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September 22, 2008

Prospectus Today

The Long Farewell

by Joe Sheehan

The All-Star Game was for baseball fans. Last night was for Yankee fans.

Last night was for the diehards, the people who bleed pinstripes, the people who can find their seats without a compass, who remember left-center when it was really Death Valley, who listened to Frank Messer-or Mel Allen-in their youth, who sat in the left-field bleachers at least once. Last night was a family gathering.

They threw open the gates yesterday at 1 p.m., but I couldn't bring myself to go that early. I'd known since Friday I'd be attending the final game (thank you, Ned), but I couldn't spend the whole day there. It wasn't for lack of time or love for the place. If anything, it was too much of the latter. While the day was a celebration of this place I love so dearly, it was also a farewell, and I was in no hurry to make that parting. There was no great anticipation yesterday afternoon, just mixed emotions, the thrill of imminent history and the sadness of how the night would inevitably end.

The pregame roll call of Yankee greats who played in the Stadium was an invitation to remember the better part of a century of baseball. I would speculate that the favorite Yankee of all 54,000 or so in the park last night ended up on the Diamondvision board during it, and many of those men took the field during the ceremony. Some of those who could not be there were represented by their families, and we embraced Cora Rizzuto, Michael Munson, Julia Ruth Stevens and the rest as if they were our heroes themselves. Kay Murcer and her children were treated to long, lusty cheers. Bobby's daughter, Tori, was overwhelmed by the moment.

Of course, you cannot praise 85 years of baseball players in one sitting. It's too much to handle, there are too many greats to name at once, especially given the franchise we're talking about here. Even the video clips seemed to miss a handful of significant players, and there was only so much time and space to have Yankee greats be announced and trot out to their positions. It was left to us to fill in the gaps.

So you let loose for Hideki Matsui, and hope that Rickey Henderson can hear you yell. A chant of "Paul O'Neill" fills the air, and in your heart you want Dave Winfield to feel the love as well. The crowd goes wild for Derek Jeter, and you just know that Scooter is hearing the echo, tucking into a cannoli and smiling. You can't cheer them all, so you cheer the one out loud and the rest in your heart, the ones who are there, the ones who live in your memory, and the ones who set the stage for your memories, the heroes you know by stat lines and stories and grainy black-and-white footage. You cheer, and when you try to chant, your voice catches and you realize this is all hitting you a little harder than you thought. The video board shows Chris Chambliss hitting a huge home run, and you realize this is the only chance you've had to cheer your first favorite player in more than 20 years, and you do just that, standing out among a crowd of people with no understanding of why the short guy is so excited.

Finally, the ceremony ends as a player you never had the chance to say goodbye to steps onto the field. The epitome of class, the last in a long line of players to trod the sacred ground of center field at Yankee Stadium, the cornerstone of championship teams, and the man who, more than Jeter, more than Mariano Rivera, more than anyone, represented the change in the Yankees from the Middle Steinbrenner Era to the Late Steinbrenner Era. Because of how his career ended, we never really got to say goodbye to Bernie Williams, but last night, we did. Last night, we thanked him for the grace and the speed, the power and the passion, the way he played baseball, and the way he acted while he played baseball. The line, the true line, for Yankee fans of my age runs from White through Randolph through Mattingly through Williams.

The game was an intrusion on our celebration. If anything, it was a reminder of what this season is, the end of the era, the first time since 1993 that the Yankee season will end in September. We cheered Johnny Damon and Jose Molina, and roared when Andy Pettitte left the mound, and chanted "Der-ek Je-ter" one last time in this building, being rewarded for the effort when Jeter made a nice play going to his left, almost in defiance of the end. Still, the overwhelming sense in the ballpark was celebration mixed with trepidation. When the opening chords of "Enter Sandman" hit the air a little after 11:30, we rose and cheered, no one daring to note that Mariano Rivera was coming in not to close out a close game in a pennant race, but a 7-3 victory over a bad team in a disappointing season.

That's not what I'll remember, though. I'll remember him loping towards the mound, and warming up amidst a hail of flashes, and pounding that cut fastball to a 1-2-3 inning, getting the last out at Yankee Stadium as easily as he's gotten so many other last outs in his career. It ended with a ground ball to first base, 86 years of baseball history settling in Cody Ransom's glove at 11:41 on a Sunday night, the last play on this sacred ground.

No one wanted to leave. The Yankees obliged the crowd by walking out, en masse, to the mound, gathering around Jeter as he spoke of pride and class, of continuity and humility. The players then took a lap around the park to wave to the fans. It was reminiscent of the scene after the 1996 World Series, horses and all, and as with so many things on this evening, both touching and a reminder that this it was all ending a bit too soon.

As Sinatra closed his sixth encore and launched into his seventh, I stood in Tier Reserve 36, taking some pictures, looking all around the ballpark, seeing the players digging up dirt from their positions, but mostly going inside my head for a moment. I grew up in Yankee Stadium. I've sat in every level and in most sections, and there's no place in the park that doesn't bring back some memory. The angle I had last night reminded me of a game in the 1980s when the Yankees came back from an early deficit to beat the Royals in the ninth on a Ron Hassey infield single. Looking straight across from there, I remembered the twi-night doubleheader in July that was my eighth birthday present, when we sat in the upper deck along the first-base line and left during a brutal thunderstorm that delayed the second game. I thought about attending games with my best friends in the world, and with my family and by myself, about being at the park at 10:30 a.m. for day-game batting practice and at three in the morning after the All-Star Game this summer.

I made a phone call, and wiped away a couple of tears, and turned to go down the ramp, and stopped. There was so much of me in this place that leaving it seemed wrong, like it would leave me incomplete. That's what baseball is, and that's what it does-it gets inside you and becomes a part of you and creates an attachment to a team and a building that's so intense it makes you leave some of your identity with them.

But you know, somewhere in this city, maybe even on my block or in my building, there's a six-year-old boy who'll be seven next year, one who's never been to a baseball game. Sometime next year, his mom and dad, or aunt and uncle, or grandma and grandpa will put him in a pinstriped T-shirt, and lay a navy blue hat on his head, and walk off the train at 161st Street and up the stairs to a new ballpark, and that seven-year-old will gaze, wide-eyed, at the brown dirt and the green grass, and he'll eat a hot dog and yell "Charge" and doze off during the eighth inning, and the new stadium will become a part of him the same way the old one did for me 30 years ago. That's what baseball-no, that's what Yankee baseball-is.

I wasn't ready to say goodbye in July. I'm wasn't much more ready last night, but at 12:14 a.m., from Tier Reseve 36, just outside the ramp, I whispered to this beautiful ballpark, "Thank you for everything. Goodbye."

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

21 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

gpurcell

It is astonishing to me that Yankee fans are celebrating this appalling turn of events rather than burning Steinbrenner in effigy. A place that should be on the National Register of Historic Places (something even I, a committed Yankee hater must acknowledge) is being torn down for a parking lot...all so that there are skyboxes for New York elites in a new and soulless stadium.

Sep 22, 2008 11:31 AM
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goodwine10

Yep, that's a very reasonable attitude.

Sep 22, 2008 13:00 PM
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ephinz

I tend to agree. What the ownership has done for the sake of even more money is unseemly.

Sep 22, 2008 13:23 PM
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sbnirish77

One of your best articles ever Joe. For me, the Chambliss HR remains my favorite moment in all of sports. Sure the Bucky Dent or Aaron Boone HRs may have been more important, but Chambliss' HR let me believe that the Yankees of my youth (1963-1966) were back. And the ride from there has been magnificent. Unlike you, I had never made it to Yankee Stadium until the last game vs Boston this year. I though had many of the same feelings walking out of the Stadium that day and simply didn't want to leave.

Sep 22, 2008 11:33 AM
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vockins

re: second to last paragraph

or a girl:

http://i30.tinypic.com/mvrjfo.jpg

Sep 22, 2008 11:46 AM
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jeremydneezy

Well put Joe.
My last game at the Stadium this year brought out a sense of happiness, not sadness. I just smiled at all the great memories that had been forged in the place, and thought about how my memories were a small part of the overall fabric of memory that is the true magic of the Stadium. I cried as a ten year-old upon first walking into the place. I had watched every Yankees' game on satellite for a few years from my home in South Carolina and the Stadium was truly my Mecca. Hundreds of games in the Stadium later, my last game there didn't bring out tears at all. Just a graciousness that I'll always hold close to my heart.

Sep 22, 2008 12:05 PM
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JoshuaL

Great article Joe. I did not attend a Yankee game this year for the first time in quite a long time. Part of it may have been the decreasing fan experience noted by Jay in his article. However, I think that, on some level, I didn't want to diminish the memory of my positive experiences at the Stadium.

This seems like an appropriate time, so I'll share my favorite moment(s). I had the privilege of going to two postseason games in 1996. These were my first postseason games ever. The first was game 2 of the Division Series; their first win that postseason on their way to the championship, and it was an incredibly exciting game. Juan Gonzalez hit 2 HR off Pettitte, the first landing close to us near the left field foul pole. The Yankees chipped away to tie in the 8th and won it on an error in the 12th.

The second game was game 6 of the World Series. Before the series started I had decided to try for tickets (I have no connections, so it's Ticketmaster all the way) and wanted a potential clinching game; thus, I went for game 6. Not only did I get them, I got great tickets - upper deck directly behind the plate. The sweet spot where you can see almost the whole field (except maybe the extreme corners by the poles). The television / press section was to our left, so we (my brother and I) actually had a bunch of monitors to look at replays as we were on the aisle. I will never forget that game. Feeling the Stadium shake after Girardi's triple was unforgettable. Seeing Hayes catch the final popup and realizing I was witnessing something that hadn't occurred since before I knew what a baseball was (Yankees winning the Series) was amazing. And watching Boggs on a horse and others circle the stadium was ... well, I've run out of adjectives.

Seeing last night's trip around the Stadium by the team after the game brought back those memories and reminded me of how fortunate I was to have witnessed the 1996 team win the World Series. I don't remember if I took it for granted at the time, but I certainly got spoiled after 3 more championships. The 2001-2008 period has helped me appreciate the dynasty teams and how hard it really is to accomplish what happened at the end of last century. I thought Jeter summarized it nicely last night after the game when he said it's up to us to keep the memories alive and carry them forward. And what memories there have been.

Sep 22, 2008 12:16 PM
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jnossal
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Can't say I'm a Yankee fan and I never had the priviledge of seeing a game in Ruth's House, but that was so much better than listening to Jay Jaffe whine for eight paragraphs.

Sep 22, 2008 12:30 PM
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jeffsol

Nice article, Joe, although i think you had it right the first time -- the feelings you describe are inherent in baseball, not unique to the Yankees.

I know I'm goin gto get crucified for this next, but, having been to about a dozen major league and a handful of minor league stadiums, and acknowledging that my first Yankee game was in '77, so I never saw the Stadium before the renovation, I don;t really think it was sucha great place to watch a game. Magnificent? Absolutely, and somewhat awe-inspring. But it is also vast, somewhat cold, and the sightlines are only fair. They call Yankee Stadium a Cathedral, and I think that's appropriate -- grand, huge, and inspring, but not warm or vibrant (although 50K souls can make it fairly vibrant). Yankee "Stadium" they call it -- I think baseball is best watched somewhere more intimate, warmer, and so I prefer Fenway "Park" or Wrigley "Field" among the ancient ballyards, despite the fact I grew up in NY.

Sep 22, 2008 13:01 PM
rating: 1
 
echalek
(195)

I used to be a rabid Yankee fan. (I'm someting of capital B Baseball fan now, with Phillies leanings.) Growing up in the 1980s, I was a huge Mattingly guy. I still like him, even if I don't love the team anymore.

Anyway, a pal of mine was an O's fan, and we attended all three games of a mid-August O's-Yanks set in 1993 before we both went off to college. This was the year when the Yanks were resurgent but could never put the big run together to topple Toronto.

It was a funny series. Saturday was Reggie Jackson Day. IIRC, it was the game when Domingo Jean famously jogged into the Stadium from the GWB due to traffic. We were in that traffic and missed Reggie's speech altoegther.

But the third game was the gem. Scott Kamienicki started; he was in the midst of a long win streak at the Stadium. Opposed by Big Ben McDonald, whom we had recently seen toss a 1-hitter against KC down in Balto. 0-0 going into the home half of the 8th, when Mattingly pulls one toward deep right center. McLemore jumps, in and out of his glove, might have been interfered with, but doesn't catch it either way. A Mattingly roundtripper, a dream come true. Kamienicki, then Assenmacher, then Wickman to finish it off in the ninth.

Then we went home. And life went on, and my pal and I drifted apart. Different colleges, different paths through life, different ideas of what was right. Haven't talked to him in years. But that weekend was just about baseball and hanging out. Which is pretty much all that you can ask for two weeks before you go to college.

Sep 22, 2008 13:18 PM
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ElAngelo
(942)

As a 31-year old Met fan who wishes he had 1/10 of the good memories that Yankee fans his age did, I can say that I will not miss any physical part of Yankee Stadium; it's really not the most charming place in the world how it was renovated. But it's where enough baseball history occurred, both in the Coolidge administration and Clinton administration, that you have to be in awe of the site if you even just tolerate baseball.

Frankly, I'm still not sure I get why they didn't consider simply razing the building, having the Mets and Yankees sharing a stadium for 2-3 years, and rebuilding on the same footprint a new stadium. It's not the architecture that's historic, it's the site.

Sep 22, 2008 14:02 PM
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mhmckay

I am a die-hard Red Sox fan. Yankee Stadium still defines 'baseball park' to me. I have good and bad memories of games attended (Game 2 1999 LCS, bad memory, Game 7 2004 LCS -- that was all-time). Win or lose, though, you knew you were on hallowed ground, and that the Yankee fans were genuine, and that the park was alive in a very real way.

As one of the 5,000 or so Red Sox fans who had the priviledge to witness the burying of the Bambino curse, I will always appreciate George Steinbrenner's gesture to allow us to celebrate into the night with our team in your stadium, with Sinatra playing over and over again. "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere" -- truer words were never spoken to the Red Sox faithful. Success in Yankee Stadium defines baseball existence. I am truly sorry that we don't have one more series in the post-season to determine how deserving we are this year.

Good luck to you Yankee fans in your new digs -- I hope that we get a chance to test our mettle there in the post-season with you soon.

Sep 22, 2008 15:13 PM
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RahulN

Beautiful Article. It amazes me how all diehard baseball fans, myself included, can remember the smallest of details of the big games they have attended even years later.

I was fortunate enough to see a game at The Stadium (my first) this summer, against these same Orioles no less, with Joba on the mound. It was an experience I'll never forget.

Sep 22, 2008 16:09 PM
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princecaspian7

Thanks for the great article! It was a wonderful evening, an impressive set of prelims, an appropriate finish, and some classy comments by Jeter. Your article was a nice say after touch.

Doc Fisch

Sep 22, 2008 20:31 PM
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iddscoper

White to Randolph to Mattingly to Williams....

Couldn't have said it better myself. Roy White was my favorite player while growing up - starting watching Yankee games on TV in 66 or 67, but didn't get to my first game there until August 1970, at which Roy White, already my favorite player, hit his one and only career Grand Slam.

Many games at the "older" stadium ensued, and countless games at the newer one - as a Sunday season ticket holder for four years (a Christmas present from my family in 2004) I've seen a steady stream of games in recent years. Some of the magic has gone, I think, but I'll be back there next year, and every year until they price me out of the ballpark, which probably won't be that long.

Sep 22, 2008 21:11 PM
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saigonsam

I can understand how New Yorkers feel about Yankee Stadium, but I think many non-New Yorkers have completely different memories of the place.

Even though I lived on the West Coast, I saw many games at Yankee stadium including many playoff games, but the game that stands out the most was game 4 in 1999 against the Braves. I remember this game not because the Yankees clinched their 25th championship, but because of the mob behavior on display.

I was in the upper deck, in seats disributed by MLB. Near me were some female relatives of the Braves, a few of who actually wore Braves hats. Maybe being a New Yorker means its ok to throw full beers and yell out insults to women who just want to watch their loved ones play in the World Series, but I was appalled that a majority of people thought this action acceptable.

My understanding is that its quite common in "The Stadium". Calling it the Bronx Zoo is the most accurate moniker in sports.

Sep 23, 2008 03:54 AM
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lichmd

Joe,

as usual a beautiful article, the importance of this place to those of us that respect and love either the Yankees or the history of Baseball, is best told in these intimate stories of remembrance. The Stadium will always have a special place in our hearts, hopefully the new Stadium will restore some of the beauty the original lost in the renovation and while also ushering in an era of new memories and more wonderful Baseball history.

As for brutish behavior at the Stadium, quite honestly the poster has no idea what he's talking about. The Stadium in the 80s saw acts of violence that would have fit right in during the era of the Roman Coliseum. Today the level of security and NYPD presence make poor behavior much less frequent and rare. You witnessed a random act that could have occurred anywhere, I go to 20+ games a year and I haven't seen a beer thrown since 1990.


Sep 23, 2008 08:34 AM
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Dan

Thanks, Joe. Great article.

A stadium doesn't need to have rich history to be a special place to a kid. I still have very warm feelings for Riverfront Stadium b/c that's where I saw my first game and grew up loving the Reds and loving baseball.

It didn't even occur to me at the time that Riverfront (and the other multipurpose early 1970's stadiums) were considered soulless or eyesores or anything. That's just where the Reds played, and it's where I got to go on summer evenings a handful of times every summer.

These other stadiums don't get nearly as much attention as Yankee Stadium does when they go, and I understand that - I'm not saying they should.

But every stadium is a special place to some kids out there. And some former kids like me.

Just wanted to give a shout out to the less historic and smaller-market stadiums out there too.

Sep 23, 2008 10:44 AM
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Ross11903

I'm glad you are on our side, Joe (being a Yankees fan that is). Another very moving article about the stadium. I have been very sad about everything since about half way through the game when it finally hit me that there would never be another game there again.

I live in San Diego now, and fortunately I was able to make one last pilgrimage with both my mother and father. Unfortunately, both games I attended ended with Rangers victories. It was during the second game that I realized that I may never be here again, and I spent the last half of the game, as well as the walk to the subway, looking at and trying to take it all in one last time; all the history and significance of the place. But it was just too much to grasp at once. After the game, I walked down to the D train while staring up at the back of the stadium one last time, realizing that the next time I am here, the stadium may not be. The sadness kicked in full force right there, and it wasn't until the last game that I shed a tear, not only for myself but for the current generation of Yankees fans who sat in the stands with their parents, their grandparents, and feel a sense of connection to them through the stadium.

I have been upset for a long time now that Yankee Stadium will not be recognized and preserved as a historical building, and I have been downright depressed that Yankees games will now be played at a soulless new stadium. I know I need to accept it at some point, but the end of your article at least inspires some optimism about moving across the street.

Despite my feelings, I am hopeful that we can help make the new stadium just as special as the old one for the coming generations of Yankees fans.

Sep 24, 2008 00:09 AM
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nxouris38

Joe-

That's an absolutely tremendous article. As a Red Sox fan who has lived in NYC his entire life, Yankee Stadium has been the home of a wide variety of emotions for me over the years. Your column has helped me revisit those memories. Great job!

Sep 24, 2008 09:30 AM
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godfather

I have loved the Stadium since my youth, when I took a 1949 train trip from California to see "The Great DiMaggio," as Hemingway called him in "The Old Man and the Sea." While the place allowed JD to parade his outfield skills, it took so much away from him, too. Ruth didn't build the House for him, of course, and the memories will resonate. Thanks for the memory...

Sep 24, 2008 10:27 AM
rating: 0
 
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