Vespa and his crew, the Bronx-based Port Morris Tile and Marble Corporation, were charged on Wednesday with the enviable yet daunting task of removing one of the sturdiest artifacts from the grounds of Yankee Stadium. It took more than half an hour for workers to wrench the monument out of its 59-year resting place and into the safety of a storage container, in preparation for a move to the new Yankee Stadium later this year.
It was all part of a transition process that began shortly after season's end, made progress on Saturday when the Yankees moved home plate, the pitching rubber and piles of dirt from the old Yankee Stadium to the new one, and continued on Wednesday when the team dug up the weightiest monument -- at least symbolically speaking -- of them all.
Ruth's monument, installed in 1949, was the third of six that the Yankees placed in Monument Park over their stadium's 85-year history, honoring four players, a manager and the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy. And it came to symbolize, in a way, the so-called ghosts that watched the team win 26 World Series titles throughout those 85 years.
The Port Morris Tile and Marble Corporation, which the Yankees also commissioned to install their two specialties at the new Yankee Stadium, dug up the monuments of Miller Huggins and Lou Gehrig earlier this week without a problem. But workers ran into some minor snags when they attempted to haul Ruth out of the ground.
With the still-standing monuments of Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio looking on, perhaps bracing for a similar fate, a muddied yellow forklift struggled to navigate up the narrow incline that led to Ruth. A pair of cloth straps creaked as the crew lifted Ruth out of the ground and set him down multiple times, before gradually, tentatively ushering him out of Monument Park.
"It seemed like the Babe didn't want to leave," Vespa said.
Four members of the crew, hand-picked by Port Morris and comprised entirely of Yankees fans, steadied Ruth on his way out, while a fifth barked out orders. Shifting up and down, back and forth, the monument dangled in midair for quite some time before the crew managed to set it down against the outer wall of the now-vacated home bullpen in center field.
There, they wrapped Ruth in a layer of foam packaging and one of shrink wrap, enclosed him in a plywood case and drilled the seams shut.
"This is not something the guys practice on or learn in apprentice school," joked Patrick Barrett, president of Port Morris.
From there, the monument went into storage along with Monument Park's full collection of plaques and retired numbers, which Port Morris will transport across the street at some point over the next three to four weeks.
The workers displayed an almost comical prudence on Wednesday as they navigated Ruth's monument out of its resting place, taking care not to chip a corner or nudge a side into the concrete walls of Monument Park. Barrett joked that if his men caused any damage to the monument, he would have transferred them all up to Boston -- surely, for these Yankees fans, a fate worse than any sort of dock in pay.
Their Bronx-based company, now 104 years old, has owned Yankees season tickets since 1947, making Thursday's task all the more appropriate.
"We didn't want anyone else to do it," Barrett said.
"This was once in a lifetime," Vespa chimed in. "It really meant a lot to us."
Dressed in hard hats and neckties, speaking with their backs to Yankee Stadium's still freshly cut grass, Barrett and Vespa faced the spot where Ruth had stood just moments before. It looked strange.
In place of the monument, for the first time in nearly six decades, was nothing more than an empty dirt hole.