It's Gone! Goodbye!
The last home run in the House That Ruth Built will be hit this week; then the wrecking ball will take its cuts at Yankee Stadium. The walls of this American monument do talk, and it has a few final secrets to share
I am dying.
It's O.K. You need not feel sorry for me. I have lived a full life. I was born in 1923, the same year as Maria Callas, Charlton Heston, Roy Lichtenstein and Norman Mailer. All are gone now. They did well in the time with which they were graced to strut about the stage. I'd like to think I have done likewise.
Besides, I really haven't been myself since 1973, when they cut me clean open and for two years rearranged most of my vital organs (even the one that nimble-fingered Eddie Layton used to play), removed some of them and put me back together in such a way that I looked nothing like I did before. Picture Jocelyn Wildenstein at 85 and you get the idea.
See, we're just like you, only without the bother of the respiratory and circulatory apparatus. We buildings have a life span too. Time is the undefeated antagonist that takes on all comers. We age and crack and wrinkle and, yes, ultimately die.
(Don't get me started on that darn Colosseum in Rome, which was the inspiration for my very being and even now doesn't look a day over 1,900.)
I don't like to blow smoke, but my death is unlike any loss seen before in America. I am tangible Americana, like Independence Hall, the Alamo or Graceland. I have been about more than baseball. The first papal mass ever celebrated in the Western Hemisphere? That was me. The first overtime game in NFL history? Me. The birthplace of the "DEE-fense! DEE-fense!" chant? Of the Bronx cheer? Of the triple-decker ballpark in this country? The electronic scoreboard, the replay video board, the "Win one for the Gipper" aphorism, what it means to get Wally Pipped, the standing applause on two-strike counts, the running leap onto home plate to punctuate a walk-off homer? Me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me and me.
It's not only the Babe and the Mick and Derek Jeter who played inside my walls. It's Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali, John Philip Sousa and Pink Floyd, Knute Rockne and Vince Lombardi, Billy Graham and Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush.
The Yankees are letting me die a quiet death. Sure, there will be remembrances and ceremony and more than a few tears shed upon my final regular-season game, this Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles. Alas, they are not giving me one more October. That's a swift kick to the boiler. I was baseball's home office for the postseason and the World Series. Since my birth, I have hosted postseason baseball more years (45) than not (40), including 15% of all postseason games and 21% of all World Series games.
All of me that is not sold or scrapped will be hauled across the street to the colossal edifice that is called the new Yankee Stadium, even if, with its martini bar, glassed-in centerfield restaurant and $2,500-a-pop seats, it is no blood relative of mine.
"I have mixed emotions," says Tony Morante, 65, my tour operator and unofficial historian, who has known me better than anyone since 1949. "You can take Yankee history across the street. But you can't take Yankee Stadium history across the street."
When the gutting is complete, probably after some months, there will come a day that might be even more painful for you than for me. There will be a day when a crane operator will swing back the wrecking ball. It will smash into my original concrete, an extremely hard and durable concrete that was developed by Thomas Edison and used only once before. The stuff is so sturdy, in fact, that New York City, in giving me that major renovation after the 1973 season, decided not to touch it.
"Those walls," Nick Trotta says, "are going to scream."
Trotta is part of the great masses who came to me to see their first ball game, and with it they got their first understanding of the concepts of scale and grandeur. Trotta's father arrived from Italy in 1954 and understood neither English nor baseball, but he grasped what the Yankees and I represented. We are America So the Italian immigrant, living in New Rochelle, N.Y., told his son that he must go to the Bronx, and little Nick, about nine years old, did so one sunny afternoon in 1969, to see the Yankees play the Kansas City Royals.
His story is one repeated by millions of others. Having seen me only on black-and-white television, the images flickering on the WPIX Channel 11 broadcast, people like little Nick were awestruck by the color and majesty. The wide, wide expanse of lush green grass. The white frieze with the famous curved design hanging from the rooftop, so high up that it seemed to hang from the clouds, the unofficial third emblem for the Yankees (joining the interlocking ny and the script YANKEES over a baseball). Nick recognized it from his baseball cards. The Topps Company that produced the cards was based in New York City, and its photographers shot American League players when they swung through the Bronx. Nick enjoyed knowing that every major star in the league -- Harmon Killebrew, Al Kaline, Carl Yastrzemski -- had a little bit of Yankee in them on their baseball card because of that iconic frieze in the background. Before color television, to see me for the first time was breathtaking, not unlike seeing the Grand Canyon.
A little more than 30 years later, Trotta found himself on that great expanse of grass, standing between the first base line and a 2001 World Series logo. He was an assistant special agent in charge of the presidential protective division of the U.S. Secret Service. President George W. Bush was throwing the ceremonial first pitch of Game 3 from the pitcher's mound 49 days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Nick had a very serious job at a very serious time. But what he remembers about that moment were the goose bumps raised on his arms by the roar of the crowd. To this day, if he thinks about that moment, the goose bumps come back.
Now, to think about that wrecking ball swinging at Edison's concrete, swinging at Trotta's childhood memories and his adult responsibilities, swinging at the millions who hold dear the personal history and the American history inside my walls.... well, it's a little too much.
"I don't think I could watch it," Trotta says. "Once this stadium is taken down, it's gone forever. You can't say Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle played here anymore. Those walls have living blood in them. When that ball hits, it would be the same as me or you getting hit with a 95-mile-an-hour fastball. Those walls are alive. They are going to scream."