Sadly, Yankee Stadium now disposable

Wednesday, April 15, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The House That Ruth Built was meant for baseball, but the wrecking ball may not be far away. Yankee Stadium is in need of repair, renovation, and possibly rescue.

A 500-pound support beam came loose from its moorings and smashed through a seat in Section 22 Monday afternoon, forcing the temporary shutdown of the big ballpark in the Bronx and raising the likelihood that it will soon be leveled.

George Steinbrenner dislikes the neighborhood around 161st St. and River Avenue, and now he has a legitimate safety issue to provide him the political cover to move the most famous franchise in sports from its historic home.

"Yankee Stadium is crumbling," Yankees pitcher David Cone said Monday. Not since they switched on the lights at Wrigley Field has baseball tradition known a more melancholy moment.

Age and upkeep notwithstanding, baseball's signature stadia are bound for extinction, rendered obsolete by modern marketing and the lucrative amenities of boutique ballparks. Fenway Park and Tiger Stadium and County Stadium in Milwaukee are all destined for destruction early in the next century. In 2002, Steinbrenner's lease expires. By then, the San Francisco Giants will have abandoned quirky Candlestick Park (OK, 3Com Park) for new digs nearer downtown.

Historic Cinergy?

In 10 years, maybe less, Wrigley Field could be the last big-league ballpark still standing that was built before 1960. At this rate, Marge Schott might wake up one day to find charmless Cinergy Field the object of a historic preservation movement.

Should the engineers agree, Yankee Stadium's 75th anniversary will be observed on Saturday. (April 18 is also the anniversary of Paul Revere's ride, but hardly a man is now alive who remembers that famous day and year.) Should the engineers object, the Yankees may be stuck for some time at Shea Stadium, which housed both New York teams in 1974 and 1975 during Yankee Stadium's last major renovation.

It seems outrageous that a stadium rebuilt virtually from scratch less than a quarter-century ago could already be antiquated, but this is the way of the modern sports world. The disposable ballpark is a disturbing sign of conspicuous consumerism, like the year-old "used" car and the designer bridesmaid dress made to be worn once. It suggests a society too shallow to value what is venerable and too extravagant to make do with materials at hand. (To say nothing of careless construction.)

Some years ago, I asked the Enquirer's library for some information concerning the Colosseum in Rome. Specifically, I wanted to know whether that arena had been built before, after or during the reign of the Emperor Nero.

Ultimately, an earnest young researcher advised me there were, "no clips on this Nero guy." This struck me somehow as wildly hilarious. Of course, the notion that a stadium built a millennium before moveable type might still be standing did not seem so novel at the time.

I saw my first big-league ballgame at Yankee Stadium, in 1962. Thirty-three years later, I took my son there for his first game. As we steamed toward the box office, a total stranger handed us free tickets because he said he was sure we wouldn't scalp them. When we stopped at an information booth, the fellow manning the counter slipped my son a ball.

We wandered the place like pilgrims, drawn by the ghosts of Ruth and Gehrig, and the last campaign of Don Mattingly. I recounted the glorious night my uncle had taken me to see Mickey Mantle -- it must have been 1967 or 1968 -- and how The Mick had beat Detroit with a home run in the bottom of the ninth. I wondered if my grandchildren would get to see this place.

Two months before cancer killed him, Babe Ruth strode slowly to a microphone at Yankee Stadium, with a bat for a cane, and a husky whisper for a voice.

"I'm proud that I hit the first home run here," he said. "Lord knows who'll hit the last."

It may not be long before we find out.

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