The night 'Macarena' took over Yankee Stadium

January 28th, 2022

Maybe more than any ballpark on Earth, Yankee Stadium -- and its many iterations -- has hosted some major historic moments.

Its teams have won 27 championships. World famous stars like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter made their home there. Popes have conducted masses inside. Nelson Mandela held a rally. Iconic rappers traded verses on a makeshift center-field stage.

But maybe nothing, maybe not one of these things, could measure up to the fanbase's shared, rapturous glee when they came to the Bronx ballpark on a hot summer night in August 1996.

Some 50,000 screaming men, women and children came from all over to take part in Macarena Night. The goal? Break the record for the largest line of people to perform the '90s dance craze at once.

"Everybody just went absolutely bat-[expletive] crazy," Eric Stangel, comedy writer and incredibly ecstatic Macarena Night attendee, told me.

Macarena Night only happened because the Yankees couldn't stand losing. (Of course they couldn't).

Back in June of that season, the Mariners had set the record for the most people doing the dance when 37,000 joined in at the Kingdome. The Yankees not only planned to beat the record, but they wanted to do it during a game against the Mariners.

"It was a brilliant stroke," Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay told me in a call.

"Yeah the Yankees, in a screw-you to the Mariners -- who they were playing that night -- were like, 'Yeah, we're gonna break the record,'" Stangel remembered.

Pre-internet and smartphone and viral marketing days, the event couldn't be as hyped up as it would've been today. Word was a bit more difficult to get out in the mid-90s. It's hard to track down how it was advertised, but there were likely newspaper articles and in-stadium announcements leading up to the date. There was also a national TV spot the morning of the game on The Today Show: A handful of Yankees groundskeepers appeared on America's most-watched morning talk program and did the Macarena with Al Roker. Although Stangel and his friend purchased their tickets far in advance -- and not because it was Macarena Night -- this was even more incentive to not miss attending the game. Thousands of others watching probably felt the same way and bought tickets after the clip aired.

"I remember seeing that and that was it, I was psyched," Stangel told me. "We're going to Macarena Night. This is the best thing ever."

Eric Stangel at the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, where they, unfortunately, did not do the Macarena

Arturo Pardavila, currently a Vice President of Content Operations at MLB.com, told me he bought the tickets precisely for Macarena Night -- hearing about the event in radio and TV ads.

"I went to a ton of Yankees games in the late 1990s," Pardavila, who was 23 at the time, said. "We would get cheap seats in the bleachers. But I was PUMPED for Macarena Night. I knew it would sell out, so I bought four seats in the upper deck and brought friends from work."

So, the word was out there, as much as it could be. And the Yankees had landed just the person to lead the dance on the field. Someone famous enough, New York City enough, to captivate the crowd. The original Anita in "West Side Story," a woman with multiple Tony Awards and nominations, TV show credits and, later, a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

"Oh my god. First of all, I'm a crazy Yankee fan," legendary performer Chita Rivera told me in a call. "You know, the Stadium, the team, everything about the Yankees. And then suddenly, to be put in the middle of that huge, magnificent stadium to do something as silly as the Macarena."

Rivera was performing on Broadway at the time in "Kiss of the Spider Woman," a role that had already earned her a second Tony Award.

Still, even with the star power of Rivera and the promotion on "The Today Show," it was hard to know what the night would look like. Would enough people actually show up? And if they did, would they truly be into it and take part? Nobody had ever really held a Macarena Night before.

"You have to remember, back in '96, [the Yankees] hadn't won a championship yet. The place wasn't always full," Kay said. "When this game was announced, I didn't think it would have the traction."

"Nobody knew what that really meant -- that it's Macarena Night," Stangel recalled, laughing. "Like what could that possibly be."

But come game time, the ballpark was jumping. It was overflowing with fans and energy. More than 50,000 had seemingly answered the call from Los Del Rio.

"The place was jammed," Kay recalled. "It was absolutely jammed for a Yankee-Mariner game. Obviously it was a big series the year before, but I still don't know if it would've drawn 50,000 people."

"I'm a huge sports fan and I couldn't even concentrate on the game," Stangel said. "I was like, 'Let's get to it.'"

The game was back and forth in the early innings. New York scored three in the bottom of the first on RBI singles by Paul O'Neill and Cecil Fielder and a sacrifice fly by Mariano Duncan. Seattle tied it with three in the fourth on Ken Griffey Jr.'s bases-loaded walk and an error by Gerald Williams on Edgar Martinez's hard liner that brought in two runs.

No runs came across in the bottom of the fourth or the top of the fifth. And then ... it was time.

The middle of the fifth inning is normally reserved for the Yankees grounds crew doing the YMCA as they sweep the field, but this time they dropped their rakes to do a different dance. They helped get thousands of fans out of their seats to get down to the song of the summer. But right away, it seemed like fans didn't need any motivation. The stadium was ready to go.

"There was like a sign on the scoreboard which said like, 'Please welcome Broadway legend Chita Rivera,'" Stangel said. "She came out, she was right in front of the Yankees dugout and I think she was wearing like a satin Yankees jacket if I remember. And you know, Yankees fans are fierce, and for some reason, all of that dropped and people were just united in this quest to set a Macarena world record."

"The old Yankee Stadium could get loud easily," Pardavila recalled. "People were pumped. But there were also people who just sat there and said, 'What is this?'"

"Everybody stood up and did it," Kay told me. "I remember I got up in the booth and I did it. I don't know if [John] Sterling knew how to do the Macarena, but I definitely did it, and it was a lot of fun. A lot of joy."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, so many people!" Rivera recalled. "Just one of those moments that you never forget."

Rivera, as mentioned before, was right in front of the Yankees dugout. For someone who's performed in front of some of the greatest crowds on some of the world's grandest stages, the then-66-year-old said she was a "nervous wreck."

"To do it in front of the dugout, you know, you have these fabulous guys. Fabulous guys," Rivera said. "And there you are, doing a silly dance. You gotta make it for real. I enjoyed every minute of it."

"I vividly remember Chita Rivera on the field leading the crowd," Pardavila told me. "My friends were dancing and loving it."

Chita Rivera performs on Macarena Night in front of the Yankees dugout. (Photo by Merle Frimark)

Nobody I spoke to really remembered any players dancing along, including Rivera, who was staring directly at them. Griffey was reported to have watched and smiled along, and you can see Derek Jeter in the main clip taking a sneak peek at what on earth was happening around him.

"It really did feel like everybody was together at this weird party for a few minutes, and then it went back to being a baseball game," Stangel said.

And it did. After the mid-game craziness, the scoreboard announced a new record had been set and the bottom of the inning began.

Perhaps propelled by the dulcet sounds and sights just minutes before, Tino Martinez delivered an RBI single to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead. But the Mariners would storm back and ultimately win the tight contest, 6-5.

Even though they lost the game, most of the talk afterwards was about Macarena Night. There were newspaper stories, news show recaps and people still tweet about it today. And maybe it was just a coincidence, maybe it was the Macarena, but the Yankees won their first World Series in nearly two decades that season and would go on to win three more in the next four years.

But mostly, Macarena Night stands as a silly, I-can't-believe-we're-all-doing-this moment that those who were there will never forget. A few minutes just gushing with '90s nostalgia. A brief bit of togetherness and unfettered ridiculousness that simply doesn't happen enough anymore.

"The thing that struck me, and I still remember it, it was really joyful," Kay said. "It was fun, everybody was just having a great time."

"I feel like I was the chosen one," Rivera told me. "In front of my favorite team, and men, and, I mean, it was just fabulous. And it goes by really fast. ... And you're bringing it up so many years later and that's great."

"Back then, we didn't have much, all we had was the Macarena," Stangel said. "I worked at the Letterman Show for 17 years, but there's a good chance when I go, the first thing people are gonna say is, 'You know, he was at Macarena Night.'"