Closing Yankee Stadium

Last night we watched the last game at Yankee Stadium, the 85-year-old “House that Ruth Built” which has hung more World Series championship flags than any other stadium. Even though a Yankees loss would have clinched a Red Sox playoff appearance – not to mention the Hated Yankees’ first non-playoff season since 1993, it’s hard to begrudge them a 7-3 victory against the hapless Baltimore Orioles (a.k.a., the only team in the AL East which isn’t any good).

Before the game they trotted out plenty of Yankee greats, a few not-so-greats, and a few relatives of greats, including Babe Ruth’s 92-year-old daughter to throw out the first pitch. It reminded me a lot of the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park in which the All-Century Team was presented, and the players, legends, and fans were all having such a great time that it delayed the start of the game (to the consternation of the baseball executives, who wanted to Get On With It). This one was purely Yankee-centric, of course. But it was still interesting to see. After the game, Derek Jeter gave a short speech thanking the fans for their support, and the team took a lap around the park waving to the fans. I’m not overly fond of Jeter – he is, after all, the face of this generation’s Yankees – but I can’t deny that he seems a classy guy.

ESPN did a good job covering the game, which felt more like an All-Star Game with the Yankees appearing to enjoy every minute of it, win or lose, and there were several good interviews with the retired players in the park. Reggie Jackson was as always a provocative figure, stating his opinion that Mariano Rivera is one of the five greatest Yankees. (Let’s see: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle… who else has a clear claim to that fifth spot? Jeter? Whitey Ford? Jackson himself? Maybe Reggie’s on to something here.) Yogi Berra’s always fun to watch, as well.

Even as a Red Sox fan, it’s a little sad to see another historic stadium closing up shop – the Yankees move to their brand new stadium next year. This leaves Fenway Park (opened 1912) and the Cubs’ Wrigley Field (1914) as the last links to the era before expansion. The next oldest is Dodger Stadium (1962), amazingly enough, and only a half-dozen other parks pre-date the 1990s (and the Mets’ Shea Stadium and the Twins’ Metrodome will be history soon enough). While we shouldn’t be a slave to history, a sense of its history has always been one of baseball’s strengths.

Looking forward, the Yankees have some pretty serious problems to deal with over the next few years, even with the biggest payroll in baseball. A lot of things went (unexpectedly) right for them this year, but they’re still going to miss the playoffs (demonstrating once again that Daring Fireball’s John Gruber may be a good technology columnist, but he’s a pretty poor sports analyst), and Jeter, Mike Mussina and Hideki Matsui seem to be firmly into the decline phases of their careers. The first few years at the new Yankee Stadium could be rough ones for the home team.

On the bright side, we all can watch the Red Sox try to defend their World Series title next month!

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