Living nearby but keeping the stadium at arm’s length

Whelan, Miranda returning to the AzFL
Riding the Nostalgia Train to Yankee Stadium

The Yankees and the South Bronx have always co-existed rather uneasily with each other.

When the Yanks first arrived in the Bronx, the demographics of the area were far different from what they become in the 1960s and 1970s and what they are today. In fact, as the borough changes, so too did Yankee Stadium. While the renovations in the 1970s were ostensibly about modernizing the stadium, the Yankees sealed off the inside of the park from the outside. Gone were the views of the tenement houses across the street. Instead those residents saw a drab gray wall backing up along River Ave.

This stark contrast between the rich and powerful Yankees and a very poor and struggling neighborhood came to head in 1977 when the South Bronx erupted in riots. As the Yankees played at night, smoke from the fires in the area wafted over that high outfield wall. While the Yanks try to make fans forget they’re in the Bronx, the Bronx would not allow the fans to forget where they were.

Today, the stories of class conflict in the city have fallen by the wayside. The areas around Yankee Stadium are still among the poorest and least safe neighborhoods in the city, but as the team grew wildly popular and successful throughout the 1990s, friend of the Yankees Rudy Giuliani made sure that no place in the city had more cops than Yankee Stadium at game time. Now, no one thinks twice about trekking up to the South Bronx to see a Yankee game.

But what about the people on the other side of this story? What about the hundreds of thousands of people who live around Yankee Stadium? For them, the impending destruction of the old stadium and the arrival of the new stadium tells a different story.

David Gonzalez, writing in The Times this weekend, delves into that story of a neighborhood defined, often reluctantly, by a stadium in which most residents could never afford to set foot:

It’s just that too often, no one much respected the neighborhood outside its walls, including Yankee executives. That’s what makes for my melancholy heart.

Over the years there was griping about how the area was unsafe — this despite scores of police officers assigned to games and the presence of two pretty well-fortified courthouses and a transit police station a couple of blocks away. And there were arguments about whether the Yankees could develop a fan base in the Bronx — a borough that is home to legions of baseball-mad Dominicans and Puerto Ricans.

On one level, you could dismiss it as just posturing, a bargaining ploy over the years meant to wrest something new from the city — tax breaks or a stadium. But for a track man at Cardinal Hayes High School who ran past the stadium every day, it could feel like an entire community’s recent history had been reduced to a negotiating tactic.

The Yankees exist in Yankeeland, as much a part of the Boogie Down Bronx as the tony Riverdale neighborhood is. The rest of the South Bronx neighborhood along the Grand Concourse, near 161st St., exists in a separate world. It is one in which neighborhood — and, in particular, the now-gone Macombs Dam Park — matters to those who live there. It is a neighborhood defined by adversity and a neighborhood much better off than it was 15 or 20 years ago.

When the Yanks move across the street and open a new ballpark in seven months, the views we’ll change. The center field backdrop will now be 1020 Grand Concourse instead of the familiar court house. The stadium will be more insular than ever before with restaurants and martini bars and a mini Yankee City within the walls. But the neighborhood will be the same, defined not by an 85-year-old Baseball Cathedral but by a stadium that stole a park. We celebrate — or bemoan — the Yanks every day, but as an era draws to a close today, we can’t forget the countless people who have grown up and have lived in the shadows of the Yankees, for better or for worse.

Whelan, Miranda returning to the AzFL
Riding the Nostalgia Train to Yankee Stadium
  • LiveFromNewYork

    I grew up in the Bronx and the Grand Concourse was once, indeed, grand. For those of us who grew up in the once grand but now poor and struggling neighborhoods of the Bronx Yankee Stadium and the Yankees belonged to us. They were never a national franchise, they were ours. Even in the war-torn 70s, the Yankees were a beacon of hope and light for us. I remember going to the Stadium when it was about a quarter full. The glory days of the 50s and early 60s were far behind. The neighborhood and the team took a dive in the mid to late 60s and most of the 70s. Robert Moses drove the Cross Bronx Expressway through the great neighborhoods of the Bronx and the city itself was in utter decay and lawlessness in the 70s and most of the 80s.

    I don’t know if the Bronx can “come back” like Manhattan and most of Brooklyn has done. Places like Fort Green in Brooklyn and a lot of the UWS above 89th street were dark and dangerous places in the 70s and 80s. They’ve come back to survive and thrive.

    The buildings around the Stadium shout its once opulent past and perhaps it has a future.

    As a kid I played stickball and ring-o-levio in the Bronx. It was a magical time growing up despite the growing danger. There is and has been, for most former Bronxites, NO PLACE LIKE HOME. I have a lot of the books put out by the Bronx Historical Society and talk to former Bronxites all the time. We feel like a club or a fraternity. It’s one I’m glad I belong to. We understand egg creams and skully and street games and hanging out and the magical place that was the Bronx.

    Most of us feel like refugees who were bounced from our homeland yet most of us have incredible and magical memories of the Bronx as a special place. A very very special place. And the Yankees were always part and parcel of that.

    Perhaps it all can be magical once again. One can hope.

    No matter what I thank both the Bronx and the Yankees for the memories.

  • David Brown

    This is a horrible article. I do not think the most ardent Red Sox fan could have dreamed it up. Critics of the new Stadium and the Yankees, always complain about Macombs Dam Park (And the costs involved), and the community. But what is forgotten about is this. What would have happened, if no new stadium would have been built? What about the possibility of an accident (Like at the Staten Island Ferry?). There would have been hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits, that the city would have paid out. Keep in mind, the steel supports of the stadium, go back to the TWENTIES. Everyone complains about the costs involved with the new stadium, but I never hear complaints about the Willis Ave Bridge (At LEAST $650,000,000), and NOT enough about the Fulton Street Train Station (The community is getting a Metro North Station for only $91 million, which should count for something (Now critics like Neil Demasse over at ” Field of Schemes” are complaining about that, when even he said it was a good idea last year (Not to mention, Steinbrenner was promised tin 1973)). This week, Congress had the nerve to hold hearings about the Stadium, the SAME DAY, the Bush Administration were bailing out AIG for $81 BILLION!. What about the possibility of one day the Yankees moving to New Jersey? It was not out of the realm of possibility (I worry about the Islanders leaving Long Island). Now, the Yankees will be here for at least 30 years more. As for the community and the “Sensitivity” issue, I think about Citi Field where Wilpon was sensitive and politically correct, and their new ball park will be less than 30 feet from junkyards. Is that what critics want? As for the Courthouse itself, the city replaced it to the tune of $374,000,000, and they are adding the Gateway Center to the area, they are adding Boriqua College to the area, they improved the Lou Gehrig Pavailion, and they fixed the roads on the Grand Concourse (ALL of which benefit the community FAR more than visitors to the stadium), so it is not as you guys say “The stadium will be more insular than ever before with restaurants and martini bars and a mini Yankee City within the walls”. Lets compare that to Citi Field and the area around it?
    I hope that one day the critics just shut up and get over it.

  • Steve

    “by a stadium in which most residents could never afford to set foot”

    Completely untrue. Bleacher seats are $12. I don’t care if you’re making minimum wage at Taco Bell, you can afford that.

    • LiveFromNewYork

      this is true. I used to go as a teenager for next to nothing and just last year, after the new stadium was announced, bought a bleacher seat…again next to nothing.

      I’m just glad that after YEARS of threatening to take Yankee Stadium out of the Bronx it remains there. Critics are always people who didn’t grow up there, aren’t Yankee fans and don’t know what the F they are talking about.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos

      Yup.. My family grew up in the broke-ass bronx, two blocks from Webster Projects, and we went to games all the time. Baseball is still an acessible game to attend.

  • Steve

    For any of us who’ve had our cars RECENTLY broken into by parking along the Deegan (trying to save the $20-30 for parking) I can tell you the entire thrust of this article falls on deaf ears. If anyone is privileged and out of touch its not the Yankee executives, its the authors of this article, and frankly, this post.

    And in my case this happened LONG after Guiliani left office, so blaming him for adding so many police is just absurd. If anything, there aren’t enough.

    • LiveFromNewYork

      I never get why anyone would drive to the Bronx but this has always been an issue. Not just recently, not just in the Guiliani years but way way before.

  • David Brown

    I read the article by David Gonzalez, and that piece is a joke. He mentions being a Pirate fan (Because of Roberto Clemente). If you look at Pittsburgh, they have perhaps the best of the new stadiums (PNC Park), and very few people care (Pirate Baseball is FILLER in between the end of Penguin Hockey Season and the Start of Steeler Training Camp). Speaking of the Penguins, I do not hear critics complaining about the new Penguins Arena, being built in the biggest MINORITY AREA in the City (The Hill). Throw in the fact that Mario Lemieux admitted LYING about moving the team to Kansas City, just to get the arena. I wonder why you HEAR NOTHING ABOUT THAT?
    He waxes poetic about the likes of Vic Power, (Who was a .284 hitter, who NEVER hit 20 home runs, NEVER had 100 RBI’s, and ONCE had 100 Runs scored. Source: This is a classic example of an AVERAGE player AT BEST. He WAS NOT even Jason Giambi or Carlos Delgado (Let alone Gehrig, Foxx, or Pujols). In order to accuse the Yankees of racism) (Why not bring up a PUERTO RICAN like Ed Figueroa who was THE FIRST PUERTO RICAN to win TWENTY GAMES in a SEASON?). What about the Latin players of today, on the Yankees like a Mariano Rivera, don’t they count?
    Finally, there is NO other organization in America (EXCEPT MAYBE IVY LEAGUE SCHOOLS), that are more IVORY TOWER and ELITEST than his PAPER THE NEW YORK TIMES (Who had a brand new building built, on the backs of people who had their property condemned via Eminent Domain (In one case, the family owned property for ONE HUNDRED YEARS)). So maybe, he should shut up and look in thank God, for his salary, and think about WHO is paying him to write such rubbish?.

    • LiveFromNewYork

      They don’t get it. And if you don’t get it, there’s no sense in explaining it. Heading out to the Stadium in a little while. Feels weird to know it’s the last time.

  • Austin

    Didn’t the Yankees want to build the new stadium in Manhattan but couldn’t?

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos

    Ahh, 1020 Grand Concourse, a/k/a the Executive Towers building. Former home of Flavor Flav of Public Enemy and Kool Keith the X of Ultramagnetic MC’s.

    …And, of countless crackheads.