Saturday, May 31, 2008

One less shrine to honor

While the 2008 Major League baseball season has not produced any noticeable impressions thus far (except for a whole bunch of injuries and the usual early-season collapse of the Texas Rangers), it is still an historical year if you are a lover of the “game,” as am I. History is slowly being made as the schedule whittles down to its September conclusion when one of America’s national monuments will be retired.
After more than eight decades as a national shrine, and this country’s most recognizable (and arguably hallowed name) among all outdoor stadiums, Yankee Stadium – the House that Ruth Built – will see its final pitch. In 2009, the venerable Yankees will move across the street to a new facility, leaving behind untolled memories, not just in baseball but in other athletic endeavors, music and news (Pope Benedict just conducted a mass for 60,000 of the faithful on the same ground that had been roamed by Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle).
Oddly, in New York, both teams will be playing out the string in their current residences, as the Metropolitans (yes, that’s’ the real name of the Mets) vacate Shea Stadium in Queens and open CitiBank Stadium next year.
While Met fans have plenty of memories of classic games in Shea, the real Americana loss is Yankee Stadium – then one place every American male ballplayer wanted to set his feet upon as a major leaguer. It is the third oldest ballpark in the country (behind Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago) and there’s just something NOT right about playing major league baseball in the Bronx and NOT have those games on the same ground that saw Don Larsen throw a perfect game in the World Series, and where Lou Gehrig and Ruth were teammates.
The Mets have already sold the naming right to their new home, CitiBank, but I hope Yankee ownership, already lords over the most valuable franchise in all of professional sports, never succumb to that pressure. I can only think of a small handful of indoor arenas where corporate logos do not adorn the building’s moniker. But in baseball, almost half (14 of 30) of the current facilities have no such tag.
And if they ever saddle Fenway Park with a name OTHER than Fenway, there just might be a riot in Boston.
Oddly enough, it is also the 50th anniversary of the move of the once beloved Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles. If Barack Obama wants to define the meaning of the word “bitter,” all he has to do is visit Junior’s delicatessen in Brooklyn and ask the old-timers if they still, to this day, resent Walter O’Malley for that decision. The joke that was told at that time asked a Brooklynite what he would do if he had a gun, with two bullets, in a room with Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and O’Malley. The answer would be “Shoot O’Malley twice.”
There is an historical connection between the conclusion of service for Shea Stadium and the Dodgers. O’Malley never really wanted to leave the borough of Brooklyn, but needed a new stadium to increase revenues, which he wanted to build (as a domed facility, by the way) in the heart of beloved Brooklyn.
However, one man stood in his way, Robert Moses, New York City’s planning master. Nothing got constructed without his approval and Moses didn’t give a hoot about Brooklyn. His vision was to build a stadium in Queens, on the site of the old World’s Fair (and the 1964 World’s Fair).
O’Malley would not hear of it and finally, out of frustration and declining attendance, accepted the offer from the West Coast to move his storied franchise.
In Los Angeles, the Dodgers were given the land in the area known as Chavez Ravine; so O’Malley built his ballpark. Today, as the franchise celebrates its 50-year anniversary in sunny Southern California, Dodger Stadium, thought to be the epitome of the fan-friendly, accessible ballpark, is now the fourth OLDEST facility in Major League Baseball. However, it is still a wonderful place to watch a game.
Meanwhile, Moses built his stadium, Shea Stadium, home of the Mets … in Queens. And, as stated earlier, 2008 will be ITS final year of usage as the Mets will play in their new home next season.
I cannot imagine baseball in America without games played in the facility that everyone knows as Yankee Stadium. The sport will move forward and people in New York will root for the Bronx Bombers while almost everyone in the rest of the country will root against them.
But there should be more than a few tears shed when they closer the grand old lady down.
From everywhere. It WILL be the end of an era.

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