The New York Yankees started this tradition in the late 1930s, when they held individual days to celebrate the lives of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth while each was near death, but still very much beloved by their fans. Quite possibly the most well-known of the early Old-Timers' Days is Lou Gehrig Day, held on July 4, 1939. After hearing tearful speeches from friends and former teammates who had seen his career cut short by the illness, ALS, which would come to bear his name, Gehrig delivered a short speech referred to by many as the Gettysburg Address of baseball. To this day, Gehrig's declaration that he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth is thought by many to be the most famous line ever uttered by a baseball player.
The first official New York Yankees Old-Timers' Day was held in 1946, and it has been held once a year (usually sometime between mid-June and mid-August) in each year since. Nowadays, the Yankees are the only team that has a strong annual tradition of Old-Timers' Day, though other teams employ similar concepts from time to time.
Though most fans would be reluctant to agree, many Yankee fans assert that the lack of annual Old-Timers' Day celebrations by other teams is due to those teams having a lack of players or accomplishments to celebrate, especially compared to the Yankees' relative abundance of such accomplishments. Fans of other baseball teams contend that the Yankees' tradition may be ostentatious and somewhat too quick to celebrate even fairly insignificant players and achievements. Nonetheless, many fans are impressed with the dozens of stars and legends that participate in Old Timers' Day.
Every year, the Yankees invite up to 50 (sometimes more) former players to be introduced to the crowd in the hours leading up to the scheduled game. For this reason, the actual game played on Old-Timers' Day is often scheduled for 4:00 pm, and the festivities of the day begin around 2:00. The Old-Timers' Day ceremony involves each of the players being introduced, wearing a Yankees uniform with their number on the back, as their name, position, and a short synopsis of their triumphs as a Yankee are read to the crowd. For the last decade, this ceremony has been conducted jointly by John Sterling, the Yankees radio play-by-play announcer, and Michael Kay, formerly Sterling's radio partner, and currently his play-by-play counterpart for television broadcasts of Yankees games. By way of being introduced in a certain order, the old-timers are split into two teams, often called the Pinstripers and the Bombers (both of which, especially the latter, are common nicknames of the Yankees), although other names have been used. Hall of Famers or specific honorees are traditionally introduced last.
After the old-timers have been split into teams, they gather (often greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd) for a group picture. They then head into their respective dugouts to begin a two inning game (assuming time and the weather permit). This "Old-Timers' Day Game" is a defining feature of the Yankees' Old-Timers' Days. Because of the age of many of the players, and the game's relative lack of meaning, the game is not for true competition as much as it is a spectacle for fans nostalgic to see their favorite players from earlier decades (the game is also great for players yearning for one more inning on a Major League field). In 2007, the Yankees announced that the Old Timers' Game will include many first time players such as Scott Brosius, and Paul O'Neill.
From 1982 to 1985, an Old-Timers' Classic sponsored by Cracker Jack was played at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC each July. The inaugural Cracker Jack game, played on the evening of July 19, 1982, was particularly memorable; then-75-year-old Luke Appling connected off Warren Spahn for a 250-foot home run to left field.