Like any red-blooded American, I hate the New York Yankees. I’m not even much of a baseball fan, but the loathing I feel for the Yankees transcends the sport and fills every fiber of my being. That said, I’m profoundly sad today, as this day – Sunday, September 21st, 2008 – marks the end of an era. After 85 years, Yankee Stadium is closing its doors, soon to be demolished to make way for “New” Yankee Stadium.
Miles of ink and acres of trees have been consumed by sportswriters talking about “tradition” in sports, and baseball in particular. Much of what they write about is sentimental pablum, the sports equivalent of “kitten rescued from tree” stories you see at the end of your local newscast. Let’s face it: no one will really miss Three Rivers or Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
But losing Yankee Stadium is different. It’s the House that Ruth Built. It’s the Cathedral of Baseball. 15% of all postseason games and 21% of all World Series games in MLB history have taken place in Yankee Stadium. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, Sparky Lyle, Graig Nettles and Ron Guidry played there. Casey Stengel, Billy Martin and Lou Piniella managed Yankee teams there. Lou Gehrig gave his famous farewell speech there. George W. Bush threw out the first pitch after 9/11 there. The New York Giants played the first overtime game in NFL history there – a game frequently called “The Greatest Game Ever Played“. The “DEE-fense! DEE-fense!” chant was invented there. Knute Rockne, Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry coached football games there. Chuck Bednarik of the Philadelphia Eagles hit Frank Gifford so hard in Yankee Stadium that Gifford had to be carted off the field; the photograph of that moment (below) is one of the most iconic in the history of the NFL. The “win one for the Gipper” aphorism originated there. Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali fought there. The first Papal Mass in the Western Hemisphere was celebrated there. Pink Floyd and John Philip Sousa both played concerts there. Nelson Mandela and John F. Kennedy gave speeches there. Even Thomas Edison was involved in Yankee Stadium, designing the very concrete that makes up The Big Ballpark in the Bronx.
Yankee Stadium is a fucking icon… and, as of today, it will be consigned to the ashheap of history. Poor Yankee Stadium has fallen victim to its lack of $2500 seats, sushi bars and cushy corporate luxury boxes. Instead of “dirty water dogs“, those rich enough to afford a game will be able to dine at the Hard Rock Cafe inside the stadium… after parking in their VIP parking decks, of course.
And once “New” Yankee Stadium is completed across the street, old Yankee Stadium will be demolished – after the Yankees pick apart every saleable artifact of the stadium, like a Sunday Dinner Chicken. As one long time Yankee fan said of the future demolition:
“I don’t think I could watch it. Once this stadium is taken down, it’s gone forever. You can’t say Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle played here anymore. Those walls have living blood in them. When that ball hits, it would be the same as me or you getting hit with a 95-mile-an-hour fastball. Those walls are alive. They are going to scream.”
It’s depressing, and it’s senseless. It makes me profoundly sad to see Yankee Stadium go. Not in the tragic and personal “the 15 year-old dog I had since middle school just died” sense. As I said, I loathe the Yankees. But still, seeing this icon of American sports go… the most famous sports arena in the entire world… go away just for the sake of progress… it actually makes me tear up, as if they decided to tear down St. Paul’s Cathedral or the Colosseum just because “they’re old”.
Goodbye, Yankee Stadium. Although I never visited you in person, I saw you hundreds of times on TV in my baseball-obsessed youth. I had always planned to go to a Yankees game there… but I never got around it it. And now, I suppose I never will.
But that’s “progress” for you.