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Posted: Thursday September 18, 2008 1:04PM; Updated: Monday September 22, 2008 11:11AM
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It's Gone! Goodbye! (cont.)

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David Wells had a  perfect game in 1998.
David Wells had a perfect game in 1998.
AP
RIP Yankee Stadium
 

Another relic that's still around is in the trainers' room off the Yankees' clubhouse, in a back corner: a massive antique scale, on which every Yankee has weighed himself since... well, like a lot of things about me, no one is sure, but probably since at least the late 1940s or early '50s. Gene Monahan, the team trainer since '73, found a small service tag on the back of the scale with 1958 printed on it. Now, in this case, I can say that Jeter has stood in the footsteps of DiMaggio. "It's going with me to the new stadium even if I have to walk it across the street myself to make sure it gets there," Monahan says. "Just think of all the great Yankees who have stood on it. We use it every day. Cal Ripken heard about it and wanted to buy it."

Also in the trainers' room, Monahan has kept some ointments, liniments, elixirs and bottles from my pre-'73 makeover, the smells of another era, including essence of peppermint, maybe the kind of stuff they would rub on the Mick's achy knees. But for Monahan there is something else in that room that is even more powerful: a huge chunk of his life. I see Monahan every day three hours before any players arrive, about six hours before a game. He is the last one to leave. He has done so every year for 36 years. "It's sad," he says, standing outside the door to the trainers' room. "Now as I look back, I realize most of my adult life was spent there. It's sad in a way to know that, because my marriage suffered and my kids didn't have the time with me that they should have. I can't make up for any of that time. Night games, day games, games just about every day... most of my adult life is here."

Not 10 minutes later Yogi is standing in the same spot where Monahan stood. Berra played 18 seasons for the Yankees, from 1946 through '63. He coached and managed the Yankees. He visits me often these days. Now that I think of it, I don't think there is any living Yankee who has spent more time with me. The clubhouse may look very different now from what it did when Yogi played, but Berra points a finger toward a wall of lockers that includes those of Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte.

"I was over there, with [Moose] Skowron," he says. "Mickey was over there too. We didn't have food in the clubhouse back then like they do now. Nothing. Maybe ice cream on a hot day. Beer. We had beer.

"I'll miss this place," Yogi says, his eyes moist. "My life is here."

Wooo, boy. September 21 is going to be hard. Damn hard.

My health took a turn for the worse on April 13, 1998. It was only a couple of hours before they were to open my gates for a game against the Anaheim Angels. I felt something loosen, almost in the way a tooth would for you, beneath the upper tier near leftfield. It was a 500-pound expansion joint, a rocker beam, which helped allow the upper deck to give when everyone above it was jumping up and cheering madly. After all those crowds over all those years, the thing just kept wiggling loose until the day it broke free and obliterated seat 7, loge section 22.

You know what happened next. Engineers gave me a full workup and concluded that I was falling apart. Steinbrenner wanted a new ballpark anyway, so this gave him more leverage. I guess they could have fixed me up again as they did in 1974 and '75, but baseball had grown into such a huge business that it would have been an even bigger undertaking to meet today's unofficial standards: more luxury boxes; concourses that are not walled off, allowing you see to see the game while walking about; restaurants and shops that provide additional revenue streams; team meeting rooms and indoor training areas, etc. The Yankees are routinely drawing four million fans each year, and I've got to admit, it's wearing me out.

"In 1976 nobody anticipated Yankee Stadium accommodating four million fans a year," Appel says. "No one thought that someday it would be inadequate. When we drew two million fans in 1976, it caught us by surprise."

So that's why I am, at 85, as you people like to put it, a dead man walking. The Yankees have spent a year combing every narrow hallway and dark storage closet to assemble an inventory of every item within me. They opened up one storage room, for instance, and discovered more than 1,000 cracked bats, game-used jerseys (mostly from the 1980s and '90s) and steamer-type trunks used to haul Yankees equipment. In the carpenters' shop there is a blue leather sofa that used to be in the Yankees' clubhouse during their Bronx Zoo days of the '70s.

Get ready for the world's biggest garage sale. "This is about more than collecting," says Brandon Steiner, whose collectibles and marketing company, Steiner Sports, will assist the Yankees in selling items, much of them by auction. "Unlike anything we've ever dealt with, there are so many people, even around the world, who have a personal, emotional attachment to the Stadium. What can I create to get so many people a little bit of something?"

In the meantime, Morante has led nonstop lines of tourists through me this year, and it feels like that day in 1948 when 200,000 people filed through me to view the open casket of the Babe. These people are mourners. Some of them actually cry when they get to Monument Park, which only became accessible in the mid-'80s after Steinbrenner tired of watching the frustration build in his righthanded sluggers like Dave Winfield and Don Baylor. "People want to see home runs," said Steinbrenner, who ordered the fence moved in, which coincidentally created public access to the monuments now standing behind it.

Next year the six monuments and 24 plaques will be relocated behind the centerfield wall and under the overhang of the monstrous glass-walled restaurant, where you can still drop this trivia question on someone the way a friend did to Edward Cardinal Egan: What three former Cardinals have plaques in Monument Park? The answer: Roger Maris, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II.

The day I was born, April 18, 1923, Sousa led the Seventh Regiment Band before the biggest baseball crowd ever (74,217), and the Babe declared, "I'd give a year of my life if I can hit a home run in this first game in this new park." Of course, he did hit a home run, my first, and the next day Fred Lieb of the New York Evening Telegram referred to me in his account as "The House that Ruth Built." Since then, you could write a pretty good history of baseball just on the events I saw, events so familiar they exist comfortably in shorthand: Pipp's headache, Babe's 60th, Lou's "luckiest man" speech, Babe's "camel-hair coat" goodbye, Larsen's perfecto, Roger's 61st, Koufax's 15 K's in the '63 Series, Reggie's three home runs in Game 6 of the '77 Series, the Pine Tar Game, the Aaron Boone Game, the Bloody Sock and the Frank Howard Game.

(I owe you an explanation of that last shorthand. I used that game as a proxy for all the otherwise routine occasions on which somebody saw their first major league game. I picked that one, from Sept. 3, 1967, with the Senators in town, because I knew it was the first game for a six-year-old kid from New Jersey who would become a baseball writer. The kid saw Howard and the Mick each blast home runs in the game, then was awestruck after the game to see the 6' 7" Hondo walk to the team bus.)

There is one night, however, in all these 85 years that stands out the most. I am going to ask you a favor now. See, I am worried that when I am gone -- as with Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds, or as my good friend Tiger Stadium is finding out -- the lack of a physical structure dims the power and emotions of memory. You can stand at the Alamo and practically still hear the gunfire, but what might your grandkids feel about me if all that is left is a park? To help them truly understand me and my place in American history without tangible, visual clues, I want you to tell them about the night of Oct. 30, 2001.

On that night, the wreckage and rubble of the 9/11 terrorist attacks were still smoldering at Ground Zero. People were afraid to fly. The comfort of routine was lost to the anxiety that another attack could come at any moment. People came to Game 3 of the World Series that night with great apprehension. President Bush was scheduled to throw the ceremonial first pitch. What unnerved the fans was that they knew they were either in the safest place in the world at that moment or the absolutely most dangerous place in the world, but they had no way of ruling out either choice with any certainty.

"Yankee Stadium isn't just a ballpark," Trotta says. "It's a national landmark. It's like the Statue of Liberty. If the terrorists had wanted to do the Twin Towers to have the maximum amount of people dead, they would have struck during rush hour. But they wanted the towers because it was a symbol. One of our symbols, whether you like him or her or whoever it happens to be, our national treasure, is the President of the United States. Now our national treasure is on the mound at Yankee Stadium, which is a national landmark, a symbol."

Trotta, the Yankees fan who had grown up in New Rochelle, had arrived two days earlier to help with the advance security work. The team found out he was a Yankees fan, a Munson fan especially, and invited him to the clubhouse to see Munson's locker, which -- by decree of Steinbrenner -- has remained empty since he died in a plane crash 29 years ago, only the number 15 hanging from it. "I'll start to cry if you show it to me," Trotta said.

They led him through the winding, narrow blue hallways of the basement. "I was rubbing the walls," he says, "thinking, Did Lou Gehrig lean against these same walls? Munson? Pepitone? Horace Clarke? Dooley Womack?" They brought him to the clubhouse and showed him Munson's locker. The agent in charge of protecting the President of the United States broke down and cried.

The night of Game 3 went off without a hitch, unless you happened to be stuck in one of the enormously long lines to pass through the magnetometers as part of the heavy security. When Bush arrived, he made his way through the basement hallways to the Columbus Room to warm up his arm. Jeter and Williams were there. The President threw hard to Nick Testa, a 73-year-old bullpen catcher whose major league career consisted of one game with the 1958 Giants (but no at bats; he was in the hole when a teammate hit a walk-off homer).

"Better not bounce it," Jeter told the President. "They'll boo you."

Bush rested in the Columbus Room after heating his arm up pretty good, then slipped on a protective vest and a New York Fire Department pullover and walked down the narrow basement hallway to the field. "Sir," Trotta told the President, "I am always confident in my job. And tonight I am so confident that there is not one person in this place that would ever allow anything to happen."

Trotta came out of the dugout first, taking his position near the World Series logo. Snipers perched on my rooftop. Special agents were everywhere, including one in an umpire's uniform gathered with the other umpires at home plate. Then the President came out of the dugout and bounded toward the pitching mound.

"With the roar of the crowd I got goose bumps," Trotta says. "I had to fight everything not to break down. I'm standing there watching the crowd -- that's my job -- and I'm watching the faces. The people were crying. These were New Yorkers. They were in tears. And I saw in the President the emotion on his face. I saw how determined he was."

The leader of the free world, when American soil suddenly felt strangely unsafe, stood alone on my mound. He thrust his right arm into the air and gave a thumbs-up sign. Then he reached back with the baseball, stepped forward, brought his arm around with a natural looseness and let go the most perfect strike you could ever imagine to Yankees backup catcher Todd Greene. The crowd erupted into a chant of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" It wasn't just the ceremonial first pitch of Game 3. It was the ceremonial first pitch to America's recovery. As Bush left the field and reentered the basement hallway, Trotta said to him, "Powerful, sir. That was so right on."

"The message was clear," Trotta says. " 'Hey, you didn't beat us. You attacked us, but you didn't beat us.' "

No sitting President since Eisenhower in 1956 had thrown out the first ball of a World Series game, and none had done so from the top of the mound. I'm glad we had baseball around in those first days of grief and recovery, and I'm glad I had the World Series. I've always thought of baseball as the most communal of our sports, with the ballpark serving as a kind of town hall, a place of gathering, of democracy at work. And if you can excuse a moment of pride here, I dare say no other ballpark is more historically and socially significant -- more American -- than me.

So there you have it. You know my secrets. You've roamed by basement hallways. You've seen my hidden places. You know my life story. And now you know my dying wish. When all of me is gone I hope you can remember the special place I occupied in American history. I want you to remember the emotions and the meaning of that night in 2001 because I was never just about great baseball. I was always about much more than that.

 
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