Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

I was fortunate to be in the building last night for the final game at Yankee Stadium.  The game was expected to be anticlimactic – and that turned out to be true.  But getting in was a disaster and the future, in a new, expensive building across the street, is anything but bright.

But first, one had to actually get into the building yesterday.  You may have heard the plan.  The Stadium would be open from 1-4 in the afternoon so fans could go through Monument Park and literally walk on the field (at least around it on the warning track), a once common-place occurrence that hasn’t been allowed for decades.  Lining up at 1:45 at Gate 2 to do that (when I was a little kid a hundred years ago, I routinely walked out of the bleachers with my father after 30 or 35 games a year to walk on the field and touch the (three, at the time) monuments in dead-center on my way to the D train), I saw lots of people in their 60s, 70s and even their 80s there to do something they had done in the 1930s, 40s and/or 50s and 60s.    


But a funny thing happened on the way to these people reliving their respective childhoods (or time spent with long-gone parents).  At 2:25 came the barely audible announcement that the Yankees had closed both entrance to Monument Park and access to the field.  Was there booing and cursing?  You betcha.  The many elderly in the group then had a tough decision to make (as they were told by the announcer):  If you go into the Stadium (keep in mind we were all still on line outside of Gate 2), at 2:30 or 3 or whenever, you couldn’t come back out and re-enter.  For those of you keeping score at home, that’s SIX hours (maybe) before game-time.  Or you could walk around outside and be bothered by the incessant ticket scalpers (who needs two?, who’s selling today?), something we were told that modern ticketing would eliminate (or at least, in reality, would be taken over by American Express or the team).


(When the new stadium closes in what, 20 years or so, maybe they’ll be smart enough to open the field at 9 in the morning, not one in the afternoon.  Of course, the new stadium will never duplicate what the old Stadium had inside its walls.)


Given this Hobson’s choice, the resignation on the faces of many seniors was obvious.  Some left and some went in – to do nothing for five hours until the glorious ceremony started on the field.  Yeah, there are a lot of Yankee bashers, but nobody can trot out the people that the Yankees can trot out at an old-timers day or a Stadium-closing day.  Last night was no exception.


To bring out guys in old Yankee uniforms to “represent” Ruth, Gehrig, etc. was a little much.  But to trot out excellent (Skowron, Nettles, Randolph, etc.) to great (Yogi, Whitey, etc.) Yankee players at their respective positions was awesome – and to have Mickey Mantle’s son and the wives of Thurman Munson and Elston Howard, etc. come out to the field was spectacular.  Bringing out Gene Michael (who certainly deserves as much or more credit than anyone for the Yankees late ‘90s revival) and embattled manager Joe Girardi onto the field with these greats was a bit much – as players they don’t rank anywhere near the Yankees who were on the field.


And to have the Babe’s daughter throw out the first pitch of the last game was fabulous, especially since, as many of you know, her father had hit the first-ever home run at Yankee Stadium in 1923.


Then the game started – and the crowd went quiet.  While it was nice for the Yankees to get a win, it really was a meaningless game.  It took home runs from Johnny Damon and Jose Molina to wake the crowd up – but all went according to plan as the Yankees would beat the Orioles 7-3 with Joba throwing part of the seventh and all of the eighth and the great Mariano finishing things off in the ninth.  Andy Pettitte fittingly started and got the final win (but only making him a .500 pitcher for the year – just one of many Yankee disappointments this season).


To great applause, the great Derek Jeter was taken out of the game with two outs in the ninth inning.  While we often see this at the end of NBA playoff games, it’s rare for this to happen in a baseball game.  Jeter got the requisite standing ovation and gave rise to this following great trivia question:  Who was the last shortstop to grace the field at Yankee Stadium?  Yeah, that’s right, Wilson Betamit.


Jeter gave a stirring speech after the game but, say what he will, it won’t be the same across the street.  You see, many old-timers think the Stadium lost its luster when the Yankees moved to Shea for the great refurbishing of 1974 and 1975.  While there is certainly some truth to that, it’s always been about the location of the Stadium for me.  And here’s the best example I can give of the biggest problem with moving across the street that somehow, those in favor of “progress” (profit?) can’t grasp:


When I was a kid, my father took me to the Stadium and pointed to right-field and said: “Son, that’s where Babe Ruth played.  Nobody remembers that he was a pretty good defensive player with a gun for an arm and could even run in his younger days.”  Then he’d point to center-field and say: “Son, that’s where Joe Dimaggio played.  He was the smoothest player I ever saw and there’s no telling how many home runs he would have hit if he batted lefty or played in a normal ball park” (don’t forget the massive dimensions at the pre-1976 Stadium – the real Death Valley, not today’s A-Rod porch by comparison).


So I got the message loud and clear and when my son was five and he would go to the Stadium I would point to center-field and say:  “Son, that’s where Mickey Mantle played.  He could run like a deer before he got hurt and he had massive power from both sides of the plate.  Like Dimaggio, he would have hit a heck of a lot more homers batting righty in a normal ballpark but he, at least, was a switch-hitter so he got his share to right-field.”


Now, here’s the REAL problem with moving across the street (obscene ticket prices and other things are for another time):  When my son takes his child to the new stadium, he’s going to say:  “Son, Babe Ruth and Joe Dimaggio and Mickey Mantle – they all played across the street.”  Maybe you have to be a Yankee fan to understand that difference but it’s VERY significant and, frankly, irreplaceable.


So was the pre-game ceremony great?  Absolutely.  Was the game great, in so far as a meaningless late-season game against the Orioles could be?  You betcha.  It would have been nice to have Babe Ruth’s daughter and Mickey Mantle’s son pull the lever down for the final countdown of games left at Yankee Stadium (although that was changed from 0 to “forever,” maybe that sign will stay there when they actually tear the structure down, another disgrace if this landmark is destroyed).  Whitey and Yogi with one hand each on the lever would have been a nice touch as well.


Was Derek Jeter’s post-game speech fabulous?  Of course it was, Jeter always says the right thing.  But the Yankees, playing at the new stadium, have many issues to deal with.


It really was a great night at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, September 21, 2008.  But I (and many others I’m sure) couldn’t help but notice the asymmetry of the following:  the New Yankee Stadium opened on April 18, 1923, with Babe Ruth hitting the first home run as the Yankees were on their way to winning the pennant and the first of 26 World Series.  The Stadium closed on Sunday, September 21, 2008 with Jose Molina hitting the last home run for a Yankee team that not only won’t win the pennant but didn’t even make the playoffs.  For the 1923 Yankees it was the beginning of an unprecedented run, both through the next 15 years and, frankly, the next 80 years.  For the 2008 Yankees, unanswered questions remain and the future, with no Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio or Mantle on the horizon, isn’t nearly as bright as it was 85 years ago.  A new stadium won’t solve those problems.


© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.        


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