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October 16, 2003

Breaking Balls

Ghosts of Pinstripes Past

by Derek Zumsteg

"And the ghosts of Yankee Stadium come alive again."
--Tim McCarver, Fox broadcaster, during an ALCS game at Yankee Stadium

Is Yankee Stadium haunted?

Experts differ. Or, they might, if they had anything to say about it at all. Realistically, ghosts don't exist any more than the alignment of the stars affects the outcome of our lives. But respectable newspapers still run horoscopes, so what do I know? Maybe Yankee Stadium is haunted.

Today, construction of any monument of significance requires an archeological survey to make sure you're not building it on top of an ancient settlement of death-worshipping cultists. But Yankee Stadium was originally opened in 1923, when such practices were not attempted; and when it was remodeled in the mid-'70s, the stadium was torn down entirely. So it's possible that because the site was unchanged, no new survey was undertaken.

However, a brief search of the literature produces no accounts of supernatural activity of any kind at Yankee Stadium. Even the paranormal camp, who can usually be relied upon to come up with something harebrained about anything, didn't have any quotes for me. I'd have called them up and asked, but I didn't want to give anyone ideas. This is as good as I found:

"There are nineteen plaques commemorating great Yankee players, managers, owners, and even the visits of Popes Paul IV and John Paul II behind the centerfield wall in the Yankee Stadium Monument Park. Prior to 1976 this area was actually part of the playing field--even the flagpole. Surely opposing centerfielders were haunted, if not by the ghosts of Yankee legends, then surely by the threat of running smack into a flagpole."
What kind of advantage could a team gain by using friendly ghosts able to affect events on the field? That seems like an interesting question, but how interesting can it be if every movie that's ever addressed the topic--from The Sixth Man on down the list--has been so boring that it makes the unfortunate viewer wish that he had passed into the next world while watching?

And why are the ghosts always on the side of the hero? Isn't it cheating to have a flying specter push a pop-up into the stands for a home run? Why is it that people will swear that steroids are ruining baseball, or that Gaylord Perry shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame, but enjoy Angels in the Outfield? How does the final at-bat (or shot, or touchdown) made without ghostly assistance (which disappears for one plot contrivance or another), redeem a player or team that, for the entire film, engaged in widespread cheating?

Let's assume Yankee Stadium is indeed haunted by ghosts or ghosts unknown. Is this illegal?

Apparently it is not, and the Red Sox will not be able to get any forfeits out of any real or imagined haunting. Major League Baseball's rules, meanwhile, have little to say about the subject.

Rule 1.04, "THE PLAYING FIELD," lays out the dimensions of the diamond, conditions of the field, the frequently-waived minimum distances to foul lines, but does not specify that the field of play should be ghost-free. Nothing in the whole of 1.00, "Objectives of the Game"--which contains specifications for the bags, the bats, uniforms, benches (1.08: "benches not less than twenty-five feet from the base line. They shall be roofed and shall be enclosed at the back and ends")--contains anything on the topic. Even 2.00, "Definition of Terms," is silent on supernatural events, while cataloging the nature of bunts, catches, and the ever-changing strike zone.

Rule 3.00, "Game Preliminaries," requires that the umpire check the field to ensure it meets the standards--i.e., that the lines are chalked--but he's not supposed to consecrate the field or anything. Not a word about using an EKG meter or even hiring a representative of some respectable religion to walk around and see if they feel creeped out.

Rule 3.10 says the home manager, not the umpire, "shall be the sole judge as to whether a game shall be started because of unsuitable weather conditions or the unfit condition of the playing field." But does anyone really think that Joe Torre--looking out on a hundred ghosts wearing pinstripes, already tipping over the Gatorade in the Red Sox dugout, giving Nomar Garciaparra atomic wedgies, leaving ectoplasm all over the bat rack--would declare the field unsuitable for play?

There is a little potential for umpire control of a ghost: Rule 3.15 states that no one's allowed on the playing field during the game, if you can interpret a ghost as a person (which is generally 'human individual', but also refers to a body, which raises a secondary set of questions about how solid the ghosts would have to be). Even if you don't think 3.15 applies to ghosts, 3.16 allows the umpire the ability to rectify spectator interference--and it'd be hard to argue that a ghost, corporeal or not, is a spectator, though perhaps not in the traditional sense of the seated fan. And that's only interference on balls in play: if a play ended and the ghost of Nixey Callahan appeared, scaring a player so badly he fainted dead away and was unable to play, the umpire would have no recourse under 3.16.

Rule 3.18 is the best bet for preventing this kind of mischief: "The home team shall provide police protection sufficient to preserve order." There isn't a police department in the world equipped to capture and detain spirits, which actually raises an entirely different scenario from the one normally feared by Yankee fans: a visiting team could bring its own ghosts and force a forfeit when the home team's police protection fails to contain them within 15 minutes. Fortunately, there are no known instances of portable and controllable ghosts, though we can safely assume that the Yankees have $20-40 million to toss at the problem.

This is an oversight ripe for exploitation. Or it would be if ghosts existed. Happy Halloween, everybody.

Related Content:  Yankee Stadium

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