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Brace for the inevitable

Yankees soon will say goodbye to venerable Stadium

Posted: Thursday April 27, 2006 12:53PM; Updated: Friday April 28, 2006 4:32PM
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The House that Ruth (and George) Built has been the Yankees' home since 1923.
The House that Ruth (and George) Built has been the Yankees' home since 1923.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

As it gets greener and lovelier in New York, a new season of memories begins to unfold for baseball fans visiting the big ballyard in the Bronx. Yankee Stadium is the grandest of all the old-time great parks, and though the year got off to an odd start when longtime public address announcer Bob Sheppard missed his first home stand since 1951, with a broken hip, the Big Stage has plenty to offer, including a new name for the Bleacher Creatures' roll call -- rock star Johnny Damon.

Yeah, they haven't won a World Series since 2000, but the Bombers are in the playoffs every year and are the city's most stable franchise. A generation of kids is growing up without ever knowing what it was like for the Yankees to be a losing team.

Everything is golden in Yankee land, but looming just under the surface is the reality that a new ballpark is coming and we are seeing the waning days of the House that Ruth Built. For better or worse, it is a wake-up call to everyone who visits the Stadium over the next couple of summers: Soak it all in while you can, because it's not going to be around much longer.

The first question is: Why do the Yankees need a new stadium? Just last year the team set the all-time attendance mark. Well, picture Zero Mostel in The Producers leaning over to Leo Bloom, answering that question: MONEY. The Yankees don't need a new park, they just want one, and it looks like now they will finally have one.

Though it opened in 1923, Yankee Stadium was renovated, completely made-over, in the mid 1970s (becoming the House that George Rebuilt), so it's not like the building is that much of a relic.

"They are fine, structurally [with Yankee Stadium]," observes historian Glenn Stout, author of Yankee Century. "What they lack are the 'modern' amenities teams want. Today's ballpark is not a place to play baseball -- that's completely secondary. It's just a delivery system for food, beverage and memorabilia, and a facility for business -- luxury boxes and really expensive seats. The ballplayers are the equivalent of strippers on the stage to get people inside to pay extravagant cover charges and $20 for a light beer."

The Cardinals opened a new park this spring. It should come as no surprise that the Yankees are on the bandwagon. They are U.S. Steel or Microsoft, after all, right? Why wouldn't they fall in line with everybody else in baseball and build a state-of-the-art, multifaceted, money-churning theme park? Sooner or later it was going to happen, as it will eventually in Boston and Chicago, too.

It's easy to be offended by the economic realities of the situation -- heck, I come from a liberal family on the Upper West Side, so I know from righteous indignation -- but in the long run, what's the point? I hate to cop out, but being a Watergate baby and a product of the Reagan era, I'm predisposed to expect the cynical, sell-out move. However, there are sure to be Yankees fans and New York taxpayers who are upset about the new facility.

And what of this new park? The scoreboard will be bigger, better and louder (though I shudder at the thought). It will probably feel like the new Times Square -- synthetic, perhaps, but still New York, so still spectacular. The Monuments will have a new home, the facade will be brought over, and there will be a new landscape to digest.