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Monthly Archives: September 2008

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Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #15

Seven Layer Chocolate Cake

By Jane Leavy

May 18, 1962 was a raw spring night in the Bronx. A mean chill filled Yankee Stadium suppressing attendance at the Friday night game between the Yanks and the Minnesota Twins. A forgotten tributary of the Harlem River, on whose banks the stadium was built, runs on a diagonal from left field toward the hole between third and short—like a cut off throw. The ancient waterway, Cromwell’s Creek, buried deep beneath the sedimentary rock of urbanization, asserted itself in the dew and chill of that otherwise fine Friday evening. Mist enveloped the scalloped copper frieze that ringed the upper deck of the Stadium. I remember thinking: if Mick hits one tonight nobody will ever see it again.

That was the thing about Mantle: you never knew what might happen when he stepped to the plate or what might happen to him.

My father, who grew up on the other side of the Harlem River cheering for the Giants from a rocky perch on Coogan’s Bluff, had gotten box seats behind the dugout along the third base line. It was the best seat I would ever have in a ballpark until I went to work as a sportswriter fifteen years later.

I was ten years old that sweet evening. What could be better-a visit to see The Mick and a sleepover at my grandmother’s? Her apartment was just up the street in a building called The Yankee Arms, a long, loud foul ball from home plate.

Mickey was my guy but I was grandma’s girl, her favorite, I thought (as did all her grandchildren). I knew this because although she loved frilly things and rose sachet, because canasta not baseball was her game, because in the 20 years she lived in the shadow of the ballpark she was never once tempted to step inside, despite all this she put on her mink stole and open-toed shoes and took me to Saks Fifth Avenue to buy my first baseball glove. It was an odd place to go in search of a mitt but she only wanted the best for me.

Providence intervened–a mannequin in the front window had a Sammy Esposito glove on her hand. “We’ll have that one,” my grandmother told the flummoxed salesman, who pointed out it was not for sale. He was no match for a Jewish grandmother, mine anyway. I took Sammy home; I took Sammy everywhere, including the stadium on May 18, 1962.

My grandfather, a manic-depressive immigrant tailor, had made me two identical wool, plaid skirts, one in tones of beige, brown and gold, the other in red and green, Christmas-tree green, perfect for Hanukah. They were reversible and indestructible. A whole wardrobe, these skirts. They went with everything and nothing. He was in a manic mode when he sewed them; their oscillating hems reflected his ups and downs.

In an act of filial devotion (and parental betrayal), my mother had made it a condition of attendance that I wear one of these atrocities. I chose the more muted tones and an overly generous straw-colored Irish cable knit sweater over a white turtleneck. I looked like a pre-pubescent haystack.
In an act of solidarity for which I remain grateful five years after his death, my father went to the concession stand and bought me an adult-size Yankee cap, large enough to hide most of my embarrassment.

I knew it was going to be Mick’s year. It had to be after the disappointment of 1961. God owed him after allowing Roger Maris to claim Babe Ruth’s title as home run king. Being second fiddle made him more loveable to the masses, but not to me–I couldn’t love him anymore than I did already.

“In 1961 I became an American hero because he beat me,” he would say later. “He was an ass and I was a nice guy. He beat Babe Ruth and he beat me so they hated him. Everywhere we’d go I got a standing ovation. All I had to do was walk out of the dugout.”


The Final Game


I spent nearly 12 hours at Yankee Stadium yesterday. What follows, believe it or not, is the short version of that experience.


Graduation Day


At roughly half past midnight last night, my wife, Becky, and I were standing next to our car in the darkened parking lot near the Harlem River, finishing off the soft-serve ice cream cones we had picked up on our way under the Major Deegan. As Yankee Stadium sat glowing behind us, the blue aura of the stadium lights reaching up toward the half moon set low in the sky over center field, Becky compared the emotions we were feeling to a junior high graduation. We will still see the same people and do the same things next year, she reasoned, it will just be in a different place. I resisted the comparison at first, rattling on about history and landmarks and what will be lost when the Stadium is razed, but upon reflection, and still flush with the emotion of the night as I write this in the wee-morning hours, I’ve found the truth in her comparison.

Becky and I were high school sweethearts, and though our school days have receded deep into our past, they remain with us both through our relationship with each other, through our closest friends, most of whom we can also trace back to high school, and through the many other ways in which those years shaped our lives and set us upon the course we are on today. Becky was sad to leave high school, for reasons I didn’t completely understand. I couldn’t wait to leave it behind. Perhaps that’s why it took me a moment to find the truth in her statement.

As I wrote earlier this week, the strongest of my many mixed emotions leading up to last night’s final game at Yankee Stadium was anger. That anger has expressed it self in criticism of the public expense, abuses, and design flaws of the new Stadium, but ultimately my anger stems from the private hurt of being evicted from a place that I consider home. I imagine that’s how Becky must have felt upon graduation, angry that forces beyond her control were robbing her of a place of comfort and familiarity, a place filled with elemental memories, and place in which she had grown from a timid 14-year-old girl into a confident young woman.

My feelings about Yankee Stadium are similar. Just 12 years old when I attended my first game there, I was a kid caught between childhood and maturity, still searching for my place after the dissolution of my parents’ marriage and amid their subsequent relationships, still searching for an identity of my own, but beginning to sense that baseball might play a part. Last night I left that Stadium for the last time a grown man of 32, a husband hoping to become a father, a man who has found true happiness in his own marriage and who has followed his muse through a variety of rewarding and creative endeavors, not the least of which is the blog you’re reading right now.

Other than my parents, the only constant in my life throughout that journey has been baseball, specifically Yankee baseball, and though I’ve been in locker rooms and press boxes in other ballparks, my relationship with baseball has been no more intimate than when I’ve been in the stands in Yankee Stadium. Now that’s gone, and I’m hurt, and angry, and sad, but I’m also hopeful and excited about what the next twenty years might bring, for both myself and the team, and about the people I’ll be able to share those experiences with. Perhaps most of all, I’m thankful. Thankful that I had the opportunity to see scores of games at the old ballpark. Thankful that I could share those experiences with Becky, both of my parents, and a variety of friends from across twenty years. Thankful that I have this forum to express myself and to share my thoughts and feelings with countless readers, who in turn share theirs with me and each other. Better yet, I’m thankful that I have lived a life privileged and pleasant enough that the closing of a sporting venue could have such a profound impact on me. While I’ll never get to set foot in Yankee Stadium again, this morning I’m going to be thankful for the many wonderful things I do have rather than be bitter about the one thing I just lost.

Yankee Stadium: 1923-1973; 1976-2008

I’ve never been to Yankee Stadium. Oh sure, I’ve seen the Yankees play in the Bronx more than one hundred times over the past 20 years, but Yankee Stadium, the limestone behemoth that was home to Yankee greats from Babe Ruth to Mickey Mantle is something I’ve only seen in books, grainy film footage, and in the background of old baseball cards. That cavernous coliseum, with its copper frieze trimming the roof that hung over the upper deck and its career-altering death valley in left center, was destroyed following the 1973 season. Its last game was a forgettable 8-5 Yankee loss to the Tigers that concluded an equally forgettable 80-82 fourth-place season for the home team.

Two and a half years later, in its place, sat a different Yankee Stadium. A modernized, yet instantly-dated, grey, concrete bowl filled with royal blue seats and orange light bulbs that relayed information from a flat-black scoreboard. The copper frieze had been melted down and replaced with a concrete replica that sat on a lower perch atop the outfield scoreboard, like an artifact on one’s mantle. The roof had been largely removed. The wall in left center was now 27 feet closer to home plate and would come in another 31 feet before I ever got to see it in person. Behind that wall, the three marble-and-bronze monuments that had formed a half circle around the flag pole in the grass of center field sat in concrete and were surrounded by a black chain-link fence that separated the two bullpens.

Still, though the structure had been changed, and the field which had played host to 27 World Series and two All-Star Games had been torn up and replaced, there remained a connection between the remodeled Yankee Stadium, as it would become unofficially known, and the original. Just as the Yankees inaugurated Yankee Stadium with the franchise’s first World Championship in 1923, the team inaugurated the remodeled Stadium in 1976 with their first World Series appearance in 12 years and followed that up with championships in 1977 and 1978. In its 33 years of existence, the remodeled Stadium hosted 10 World Series and two All-Star Games. Unless the Dodgers reach the World Series this year, no other stadium will have hosted more than four Fall Classics over that same span. The remodeled Stadium quickly established itself as a worthy successor to the original not because of its own grandeur, which was lacking, but because of the grandeur of the games which took place there.

When the last out at Yankee Stadium is recorded tonight, baseball won’t be losing a great piece of architecture; the remodeled Stadium is no beauty. What it will lose is the living memory of some of the game’s greatest moments. What makes Yankee Stadium great is not the concrete replica of the frieze in center field or the relocated monuments beyond the wall in left field. It’s not even the great views from the upper deck or the camaraderie and passion of the bleacher creatures. It’s the history that was made there.

One can look around the current park and see where legendary home runs by Aaron Boone and Scott Brosius fell into the left field box seats, Reggie’s moon-shot off Charlie Hough clanged off the black batter’s eye, homers by Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter, and Chris Chambliss made post-season history by clearing the wall in right, with and without help. One can envision Mariano Rivera and Goose Gossage appearing through the bullpen gate in left center, Derek Jeter diving into the stands behind third base, David Wells punching the air and David Cone falling to his knees after the final outs of their perfect games. One can see Dave Righetti, Jim Abbott, and Dwight Gooden celebrating no-hitters, Thurman Munson crouching behind home plate as Ron Guidry strikes out 18 Angels, Don Mattingly bringing down the house with a home run into the right-field bleachers, Dave Winfield ripping bullets down the left field line, Rickey Henderson and Mickey Rivers burning up the bases, Willie Randolph turning two, Tom Seaver, Phil Neikro, and Roger Clemens winning 300, Alex Rodriguez hitting 500, and George Brett storming out of the visitor’s dugout, a victim of Billy Martin’s chicanery. One can also see Paul O’Neill meekly slumping his shoudlers as an entire Stadium chants his name, Reggie doffing his batting helmet to the crowd in front of the home dugout, Charley Hayes squeezing the final out of the 1996 World Series, Wade Boggs riding a police horse around the warning track, and both Jackson and Chambliss plowing their way through the swarms of celebrating fans toward the safety of the clubhouse.

Though the field has been torn up, replaced, moved, and lowered, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision the old park. In fact, that has been one of my favorite things to do when visiting the Stadium. I’d squint at the left-handed batters box and imagine Babe Ruth taking a mighty swing and christening the new park with a home run or Lou Gehrig, hat in hand, addressing the crowd. Looking around, I could see Joe DiMaggio kicking the dirt near second base, Mickey Mantle launching a ball off the frieze, Jackie Robinson breaking for home, Yogi Berra leaping into Don Larson’s arms, the Dodgers celebrating Brooklyn’s first and only championship, Roger Maris circling the bases after number 61, and Bobby Murcer chasing a ball around the monuments in center. Because the Yankees were in the World Series with such regularity, all but a select few of the game’s greats (most of them Cubs) played there, from Ty Cobb, to Ted Williams, to Tony Gwynn, Walter Johnson, to Sandy Koufax, to Pedro Martinez, Jackie Robinson, to Curt Flood, and Roberto Clemente, and so on. In 1928, Knute Rockne implored his team to “win one for the Gipper” there. In 1938, Joe Luis beat Max Schmeling there. In 1958, Johnny Unitas beat the New York Football Giants in the NFL Championship Game there.

That is what will be lost. Not the building, but the place and the tangible connection to what happened there. The Yankees may only be moving a few hundred feet to the north to play on a field of similar dimensions in a ballpark with an identical name, but Yankee Stadium, the real Yankee Stadium, in both its incarnations, will soon be resigned to the page, the screen, and the memory of those who were fortunate enough to have seen a ballgame there, whether they witnessed a great moment, or simply gazed out at the field and imagined all the great moments that had come before.

Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #14

By Ed Alstrom

I’ve been to a lot of great and wacky games at the Stadium, like everyone else: the Chambliss home run, several other playoff and World Series games, some crazed comebacks, and some of those insane asylum games from the early 90s with people running onto the field at random (one game against the Red Sox, there were seven of them at different intervals, in the rain).

And, of course, auditioning for the organist position at the Stadium (with Eddie Layton himself standing in the doorway requesting song snippets!) was priceless, and fulfilling my childhood dream of playing the organ there is very special, every single time I do it.

But for my part, I’d have to say that my lasting memory of the Stadium after it’s gone will be a little different from most, and that is having gotten to hang out with Bob Sheppard.

Mr. Sheppard (that’s what all of us in the Press Box call him) has his public address booth right next to mine at the organ. Only a pane of Plexiglas separates us. Sometimes I’ll knock on his door, sometimes he’ll tap on my window and motion me in, and we chat, sometimes during the game. He’ll be talking, and then point his index finger in the air mid-sentence, to say ‘wait a minute,’ step on a pedal to activate the mike, announce the next player (in the same exact tone of voice he’s speaking to me in), and then continue where he left off. When a Yankee makes an error or a bad play, he’ll look at me and very slowly point his palms skyward and shrug his shoulders.

His end of game routine is really beautiful: with 2 out in the ninth and Mariano on the hill, he’ll slowly don his cap and coat, salute me, lock his door, and wait in the runway. If the game ends then and there, he is off like a shot, walking so briskly I can barely keep up with him (and I’ve tried it!). If that batter reaches base, though, he’ll unlock the door, come back in, give me that same shrug, step on the pedal, announce the next batter, and repeat the procedure. His determination to beat that traffic (and his success rate, I’m sure) is admirable indeed.

Several times, I’ve gone down to the press lunch room and broken bread with him at ‘his table,’ which is the one in the corner of the room with a cardboard handwritten sign with his name on it. He surely deserves a gold plaque or something more dignified (well, he does have a Monument in the Park), but everyone knows anyway that that’s his domain.

You’ve probably heard what a class act he is, and he exceeds all expectations on that count. I’ve spoken to him many, many times, but oddly it’s almost never about baseball: usually music and theater. In fact, he usually changes the subject to music when I try to engage him about baseball.

He loves the music of the 40s, and the big bands. He told me once he was especially fond of the great singer Jo Stafford, so I went home and found a bunch of her recordings and put them on CD for him, and he was delighted and talked about her at length, and about how he was stationed in Aruba during World War II, and they used to get her 78s shipped to them, and play them at their bar in the ‘Quonset hut’ (you can just hear Shep saying ‘Quonset hut,’ right?).

He loves poetry, so he is quite enamored of the lyrics of Hart, Hammerstein, Gershwin, Porter, et al., and we’ve spent quite a bit of precious pre-game time analyzing those. And I’ve spent some time (at his behest) trying to explain the merits of rock and roll, or any music recorded after 1955 (with limited success, I think).

At times, he’ll approach me with some handwritten poetry he’s composed, which is invariably literate, funny, and sometimes biting. He once wrote a concise and venomous little masterpiece about Kevin Brown’s bout with a cinderblock wall, and showed it to me; I am not at liberty to disclose it, but lemme tell you, it’s incredible. I said to him, "You must have a lot of these." He said, "Oh, hundreds." I said, "You should get these published," to which he replied, "Oh, no, Mr. Steinbrenner would fire me!"

One Saturday afternoon, it was Military Day at the Stadium, and the formalities were to begin with the Golden Knights parachuting onto the field. It was about two minutes before the ceremony was to begin, and Mr. Sheppard was nowhere in sight.

I knocked on the control room window, got the director’s attention, and pointed to myself and then to Shep’s booth. He said, "Yeah, go ahead." So, I gave the script a speed read, got the cue, stepped on the pedal to activate the mike, and very deliberately said… "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen; welcome to Yankee Stadium!"

Now, I didn’t have time to think about it, but my instinct was to not attempt my Shep imitation, because I felt it would be disrespectful somehow, but I did try to phrase it as he might have, veer a course somewhere down the middle vocally, and create the illusion that it was him.

It was a very long script, about two pages, and it was a real roller coaster moment. Toward the end of it, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Mr. Sheppard was standing behind me! I finished with the read, released the pedal, and looked at him gingerly, feeling somewhat like a child about to be scolded. Instead, he grinned broadly, and said very slowly, "Were you trying to imitate me?" Imagine that thrill!

But the best of all was when he approached me one day, and said, "You know, I wrote a song many years ago." Of course, I wanted to hear it, so he showed me the lyrics and sang it to me. I told him the next day I was coming back with a recorder, and he sang it again for me, acapella, and then I got him to talk into the recorder for about 15 minutes about it. I then went home and created a musical track for his melody, chopped his vocal track into pieces and flew it in over the accompaniment, and presented him with a finished product worthy of Sinatra. He was very touched, and I was touched to be able to do that for him. He wrote a handwritten note of thanks, which is more valuable to me than any piece of memorabilia could be. Believe me, Mr. Sheppard, the pleasure was all mine.

Whatever our collective vignettes are of Yankee Stadium, Bob Sheppard’s narration to that soundtrack is a thread that runs through all of them, and an essential component of it. His humanity, wit, and warmth are every bit as momentous as that voice, and I am honored to have shared some time on this Earth with him. He is Yankee Stadium, in a lot of ways.

Ed Alstrom will be playing the organ from the early afternoon until late tonight at Yankee Stadium.

Sob Story

It’s Hanky Time for Yankee Stadium today.  The tributes just keep a comin.  Yesterday, Paul Simon had a piece about the old place in the New York Times, today, it’s Henry Kissinger’s turn.  Also in the Times, comes memories from Billy Crystal, Robert Creamer, Jane Heller, and B-Girl Penny Marshall.

Here is Maury Brown’s ode to the cathedral, as well as Alan Sepinwall’s memories.   

Read em and weep.




It was a near perfect afternoon in the Bronx yesterday as the Yankees and Orioles played the final day game at Yankee Stadium. Amid sharp shadows and under a cloudless sky, the Stadium gleamed, the cool early autumn air adding a crispness to the day. The Yankees and Orioles played scoreless baseball for eight-plus innings, but the lack of action on the field mattered little as most everyone on hand and watching at home was more concerned about drinking in the doomed ballpark, which has rarely looked more welcoming or more vibrant.

Afredo Aceves got things started off in style in the first inning. Following a Brian Roberts lead-off double, Adam Jones popped up a bunt in front of the mound. Aceves, who has shown himself to be a solid infielder, caught the ball on a lunge before tumbling forward to his knees. He then spun to double Roberts off of second, but Roberts had been running on the pitch and had actually rounded third base slightly, so rather than throw to Cody Ransom covering second base, Aceves, with a big grin on his face, jogged the ball over to second for an unassisted double play, a play rarely turned by a pitcher (paging Bob Timmermann).

Aceves wouldn’t allow a runner past second base all day, and after six innings and 92 pitches, he was replaced by Brian Bruney, Damaso Marte, and Mariano Rivera, who kept that streak intact. The Yankees didn’t do much better against lefty spot-starter Brian Burres. With two outs in the first, Bobby Abreu doubled and moved to third on a wild pitch, but Alex Rodriguez popped out to strand him, and the Yankees didn’t get another man past second until the bottom of the ninth.

Though it would ultimately prove a fitting conclusion to a beautiful day, the bottom of the ninth started off ominously when a 1-1 pitch got away from rookie reliever Jim Miller and hit Derek Jeter on the back of his left hand. Jeter spun to avoid the pitch, but it caught him flush and sent him skipping toward the visiting batting circle in obvious pain. Joe Girardi and trainer Gene Monahan quickly attended to Jeter, who was the DH yesterday to give him a breather before today’s final game at the Stadium, and almost immediately pulled Jeter from the game. Jeter didn’t make a fist with the hand when Monahan was checking him out on the field, and as he headed into the tunnel toward the clubhouse, Jeter slammed his batting helmet on the dugout floor. Fortunately, post-game x-rays were negative and Jeter is expected to be in the lineup for the Stadium’s finale . . . of course.

Brett Gardner ran for Jeter at first base and stole second base easily on Miller’s first pitch to Abreu. After Miller fell behind Abreu 3-0, Orioles manager Dave Trembley decided to make use of that empty base and pass the buck to Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez took two strikes then hit into a near double play, but managed to beat out the relay to put runners on the corners with one out for Jason Giambi. Trembley called on veteran lefty reliever Jamie Walker to pitch to Giambi, and Walker responded by striking Giambi out on six pitches. Rodriguez stole second on strike three, so Trembley had Walker put Xavier Nady on base and pitch to fellow lefty Robinson Cano. Cano, who still holds the distinction of having hit the last home run at Yankee Stadium, jumped on Walker’s first pitch, delivering a line-drive single just to the right of second base, plating Gardner with the winning run.

So in the final day game at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees beat the Orioles 1-0 on a walk-off single by Robison Cano. Mariano Rivera got the win, and the Yankees staved off elimination for at least one more day. The day was so close to perfect that, in some peverse way, I almost wish yesterday’s game was the last ever at the Stadium. The only way tonight’s game could be better would be for a Yankee to hit a home run and for Jeter to be somewhere other than the trainers’ room when the game ends.


Day Tripper

It is sunny and cool and decidedly a fall day.  The last day game at Yankee Stadium.

Enjoy y’all.

As Aaron Gleeman says, Happy Baseball.

Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #13

By Pete Abraham

There is not one in particular moment I remember.

I’ve attended roughly 200 games at Yankee Stadium since I started covering the team in 2006 and they all seem to blend in. The best part of the day is walking from the elevator on the loge level, down the concourse, into the press box and sitting down in my seat in the front row.

I always pause a minute to look around and soak it in. When they’re playing a big game, the skies are clear and the fans are buzzing, it’s intoxicating.

I became a sportswriter when I was 17 because I loved the idea of communicating the details of something that matters to people. Baseball always drew me in because it was the one sport people had passion for all year.

Yankee Stadium is the front office of baseball, the best venue in the game. Where else does baseball matter more? I feel tremendously fortunate every time I sit down and look around. At that moment, there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be. That’s my favorite memory, no matter how many times it repeats.

Pete Abraham covers the Yankees for The Journal News.

Easy Does it

Last season Tom Verducci worked as an umpire during a spring training game and wrote about the experience for Sports Illustrated. The bit I remember most about the article was how fast the game is on the field, how quickly things move for everyone involved, the umpires, players, the fans in the front row when a foul ball comes their way. But for some players, for the best players, the action slows down and they are, momentarily, able to master time.


Two nights ago, a dapper little man named Emilio Navarro, the oldest living ballplayer, threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. Navarro, 102 years old, was the first Puerto Rican to play in the Negro Leagues. He was escorted to the mound by Pudge Rodriguez and Jorge Posada. When they reached the grass in front of the mound, Posada went to home plate to receive the throw.

Navarro took his time. A squirrel was standing on the first base side of the mound watching as Navarro gave it a little of the ol Ed Norton and he went into a full wind-up. As he released the ball (and delivered a good throw), the squirrel darted across the field behind him and disappeared from the camera’s view. I’m sure Navarro, who was a second baseman in his playing days was quick like that back when. Then Navarro did a little jig and tipped his cap to the crowd before Rodriguez and Posada escorted him back off the field.

Navarro continued to move slowly, but not like a feeble or sick man, just one who knows exactly how fast he should be walking. He soaked in the moment and had no desire to rush anything. Navarro looked like a gnome compared with the two ballplayers next to him, and they looked like parents walking with an infant, you know, when adults have to constantly remind themselves that they are walking too fast for the kid. But Navarro was relaxed and comfortable and at 102, what’s the rush?

I thought about Navarro’s grace and ease last night in the ninth inning. With a man on first and two men out, Mariano Rivera fielded a soft ground ball on the third base side of the diamond. It was not going to roll foul. Rivera darted to the ball, picked it up and threw a bullet to first base. The runner would have been out and the ball game over, but the ball bounced off Cody Ransom’s glove. The replay showed Rivera pick up the ball and firing it to first in one smooth motion. Then he stood, erect when a small, easy smile spread across his face, even before Ransom dropped the ball. When the ball got away, the smile grew ever so slightly before Rivera jostled himself back into reality and moved toward home plate.

We’ve seen this look from Rivera in the past, it is one of simple disbelief. But last night, it wasn’t so incredulous, just a simple smile. Suddenly, the Yankees one-run lead was in jeopardy. Runners on the corners and two out. But Brian Roberts popped up the first pitch he saw, a cutter in on his hands. The ball was not high and inbetween Rivera and Rodriguez. For a brief moment there was some confusion as to who was going to catch it. But Rodriguz caught the ball for the third out and that simple smile returned to Rivera’s face as he shook hands with Rodriguez who was now smiling too as the Yankees beat the Orioles 3-2.

Baltimore Orioles VI: The Final Series Edition

The just-completed series against the White Sox had some interest beyond the impending closing of Yankee Stadium thanks to Chicago’s fight for the AL Central, Mike Mussina’s still-active quest for 20 wins, the return of Phil Hughes to the Yankee rotation, and the major league debuts of three Yankee prospects last night. This weekend’s series against the Orioles has none of that. These last three games will be about Yankee Stadium and nothing else. With that in mind, here are the three other opening and closing dates in the Stadium’s 86-year history:

April 18, 1923 – the first game at Yankee Stadium, Yankees beat the Red Sox 4-1 behind Bob Shawkey, who scored the first run at the new park on a single by third baseman Joe Dugan in the fourth inning. Ruth followed Dugan with a three-run homer, the Stadium’s first. Second baseman Aaron Ward had picked up the park’s first hit in the previous inning.

Sept. 30, 1973 – the final game at the original Stadium, Yankees lost to the Tigers 8-5 as Fritz Peterson and Lindy McDaniel combined to allow six runs in the eighth inning. Backup catcher Duke Sims, in his only start of the year, hits the last home run at the old park in the seventh. Winning pitcher John Hiller gets first baseman Mike Hegan to fly out to center fielder Mickey Stanley to end the game.

April 15, 1976 – the first game at the renovated Stadium, Yankees beat the Twins 11-4 with Dick Tidrow picking up the win with five shoutout innings in relief of Rudy May and Sparky Lyle getting the save. May gave up the first hit and home run in the remodeled Stadium to Disco Dan Ford in the top of the first. Twins second baseman Jerry Terrell, who led of the game with a walk, scored the first run ahead of Ford. The first Yankee hit was delivered by Mickey Rivers in the bottom of the first. The first Yankee home run at the redone park would come off the bat of Thurman Munson two days later.

Untitled The relocated St. Louis Browns first played at the Stadium as the Baltimore Orioles on May 5 and 6 of 1954, losing to Eddie Lopat and Allie Reynolds by scores of 4-2 and 9-0. The O’s first visit to the renovated stadium came in a three-game weekend series starting on May 14, 1976. The O’s took two of three in that series, beating Catfish Hunter in the opener. The first batter in that game was Ken Singleton, who struck out looking, but the next six Orioles delivered hits off Hunter, among them a two-run homer by O’s center fielder Reggie Jackson (!) as the O’s cruised to a 6-2 win behind Ross Grimsley.

For the curious, the action depicted in the Merv Rettenmund card pictured here occurred on August 9, 1970 in the seventh inning of the first game of a Sunday doubleheader. With the O’s leading 1-0 behind Jim Palmer, Rettenmund led off the seventh with a double off Fritz Peterson. Andy Etchebarren then hit a hot shot to third base that Jerry Kenney either booted or bobbled, allowing Etchebarren to reach and Rettenmund to advance. The photo on the card freezes the action as Kenney, ball in hand, checks Rettenmund at third base. The O’s would go on to score three unearned runs in that inning, but the Yanks got two in the eighth and two in the ninth to tie it, the latter two on a single by Roy White after Earl Weaver had replaced Palmer with Pete Richert. White would later end the game in the 11th with one out and Horace Clarke on first base by homering off Dick Hall to give the Yankees a 6-4 win.

Finally, here’s an account of the last game at the original Stadium from Glenn Stout’s outstanding Yankees Century:

The Yankees ended the season on September 30, closing down old Yankee Stadium to accommodate the scheduled renovation. In the final week of the season, the Hall of Fame hauled away a ticket booth, a turnstile, and other memorabilia. Anticipating souvenir takers, the club had already removed the center-field monuments and a hoard of equipment scheduled to follow the Yankees to Queens.

The club hired extra security to head off bad behavior, but the crowd of 32,328 arrived at the Stadium in an ugly mood and packing wrecking tools. Disappointed at the late season collapse, banners urging the Yankees to fire [manager Ralph] Houk ringed the park.

The game was only a few innings old when it became clear that souvenir hunters weren’t going to wait. In the outfield and the bleachers fans turned their backs on the game and started demolishing the park. The Yankees took the lead over Detroit but lost it in the fifth [sic]. When Houk came to the mound to change pitchers, exuberant fans waived parts of seats over their heads like the angry they had become.

As soon as Mike Hegan flied out to end the 8-5 loss, 20,000 fans swamped security forces and stormed the field. The Yanks had plans for objects like the bases, but the mob had other ideas. First-base coach Elston Howard scooped up the bag for a scheduled presentation to Mrs. Lou Gehrig, but he had to fight his way off the field, clutching the base like a fullback plowing through the line. Cops stood guard at home plate to make sure it went to Claire Ruth, but a fan stole second base, and third was nabbed by Detroit third baseman Ike Brown. Some 10,000 seats ended up being pulled loose.


What to Do With Bobby?

Providing Closer Views For All

This below is a very unscientific comparison of the seating bowls in the new Yankee Stadium (on the left from a photo posted on the WCBS web site) and the current Yankee Stadium (on the right from a photo I took three weeks ago). It’s an imperfect comparsion to be sure (the photo on the left appears to have been taken from in or near the press box, while my photo was taken from a seat in the upper deck behind home plate), but the difference in the upper deck seating is striking nonetheless.


The Relics of Shea Stadium–Pat Dobson



Right from the get-go, I have to admit I’m cheating a bit with this article, the last in my series on the "relics" of Shea Stadium. The previous three articles profiled Yankees of the 1970s who never called Yankee Stadium home, since their careers coincided only with the Shea Stadium seasons of 1974 and ’75. In actuality, Pat Dobson did pitch for the Yankees during the second half of the ’73 season, the final campaign at the "old" Yankee Stadium. But I’m willing to make an exception for "Dobber." He’s worth it.

I never met Dobson, but I always enjoyed reading articles that quoted him, especially from his days as a scout. Known as a funny free spirit during his playing days, Dobson became known for the strange vernacular he invented. He called curve balls "yakkers." He referred to liquor as "oil." And he called a big game a "bogart." Many of his invented terms were adopted by his teammate in Cleveland, Dennis Eckersley, who made such slang famous later in his career.

After his playing days, Dobson became a legendary storyteller and an incisively honest assessor of major league talent, both good and bad. Largely employed as an advance major league scout, Dobson did good work for a number of years with the Rockies and the Giants, who benefited from the opinions he offered based on his years of experience.

Dobson also happened to be a very good pitcher, a legitimate No. 3 starter for some excellent postseason teams of the 1970s. In today’s game, a younger Dobson would have merited a four-year contract worth $40 million, maybe more, on the open market. He was that good.


Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #12

By Brian Gunn

I went to my first and only game at Yankee Stadium earlier this year, a Sunday game in April against the Rays. As I took my seat behind home plate I drank in the stadium – the green lawn, the Facade running along the bleacher billboards, the retired numbers out in Monument Park – and I tried to imagine all the greats who made the stadium come alive. I tried to imagine Babe Ruth circling the bases with his little birdlike feet, or Joe DiMaggio gliding in from center to snag a fly ball.

I tried.

And I tried.

And I just couldn’t do it.

I was so goddamn cold I could barely concentrate on anything but the weather. I know, I know – just what you’d expect from a Californian. But I swear I wasn’t the only one. A cold wind whipped in from left field and had the sparse crowd huddled together for warmth. Whenever the Yanks retired the side or scratched out a hit the fans would let out a perfunctory clap or two before sticking their hands back in their pockets. Sometime around the 4th inning a fan sitting behind us accidentally spilled his beer all over my four-year-old nephew. It was about as far as you could get from my first-ever baseball memory – seeing Reggie Jackson, on TV, go deep three times in a row against the Dodgers. I can still remember how the air looked in Yankee Stadium that night (at least as it came across our Zenith television): thick with pitch and moment, steam from 56,000 fevered bodies rising into the October night.

My experience with Yankee Stadium was nothing like that. There was no momentousness, no steam, no October magic, and certainly no Babe or Joe D. It was, instead, a pretty ho-hum experience – a stiff reminder that Yankee Stadium isn’t, after all, a vending machine. Its wonders aren’t available on demand.

Brian Gunn is a screenwriter living in Los Angeles.

The Long Goodbye

Over at CNN, Jim Bouton remembers Yankee Stadium (peace to Gamingboy at Baseball Think Factory for the link). 


Just Writing My Name and Graffiti on the Wall

Ray Negron had an unlikely start to a career in baseball–he was caught spray painting his name on Yankee Stadium by none other than the Boss, George Steinbrenner.  Today at 3:00 pm,  Negron will be on hand as Bobby Murcer’s face is added to the great mural across the street from the Stadium.  If you are in the neighborhood, stop by and check, check it out.


So Long (It’s Been Good To Know Ya)

Tom Verducci wrote SI’s cover story on Yankee Stadium this week. He also penned a column about the ballpark up on 161st street:

I understand the price of progress is to lose a piece of history. I understand Yankee Stadium was never re-built to accommodate four million people. The stadium, in fact, is overrated simply as a place to watch a game. The concourses are frighteningly narrow and without view of the field, the food services are abominable, the bathrooms require haz-mat gear to enter, there is far too much room behind home plate, and you could probably earn an online degree in the time it takes to exit a parking garage if you dare drive and stay for a whole game. But hey, my 1973 Plymouth Satellite was nothing to look at, either. It’s the history, which becomes a personal history because we connect its events to moments in our lives, that made the place beautiful. Yankee fans seemed to pride themselves on not being comfortable. They were there to watch some ball, that’s all.

Thrills, no frills.

I Will Gladly Pay You Tuesday For A Mooseburger Today

Your 2008 New York Yankees are, obviously, a major disappointment… but they’re not actually bad, either. Last night’s 9-2 win was their 82nd of the season, which means they’ll finish at .500 even if they lose every single game remaining. And they’ll almost certainly finish with well over 83 wins, which is more than can be said for the 2006 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Okay, that’s an extreme example, but still: in the AL Central the Yankees would be two games out of first with this record, and they’d actually be winning in the NL West. Now clearly wins do not translate so exactly across divisions, and you cannot aim for 80-odd wins if you’re playing in the AL East, and yes, the Yankees have lots of very real and significant problems, yes the offense was surprisingly mediocre, yes Sir Sidney Ponson started 14 games. Still, technically, this is not a bad team, not by general MLB standards. They’re just not good enough.

They were last night, though, and they thumped the White Sox. The first pitch was more memorable than much of the actual game; it was thrown out by Emilio Navarro, who at 102 years of age is now the oldest living pro baseball player in the world. Navarro is a tiny man, and came up to about the belly button of Jorge Posada, who caught Navarro’s first pitch (tossed in from halfway to the plate, but with some zip on it). But he looks amazingly good for his age, walked without assistance, and took his time soaking in the applause on the field, grinning and leisurely tipping his cap to the fans and savoring the moment; he looked like he was having a ball.

Mike Mussina then started things off unpromisingly by loading the bases, twice. But he escaped with just one run allowed, and after that he went on cruise control: five more innings, smooth and easy. Old frenemy Javier Vazquez was pitching for the White Sox, and the Yankees came back off of him right away, with a Derek Jeter single and a Bobby Abreu homer in the bottom of the first – Abreu’s first of two consecutive bombs.

The Yankees kept tacking on, one in the third inning and four in the fourth; Ozzie Guillen wisely removed Vazquez before he could face Abreu again, but Horacio Ramirez was not much of an improvement, and the Yankees got a little Conga line going around the bases. They added two more in the fifth, and the New York bullpen trio of Jose Veras, Humberto Sanchez, and Chris Britton finished things off with little incident. In other news, Juan Miranda made his major league debut tonight with two walks, and later in the game Francisco Cervelli stepped in behind the plate, apparently recovered from his controversial broken wrist.

I’d love to see Mike Mussina win 20, but I’ve been pessimistic about it for a while now and I think that’s partly because I still associate Moose with coming excruciatingly close to milestones rather than reaching them: like during that heartbreaking game at Fenway in 2001, where he was just one out away from a perfect game (I think even one strike away, though I may be mentally exaggerating there) when Carl Everett – CARL EVERETT! – ruined it with a single. Anyway, I generally enjoy Mussina’s moments of snarky exasperation (at least when not directed at an umpire or errant infielder during a game), but he has some kinda touching moments of sincerity in this nice Bats post from Tyler Kepner.

Finally, apropos of nothing, Alex has requested that I share the below YouTube clip with all of you. (Actually, he asked if I could “work it in” to my recap…but stunningly enough, the  topic didn’t come up directly in the course of last night’s game). So I’ll give it to you now with no additional editorial comment.

You’re welcome.

Last Shot atTwenty

Can Mike Mussina finally get his 18th win?


Vat ho. We sure hope so.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver