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Brace for the inevitable (cont.)

Posted: Thursday April 27, 2006 12:53PM; Updated: Friday April 28, 2006 4:32PM
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Chris Chambliss' Game 5, ninth-inning home run against the Royals sent the Yankees to the 1976 World Series.
Chris Chambliss' Game 5, ninth-inning home run against the Royals sent the Yankees to the 1976 World Series.
Neil Leifer/SI
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Neil DeMause, who writes about the economics of the game for BaseballProspectus.com, says, "The outside is going to look like Yankee Stadium in 1923 on steroids. That's the shell. In between the facade and the seating bowl will be an enormous shopping concourse. That's what the Yankees are really after. When they say they can't renovate the current stadium, they are talking about concessions stands and restaurants. The attempt is to bring all the money that Yankees fans are spending into Yankee Stadium. The intent is to take away business that fans would spend on the street outside the stadium. I'm sure they'll have some locals run some stands in the new park, but they'll pay serious rent to the Yankees."

Inside, the park will be smaller, but not necessarily more intimate. Following the current trend, the new stadium will be geared toward luxury boxes, losing close to 6,000 seats in the process. Chris Isodore of CNNMoney.com recently detailed why it makes economic sense for teams to reduce seating capacity in their new parks: "The team ... hopes that by limiting the supply of tickets, it will create some scarcity and give fans the incentive to buy tickets in advance. As long as the 10,000 lousy seats were available upstairs, fans knew they could always show up and find the better seats available for sale at the last minute."

This might not be a problem for the Yankees now, but what about when the team goes through a losing period? For all of the economic benefits the team will enjoy in their new deal, what will be sacrificed in terms of atmosphere?

"One of the joys of Yankee Stadium today is that you can sit in the tier boxes and still be really close to the action," says Yankees blogger Benjamin Kabak, who has followed the story for Double Play Depth. "The upper deck hangs over the box seats. In the new stadium, the upper deck is much more recessed. Fans won't have that same feeling of closeness and intimacy. With an increase in prices that is sure to accompany a new stadium, I think the fans are getting left out here while George's pockets will reap the benefits."

DeMause adds, "Yankee Stadium holds a lot of people, but it's very compact. The tier boxes at Yankee stadium are some the best seats in baseball."

Some of my favorite Stadium memories are of sitting in the lower section of the tier behind home plate -- Bobby Murcer hitting an extra-inning home run against the Orioles in the early '80s, watching Kent Hrbek plant bomb after bomb in the right-field upper deck during batting practice and, just a few years ago, seeing Juan Encarnacion launch a flat sinker from Ramiro Mendoza into the left-field bleachers.

As with the passing of many great institutions, there will be a good deal of loss when the current Stadium is retired. We've grown accustom to the place, warts and all -- the lousy bathrooms, forgettable concessions and jam-packed runways. So how difficult will it be to see the place go? "Change equals Death," Woody Allen once wrote. But while most New Yorkers like to bemoan change, we are also quick to adapt. I was initially distressed when I heard the news about the new Yankee Stadium last year, but also somehow relieved. At least the team wouldn't be relocated to New Jersey, which had been discussed ad nauseam back in the '80s.

Yankee Stadium is filled with the ghosts of Yankees past, even though the place today is quite different from the one DiMaggio and Ruth played in. You can sit in the Stadium now and see Monument Park and imagine what the place looked like when they were in the field of play, when Death Valley was really Death Valley. Yet there have been plenty of great memories generated by Steinbrenner's teams, too, starting with Chris Chambliss' pennant-winning homer in 1976, continuing through the Joe Torre years.

The uniqueness of Yankee Stadium will be altered when the new place is put up, but not lost completely -- just rearranged, altered. There will be a pastiche of the past there and it will still be populated by New Yorkers. And it is the New York fans who are ultimately responsible for the kinetic energy of the place.

"The function of baseball, game and business, is to manufacture memories," wrote Leonard Koppett, the legendary sports writer. "That can't change." The new park will be different, and for some worse. But it will be what we've got, and new memories will be created there. And hey, at least it's not in Jersey.


Alex Belth is the founder and co-author of Bronx Banter. His biography of Curt Flood, "Stepping Up: The Story of All-Star Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Players' Rights," is available on Amazon.com.

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