March 10, 2010
Yankee Stadium Coming Down
A few hours before the Yankees won the World Championship last November, demolition finally began on the original Yankee Stadium, more than a year after they abandoned it for the ersatz place with the big scoreboard and flashing lights across the street. Until now, most of the demolition work has been to the inside of the seating bowl, but now the big work has begun, with cranes taking down chunks of the upper deck and ripping gashes into what's left so that it can be pulled down in pieces. With five weeks to go until Opening Dight, it's entirely possible that by the time fans arrive to see the 2009 World Champion banner raised, little will be left of the old place but a mound of rubble.
When I went by yesterday morning, it was a weird sight: People waiting for trains on the nearby #4 elevated subway line kept stopping to stare at the machinery crawling over the huge, cavernous shell of Yankee Stadium, picking through bits of mangled 1923-era steelwork. (The stadium's exterior was largely redone in 1976, but the steel skeleton and overall shape remained mostly intact from Babe Ruth's era.) Most took a couple of pictures, then just stood there watching, unable to quite take it all in. One off-duty cop who said he'd worked the last game at the old stadium pointed out a bit of old Yankees logo peeking out from behind a half-demolished false wall, reappearing for a week or two before it, too, meets the wrecking ball.
That said, there are plenty of people in the Bronx who think the flattening of the House That Ruth Built can't come soon enough — not because they didn't like it, but because it's currently standing in the way of a new public park being built to replace the century-old one that was summarily buried under the new stadium. Heritage Field was originally supposed to open in spring 2010, but that's now been pushed back to fall 2011, leading to much grumbling among Bronxites that Shea Stadium came down over the 2008-09 offseason, so why couldn't Yankee Stadium? (The official answer: The Yankees wanted to leave it up in case something went awry with completing their new stadium in time for the 2009 season, and then it took six months to extract all the seats for sale to souvenir-scavengers. Whether they were bait-and-switching or just not thinking ahead when they told a judge the new parks would be open in 2010 is anyone's guess.)
One thing that's for certain is unless these guys find a few million dollars under the sofa cushions, the only thing that will remain of the old stadium will be a public ballfield roughly aligned with the old diamond, and possibly a few commemorative plaques sprinkled around the site. So if you want to secure a physical memory of the House That Ruth Built (and John Lindsay Remodeled), either prepare to cough up a Benjamin for Shelley Duncan's locker nameplate, or get up to the Bronx with a chisel, a ski mask, and a ladder.