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Bob Ryan

They'll bring down the House, but it's no time to cheer

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / September 21, 2008
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First, the polemic:

The game tonight between the Yankees and Orioles will close the second Yankee Stadium. Yankee Stadium I was opened on April 18, 1923, and was closed on Sept. 30, 1973. After a complete gutting of the structure and a thorough reworking of the contours, Yankee Stadium II reopened on April 15, 1976. It is that second Yankee Stadium whose sad closing we commemorate this evening.

To repeat: Derek Jeter never played in Yankee Stadium I. Babe Ruth never played in Yankee Stadium II.

End of polemic.

Now then. This really is a sad, sad occasion for anyone who loves sports. It is sad because the two ballparks occupying this particular land mass in the Bronx have been the site of a significant chunk of American sports history. You start, naturally, with all that Yankee stuff, which includes all but two of their 39 American League pennants - they won the American League in 1921 and 1922 as Polo Grounds tenants of the New York Giants - and every one of their 26 World Series titles.

Then you consider the great football, both college and professional, that was played there. The famed Fordham "Seven Blocks of Granite" played their annual game with NYU there. Army and Notre Dame played there from 1925-46, when that was America's most glamorous collegiate football rivalry, concluding with the 1946 affair, the most noted scoreless tie in college football history. Grambling strutted its stuff there on an annual basis for 18 years, and then, of course, you had both the New York Yankees football team and the New York Giants themselves.

The Giants called Yankee Stadium home from 1956-73, and what student of professional football doesn't know that Yankee Stadium was the site of the historic 1958 Colts overtime triumph over the Giants, the game when, as legend has it, pro football came of age?

Likewise, what boxing aficionado doesn't know that Yankee Stadium was the site of 31 championship fights, including six of Joe Louis's heavyweight championship title defenses and three of Rocky Marciano's?

All this is reason to celebrate the Yankee Stadia.

But this will not be a happy occasion, and not just because it was never supposed to end with a blah regular-season game. It will be a somber moment for the good, honest sports fan, because there is no good reason for it to be closing. The Yankees have drawn more than 4 million fans each of the last two years. The ballpark must have something going for it.

Of course, it does. Yankee Stadium II is a fine ballpark, loaded with character. The big renovation that took two full calendar years to get done created a modern park free of poles. Everyone in attendance can see everything that's going on just fine. Thirty-three years in, Yankee Stadium II has its own history, and sooner or later you know the Yankees will be making even more.

This is where Chris Chambliss hit the pennant-winning home run off Mark Littell in 1976. This is the site of "Reggie, Reggie, Reggie!" in 1977. This is where Billy Martin managed the Yankees. And again. And again. And again. And again. This is where Joe Torre held court all those afternoons and evenings, drinking gallons of green tea. This is where the Yankees won those four world championships from 1996-2000. This is where (sorry) Aaron Boone hit the you-know-what off you-know-who to win the 2003 American League pennant. This is where David Wells and David Cone threw perfect games. This is where Derek Jeter banged out all those hits. This is where Mariano Rivera closed out all those games.

This is also where Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson took care of Aura and Mystique. This is where Pedro Martínez submitted what may have been the greatest-pitched game in Red Sox history - the 17-strikeout one-hitter in 1999. This is also where Josh Beckett showed that, as Bill Russell once observed, "Experience don't mean [naughty word]."

And, yes, this is where the Bloody Sock entered into the folklore of sport, and this is where Derek Lowe, Johnny Damon, and the rest of the gang completed the greatest postseason comeback in baseball history.

History works both ways, you know.

The Yankees are blowtorching all this glorious history - not to mention the unmatchable history generated by Yankee Stadium I - for luxury boxes and premium seats. Those 8 million people passing through the Yankee Stadium turnstiles the past two years? The wrong kind of people.

Modern sports economics have no interest - absolutely none - in the common man. You do not matter. The Yankees are only interested in the kind of people who will populate the luxury suites and who will pay somewhere between $500 and $2,500 per person, per game, to sit in the first five to eight rows of the new ballpark. These are the kind of people who, as a Yankee Stadium website explains, will get "an exclusive experience for those with discerning taste who seek the very best that life has to offer."

In the new ballpark, people in the 1800 Legends Field Suite seats "will delight in the premium amenities, including cushioned seats with teak arms, in-seat wait service, concierge services, private restrooms and a delectable selection of all-inclusive food and beverages." For these people there will be, of course, a "private entrance, elevator and concourse."

The Yankees are quick to add that this is all of no concern to the average guy, because, according to Yankee CEO Lonn Trost, "55 percent of the ballpark is going to be $45 or less. We're trying to allow these suite prices to subsidize the other seating in the stadium."

Keep in mind that the overall experience of going to a Yankee game is only going to get worse. They aren't moving to a better location. They are moving across the street. There will be fewer places to park, and good luck trying to have people from Connecticut, New Jersey, Westchester, and elsewhere switch to public transit. Everything will cost more. You know that. The real Yankee Stadium will be gone and in its place will be a theme park for the luxury box set.

The Yankees are hardly the first team to get involved in an enterprise like this. In fact, the Yankees have been insanely jealous of all those who've beaten them to it. But none of them had been playing in Yankee Stadium, with all that history and inherent goodwill.

Meanwhile, you didn't think a $1.3 billion ballpark could be built in New York without some chicanery, did you? People are asking questions, one of which is, "Was the value of the land under this new park artificially inflated in order that the Yankees could float bonds pitched to the phony value of the land, rather than the real value?"

I know all this ranting makes me just another Don Quixote railing against the windmill of corporate sport. So be it. You'll have to excuse me now. My horse needs watering.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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