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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.