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Archive for Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Commentary: Yankees know how to say farewell

September 24, 2008

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The last pitch had been thrown at Yankee Stadium, and the players were saying their final goodbyes. Up in the stands, a few normally hard-bitten New Yorkers appeared to be getting a little teary-eyed over it all.

Baseball does sentimental better than any other sport, but only the Yankees could pull off a closing like the one that went down in the Bronx the other night. Things got so warm and fuzzy that Yankee fans almost forgot that the only reason the stadium got a proper send-off was that their collection of multimillionaires couldn't even come close to making the playoffs.

Think about it. Even with Yogi Berra behind the plate one final time and Reggie Jackson sprinting out to right field like he owned it, the night wouldn't have meant nearly so much if the Yankees were in the postseason and this wasn't actually the last game ever played in the stadium.

It was, though, and on the mound Babe Ruth's daughter herself tossed the last ceremonial first pitch. Julia Ruth Stevens is 92 now, but was a little girl when her father inaugurated the stadium with one of his blasts into the right-field seats of the new $2.5 million edifice.

The Babe would have understood the need for a new stadium, though he might have been hard-pressed to figure out just what a martini bar was and why there had to be an art gallery in the place. The steakhouse alone would have sold him, along with the idea that he might get a piece of the seats that will go for $2,500 a game in the new place just across the street.

That's the price of progress, and in this case the price is staggeringly high. Everything is expensive in New York, and the $1.3 billion to build the new Yankee Stadium dwarfs anything other than the new football stadium Jerry Jones is building in Dallas.

Taxpayers will foot the bill for up to $850 million of that cost, which might have been why some fans were near tears on closing night. Either that or they were trying to imagine some scenario in an ailing economy that would allow them to afford even some outfield seats that will be $100 a game.

There wasn't anything terribly wrong with Yankee Stadium that required it to be replaced, at least as far as the average fan and taxpayer was concerned. But the richest team in baseball saw an opportunity to get even richer, and the 51 suites that go for $600,000 to $850,000 a season will help pay for CC Sabathia or any other free agents the junior Steinbrenners can lure.

At least they kept it in the Bronx. The last time baseball stadiums were torn down in New York it was because their teams had fled for the West Coast.

Saying goodbye isn't so hard to do when all you're doing is walking across the street.

There will be a new stadium in Queens, too, though it will be hard for even baseball to figure out a way to make anyone feel sappy about Shea Stadium being demolished. And the Mets may actually make the playoffs, which would relieve the team of the burden of planning any ode to a stadium whose passing won't be mourned.

Baseball revels in its rich traditions, but that hasn't stopped the wholesale replacement of stadiums since Camden Yards ushered in the retro concept when it opened in Baltimore in 1992. The two New York stadiums are merely the latest examples of this trend, which will include a new stadium in Minneapolis in 2010 and most likely one in Miami a year later.

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