers in 1920, then 59 and 35 the next two years, respectively.” In 1927, the Sultan of Swat hit his record 60th homer in the stadium.
Ruth’s monument near those of the three popes describes him as “A great ballplayer, a great man, a great American.” Missing is any mention of him being a Knight — which Ruth was, beginning in 1919 when he joined Père Marquette Council 271 in South Boston, Mass. Ruth was particularly interested in helping the disadvantaged, especially orphans, and visited them all over the country in hospitals and reformatories. He also started the Babe Ruth Foundation for impoverished children and clearly exemplified the Knights’ principle of charity.
Pitcher Ronald Guidry also stands out among other World Series Yankee-Knights. Guidry salvaged the 1978 season for the Yankees after the team was trailing the Boston Red Sox that year by 14 games.
On June 17, Guidry set a Yankee record by striking out 18 California Angels batters. Winning game after game, “Louisiana Lightning” Guidry put the Yankees in a dead heat with the Red Sox by September. His victory against them in a one-game playoff gave him a league-leading 25 wins. Finally, in the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Guidry led the Yankees to two of their four wins. For his achievements, Guidry later received the Cy Young Award.
After retiring in 1989, Guidry joined Assumption of the Virgin Mary Council 7411 in Rayne, La. Past Grand Knight Glen Meche said Guidry “shies away from attention,” adding that “his work with the Knights and with his family is a real expression of faith.”
Joining Ruth’s No. 3 jersey, Guidry’s No. 49 was retired in 2003, and a memorial was dedicated to him in Monument Park. These players, though, are only two in a long line of baseball-loving Knights that stretches back through the Order’s history. If we close our eyes for a moment, perhaps we can see Father McGivney standing in Yankee Stadium, smiling as he looks over his Knights and the MVP plaques that were presented to three “Most Venerable Pontiffs.”
Joseph Pronechen is a staff writer for National Catholic Register and Faith & Family magazine. He writes from Trumbull, Conn.