Throughout 2007 and 2008 — RAB’s formative years — I was vocally opposed to the new stadium. I didn’t feel the Yankees needed to replace Yankee Stadium. I didn’t like the way the city went about appropriating parkland in the Bronx. I didn’t believe the pro-stadium crowd’s arguments about job creation and overall economic benefit. I didn’t approve of the tax benefits given to the Yanks by a cash-strapped New York City.
As a fan, I feared the destruction of a baseball cathedral. Despite mid-1970s renovations that destroyed some of the original flavor of Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth Built played a formidable role in my New York childhood. I had been going to Yankee games for years, and I grew to love the old home despite its flaws. The seats in the Tier Box level were, for many years, affordable and low enough to make fans feel they were right on top of the action. I saw bad teams and good teams, bad games and good games, playoff wins and playoff losses, an All Star Game and a Home Run Derby. We didn’t need a playground for the wealthy masquerading as a ballpark just to feed the Steinbrenners’ wallets.
Over time, many of my fears were borne out. The job creation numbers proved to be woefully overstated by the Yanks and those in favor of the stadium. The old stadium still stands, and replacement parks won’t open until 2011. The stadium did become a playground for the wealthy, but it also became a lightening rod for class problems in baseball and exposed some of the faulty economics of the game.
In the end, though, I have to admit that the stadium belongs in the “What Went Right” camp. The Yanks drew an American League-leading 3,719,358 fans, averaging over 45,000 per game. On the field, the team went 57-24 during the regular season and 7-1 during the playoffs. They won the World Series, at home, during the stadium’s first year. It was, of course, a success.
Meanwhile, from a fan’s perspective, certain aspects of the stadium experience were significantly better at the new ballpark. Although the memories are across the street, the new stadium had better sightlines down the line, more dining options and far more comfortable concourses. The integration of the bleachers into the rest of the stadium made for a more complete experience, and the standing room options provided unique peaks of the game for generally affordable prices.
Yet, I can’t put the stadium fully in the “What Went Right” because of a few decisions made by the Yankees. The Legends Suites are an obvious point contention. A moat separated Yankee fans from those willing to spend insane amounts of money on a baseball game, and even during batting practice, a time for kids to get autographs, the team was protective of its high-priced seats. The recessed upper deck provided better views from the back of the Grandstand but not from the front of the Terrace section. The exclusive restaurants and bars open to those in some sections lent the stadium an aura of exclusivity that shouldn’t be at a baseball stadium.
Especially in the early going, the Yankees took a lot of heat for these high-priced and noticeably empty areas. No one wanted to pay $2500 for a ticket during a bad economy, and the team will be lowering some prices this year. The Yanks also responded to concerns about the stark concrete nature of the bleachers by painting a few walls blue and adding World Series winners and retired numbers to spruce up the joint. It helped.
In the end, I have to come to terms with the stadium. For the rest of my life, I’ll be watching Yankee baseball games on the north side of 161st St. instead of on the south side. I might not have supported the process, but I can’t deny that, at least for its first year, Yankee Stadium was, by and large, a success. The World Series was icing on the cake as the team celebrated its first new home since the Harding Administration. Mostly, it all went right.