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Notes From A Polite New Yorker: Built By Ruth, Destroyed By Greed

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What is most tragic about this is that so many Yankee fans seem perfectly content to watch their history being pissed away so the Steinbrenners can pocket more cash at the city’s expense.

On September 21, the last night of summer, the last game was played at Yankee Stadium. This historic ballpark is going to be torn down so that the Yankees can play at a new stadium currently under construction next door in the Bronx. It was a sad day for every Yankee fan and every New Yorker. Our tax dollars are helping tear down a perfectly good and historically priceless landmark so the richest sports franchise in the country (if not the world) can move into a new stadium that will resemble a shopping mall.

My first game at Yankee Stadium was a regular season game against the Oakland A’s. I was in grade school and my family lived in Yonkers. Against my wishes, my family left the game early, after the 7th inning, but the Yankees were ahead and won the game.

My second game at Yankee Stadium was on Phil Rizzuto Day, when the retired shortstop retired from broadcasting. Mickey Mantle came out of the dugout in his old uniform. The stadium went crazy. Former Yankee Tom Seaver, who was pitching for the rival Chicago White Sox at that game, celebrated his 300th win against the Yankees. I watched Billy Martin kick dirt on an umpire. It was fantastic. Again though, I was forced to leave the game early by a parent who wanted to beat traffic. This is partly the reason I will never leave a game early, ever.

My fondest Yankee game memory is from October of 2001, when the Yankees won their divisional playoff series against Oakland. It was after September 11, and there was a great feeling of unity and patriotism in the city after September 11. I had managed to get great seats on the first row of the upper deck, and witnessed Derek Jeter make a diving backward catch into the stands. The crowd screamed “RUDY!” whenever Mayor Giuliani’s face appeared on the big screen.

I am a Yankee fan for two reasons: I am originally from The Bronx, where my father grew up, and growing up in Yonkers in the late 70s, the New York Yankees were great heroes whose baseball cards were treasured. I remained a Yankees fan through the bad times and good, and made attending Yankee games a must when I moved back to New York.

Yankee Stadium is the House that Ruth Built. In fact, it was built with a shorter right field than was common at the time to accommodate Ruth’s hitting style. Babe Ruth hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium when it opened in 1923.

The new stadium is being built to do nothing but rake in profits and rake fans over the coals. There will be about 2,000 fewer seats and three times the number of luxury boxes. The park land that the Yankees organization said would be replaced by now has not materialized, and the number of prospective new jobs that the stadium will produce has been downgraded substantially. In face, the Yankees may have willfully defrauded the city to get tax breaks.

The cheapest seat available for the last game, via links from the Yankees’ official web site, was $239 + fees for a bleacher seat. Some tickets were selling for more than $4,000. No thanks.

At that last baseball game at Yankee Stadium, the team held a ceremony that was covered glowingly by the media. Players from days of old like Yogi Berra and more recent Yankee favorites like Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill were back in their old uniforms to the roar of the crowd. It was, at its essence, another thumb in the eye to the city and Yankee fans. The spectacle of Don Larsen and Whitey Ford stopping to scoop dirt from the pitchers mound was pathetic. These were men who played the game when playing the game didn’t come with multi-million-dollar salaries. They are supposed to be content with their plastic cups of dirt, if Yankees’ management allowed them to keep it once they were out of camera shot. The Yankees’ ownership does not respect New York City or its own fans, so I guess it's no surprise they would make such a sad spectacle out of two pitching greats. Thanks for the memories, gentlemen. That will be $1,000 a cup if you want to keep that dirt.

And while fans who took items from the stadium were arrested by the police and charged with theft, a wealthy sports franchise that defrauds its cash-strapped host city, robs a poor neighborhood of precious park land

Sportswriter Will Leitch (a friend and former colleague), wrote in his excellent book ‘God Save The Fan,’ that sports team owners behave the way they do because they know sports fans will take it and keep coming back for more. And he’s right.

There was a small group of fans who tried to save the stadium. One of the avenues of Yankee Stadium defense was getting the historic ballpark protected as a historic landmark. However, too much of the original stadium was removed during the disastrous renovations of the 1970s to qualify Yankee Stadium for historic protection.

But like the most cowed corporate drones, most fans just keep grinning and bearing it, dropping their hard-earned cash on overpriced seats because it was the last year of Yankee Stadium.

And that has been the most disappointing part of this. It’s not shocking that the Yankees’ management acted in such a greedy and disreputable way; they’ve been doing that for decades. What is most tragic about this is that so many Yankee fans seem perfectly content to watch their history being pissed away so the Steinbrenners can pocket more cash at the city’s expense.

Well count me out. I will no longer be taken for a sucker. If I go to a baseball game next season, it will be at a minor league park. See you there.

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