Online: From the blog Bronx Banter: Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory

From the blog Bronx Banter

By Marty Appel

As the days of Yankee Stadium wound down in September, there was a lot of talk about the majesty and perfection of the original, 1923-73 ballpark, and talk of how the remodeled park (1976-2008) paled in comparison.

I worked in both ballparks. Let me tell you, when the new one opened in 1976, nobody talked in disappointing terms. The feeling was that the new had captured the grandeur of the old, while adding the touches that made it more fan friendly, not to mention safer. The old place, after all, was no longer structurally sound and needed repair.

What has been largely forgotten over time is the horrible obstructed view seats in the original park, with so many steel poles extending through each deck, causing horrible sight lines. In addition, there were no escalators, the rest rooms were antiquated, the place was developing a seedy quality, and it wasn’t attractive to fans. Barely a million a year were trekking up to the Bronx.

It’s like the nostalgia for Ebbets Field. Few remember how narrow and uncomfortable the seats were. Your knees bounced off your chest. It was a terrible place to see a game.

The new place opened to generally rave reviews, and two million came to see it in year one. It was the first time an American League team had drawn that many people in a quarter century. Baseball was beginning to find its sea legs in the mid ’70s after a decade of lost ground to the NFL. An exciting ’75 World Series set the table. A Yankee pennant in a new Yankee Stadium in 1976 really set baseball into its modern marketing era.

The introduction of luxury suites, a modern marvel scoreboard, and hey – unobstructed views from every seat – turned Yankee Stadium into a fan delight. On top of that, the team began to shine with star after star. They won ten pennants in the new Stadium, and although they won zero between 1982-1996, the team was always competitive, always had star power, and became worthy of Broadway show prices.

Munson and Jackson were followed by Winfield and Mattingly, and they were followed by Jeter and Williams and O’Neill and Rivera. With skilled role players, the roster was finely crafted to produce not only championships clubs – but also a likeable Yankee team – a new concept to a sports culture used to either loving or hating the Yankees.

To me, the only regret about the modernization was that it eliminated the ability to have Yankee Stadium declared a landmark, and to keep the concrete walls standing. I welcome the new stadium. No one ever expected the team to draw four million a year, and they just plain outgrew the current one.

But it would have been nice to see the concrete shell, the one that goes back to 1923, find a way of remaining, no matter what will ultimately come to be on the land itself.

Readers’ comments:

2008-10-09 12:30:33

pistolpete: I felt like the whole thing was a excerpt from a brochure…I’d much rather have read about what the feeling was in the front office the day the renovated Stadium opened for the first time, or what people’s reactions were when they walked back through the gates — not some sort of justification on why ‘time marches on’ … Didn’t Marty ever actually watch any of the games, or was he simply marveling at the sight lines and spacious seating for 20 years?

2008-10-09 12:44:43

Raf: the Yankees weren’t “always competitive” in the remodeled Stadium. They had a six-year stretch of fourth-place-or-worse finishes, four of which included losing records.They were in the division races in 1988 & 1993.

2008-10-09 13:05:46

Cliff Corcoran: Granted. The four losing seasons were sufficient to prove my point. I needn’t have gone any further.

2008-10-09 20:03:55

Jeb: Inaccuracies notwithstanding, it’s nice to read someone’s take on the old park that doesn’t trash the new park. Also, speaking of luxury boxes, isn’t that the real reason for moving?

2008-10-10 05:10:24

williamnyy23: I thought I had read that plans had changed and the Yankees would instead be using the space for parking, mostly because other planned parking areas were needed to fulfill the city’s promise of recreating lost parkland. I could be wrong. I hope so.I think you could argue that the Yankees were competitive in every season except 1989-1992, the 4-year period that you noted. Over a span of 32 years, I think that comes pretty close to “always”. I also think Appel has a very valid point about the team outgrowing the old Stadium. It isn’t an issue of how many people you can pack in, but how comfortable and safe the place is. I know that I have wondered about those things standing in a long concession line, squeezing into small seats and tight rows as well as being herded down the narrow ramps after a game. Those concerns are not propaganda…they are real issues presented by the team’s attendance explosion.

2008-10-10 06:37:55

Ken P: I’ve been saying for a while that the current stadium is an amazing place to see a game, but only once you are actually in the stands. Navigating the interior of the stadium with 50,00+ other people is a nightmare. My ideal solution would be to keep the field and the seats exactly as they are, and rebuild the interior with concourses at least twice as wide as they are currently. Not really possible, but that’s what I’d love to see.

2008-10-10 06:49:10

williamnyy23: Perfect way of putting it…when I am in my seat behind home plate in the upper deck, I love Yankee Stadium. When I am fighting the crowds to get in and out, however, my romanticism fades. Exiting the Stadium has gotten so bad that when ever there is a close game (i.e., few leave early), I have to leave my seat around the 8th inning, walk down to the Gate 4 exit area and then lurk in the Main section until the end of the game. The alternative is to spend about 30 minutes in a wall-to-wall crowd exiting the place (particularly fun on a hot summer’s day), and then another 30 minutes being herded along the concourse area toward River Avenue.

2008-10-10 07:53:07

Rob Middletown CT: If they “outgrew” the current stadium, how does building a new one with fewer seats work? They didn’t build the new one b/c they wanted to draw more fans. They want to draw more money. Luxury boxes, more concessions, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… 😉

2008-10-10 09:02:35

Raf: I mingled around the Stadium until the crowds thinned out a bit. Figured that was much better than fighting the crowds at both the stadium exits, and on the subway platforms.