Very few places have the iconic status of Yankee Stadium, so this year's All-Star Game, scheduled in this ballpark Tuesday, is bound to get a lot of attention.
The legendary stadium, opened in 1923 at a cost of $2.5 million, may be the best known sports facility in America. Yet its legendary status was not enough to save it from the wrecking ball. A new ballpark is now emerging from what was previously city parkland, so in 2009 this historic venue will be knocked down.
Jim Lane often wrote about his trips to this storied ballpark in the Altoona Mirror. These reflections were a genuine treat that helped those who never made the Big Apple pilgrimage understand what this experience was like.
As a youngster, I was fortunate to visit Yankee Stadium, sitting most frequently in seats that were four or five rows behind the broadcast booth. I recall the awe and amazement of the whole experience, from the perfectly manicured lawn, to the wonderfully precise public address announcements made by the legendary Bob Sheppard.
One of the highlights was talking to legendary Yankee broadcaster Phil Rizzuto between innings. On occasion he would jump onto a chair, swing open a galvanized steel gate, and joke around with a flock of enthusiastic kids as game broadcasts were in a commercial break. I recall his impromptu lessons on bunting and his good-natured jokes about the bifocals he wore.
The late 1960s were a bad time for Yankees fans but a great time to be in Yankee Stadium. Even though the stadium was run down and the team was not very good, there was a magical intimacy that you might find now only in minor league ballparks. Today's Major League ballparks have many amazing amenities, but they tend to lack authenticity and charm. Pittsburgh's PNC Park is one of the best of this new generation of ballparks, but that ambiance is clouded by over a decade of on-field futility.
Yankee Stadium did not have to be replaced, but team officials have lobbied to obtain a new ballpark for years. Because New York City put the Yankees in charge of maintenance, the aging ballpark has been on death row for a while. If an excited teen knows that an unwanted yet functional car can be replaced with a brand new model simply by running the older version into the ground, what else would you expect? When New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and, more recently, Michael Bloomberg expressed desires to help the team get a new ballpark, the die was cast.
The new ballpark will have over five times the retailing space and many more luxury boxes. This is the real reason that the old ballpark will be replaced.
This new stadium will bring in more money for a team that already has baseball's most lucrative broadcast arrangement and the kind of massive revenue streams that allow them to have the highest payroll in all of sports.
In spite of all the money that the Yankees will earn in their brand new ballpark, something will be lost in 2009.
The hallowed facility that was made famous by Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, and Jackson will no longer exist. Because of that, even though others will soon celebrate ancient Yankee Stadium with much fanfare and joy, I will watch the 2008 All-Star Game with sadness.
Bob Trumpbour, author of "The New Cathedrals: Politics and Media in the History of Stadium Construction," is a regular contributor to the Voice of the Fan.