- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

So they’re going to build a new Yankee Stadium across 161st Street in the Bronx. While they’re at it, why not build a new Parthenon, Roman Coliseum and Great Wall of China, too.

For anyone in this country who has followed the games people play over the past eight decades, Yankee Stadium stands alone as a sporting shrine. Can you think of its equal? The Yale Bowl? Notre Dame Stadium? Lambeau Field? Pauley Pavilion? Fenway or Wrigley?

Forget it? Those are hallowed venues, to be sure, but no other has seen so much history, so much pathos and drama.

Think of the names and events: The tragic farewells of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game in 1956 and regular-season gems by David Wells and David Cone in the late ‘90s. Babe Ruth’s record 60th home run of the 1927 season and Roger Maris’ 61st of 1961.

George Brett and the pine tar bat. Al Gionfriddo and Jeffrey Maier with their ball-snatching gloves (at least Gionfriddo’s was legal). Reggie Jackson’s three homers on three swings in Game 6 of the 1977 Series. Mickey Mantle’s home run against Washington in 1956 that came within 18 inches of becoming the only fair ball to depart the premises.

PA man Bob Sheppard and his echoing voice of doom. Mel Allen and Phil Rizzuto. Robert Merrill and Ronan Tynan.

And of course, the Yankees’ 39 World Series and 27 championships.

Nor was baseball the only spectacle to unfold at the Stadium (always honored, please, with a respectful capital “S”). Under its towering three decks and scalloped frieze architecture, Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling in 2:04 of the first round in a 1938 heavyweight title fight that seemed a microcosm of the global struggle between fascism and democracy. College football superpowers Notre Dame and Army played a fierce and frustrating scoreless tie in 1946. The Colts kicked the Giants in the NFL’s first sudden-death championship game in 1958. Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II celebrated mass and blessed the multitudes. Nelson Mandela basked in a communal glow.

No matter how closely the new place resembles the old, it won’t be, can’t be the same. Yankee Stadium has always been it, a name and a place familiar even to many citizens who wouldn’t know an umpire from a vampire. To many hard-core sports fans, a mere mention of the “Stadium” is enough to send shivers tingling up and down the spine.

“Anytime you did a game from Yankee Stadium, you felt like you were going on a Broadway stage,” said Bob Wolff, the longtime Washington Senators broadcaster who also worked Larsen’s perfecto and the Colts’ monumental triumph for NBC. “But I can’t be tearful about the plans for a new ballpark. Life goes on — you can’t escape it, so you have to accept it.”

Wolff, who now does sports commentaries for an all-news cable station on Long Island, applauds the Yankees and the city for their plans to preserve much of Yankee Stadium’s unique ambiance. There will be the same gothic look, the same Monument Park and possibly even the same quirky dimensions originally built to aid Ruth with the right-field wall a scant 296 feet from home plate.

The original Stadium was renovated in the 1970s, thereby altering its classic look in favor of what then passed for contemporary athletic architecture. But now the entire ballyard will be abandoned, at least for major league combat, while a new playpen arises with no link at all to the glorious past of baseball’s most storied team.

Yankees president Randy Levine said at a press conference the new park will also be called Yankee Stadium, but that naming rights will also be sold. Given today’s big payoffs for such naming rights, we could wind up with something ghastly like Preparation H Stadium. (Slogan: You’ve never felt so comfortable sitting down.)

Or even worse, Steinbrenner Stadium. Could the House Ruth Built really become the House George Rebuilt? — at an estimated cost of $800 million or so compared to the original construction price of $2.5 million in 1923 and $110 million for the renovation in the 1970s.

There will be 50 or 60 luxury boxes, restaurants, more restrooms and other amenities to make an evening at the ballpark more enjoyable for all those traditionally vociferous Noo Yawkers. But as Joe Torre, the Yankees’ thoughtful manager, put it, “I think it will be sad. They’ll have to have limos and vans to take the old ghosts over to the new stadium.”

Though the notion of a totally new Yankee Stadium totally boggles the mind, it’s probably a positive thing on the whole. Yet it’s also one more reminder of how fast and how thoroughly our world is changing, within and without sports.


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