The children of the 1980s

Open Thread: Terry Mulholland
Mailbag & Poll: Pineda, Non-Guaranteed Deals
On a Sunday in August in 1992, just 28,000 fans filled the Stadium to watch the Yanks lose in extra innings to the California Angels. (Photo by flickr user

As we while away the days until meaningful baseball returns to the Bronx, we’ve entered the Wayback Machine, and we’ve revisited, for many of us, the Yanks of our youth. It’s always entertaining to sit here with the perspective of five World Series championships and a slew of playoff berths under our collective fan belts while remembering the lost years of the 1980s and 1990s. After all, who doesn’t love a little stroll down Memory Lane with Hensley Muelens?

For me, this Retro Week look back has taken me on ride to my childhood. My first Yankee experiences were in the mid 1980s as the Yanks toiled behind the AL East leaders, as George Steinbrenner traded the same players over and over again, wouldn’t let youth develop and sacrificed the Yanks’ draft picks for mediocre free agents. Still, as a little boy, I loved going up to the Bronx for baseball games.

One of the biggest differences between the Yankees of today and the Yankees of yesteryear was, of course, the ballpark. The Yankees of the 1980s played in a stadium that was barely a decade removed from a renovation. While our parents knew the Stadium as it was for the Mick and Joe D, we knew it for Reggie, for Don Mattingly and, when they moved in the fences, for Jack Clark. Camden Yards and the retro stadium craze was but an idea on paper by the end of the decade, but for kids my age, it was a baseball playground and Cathedral rolled up into one.

The old stadium in late 1980s and early 1990s was marked by its focus on baseball. There were no other diversions for fans of all ages than the game on the field. The concourses, cramped by the mid-2000s, were always pretty empty and so too were the upper decks. Attendance on the weekends topped out in the high 20,000s or low 30,000s. Only Opening Day or a Red Sox visit, even then, pushed the attendance toward the 40 or 50 thousand range.

We went to the ballpark those days for the games just as we do today. But our expectations were low. The Yankees of 1990 were flat-out terrible, finishing in 7th place for the last time in franchise history. In fact, from 1989-1992, for a span of four seasons, the Yanks didn’t finish above .500 and couldn’t climb out of the bottom half of the AL East. So with rows upon rows of empty seats in the Tier Reserve stretching out into the Bronx night, teenagers would scramble for foul balls, and security guards would chase errant fans from shuttered sections.

Eventually, when A-Rod arrived and then when construction on the new stadium began, attendance climbed, and the Yanks sold out nearly every game. In high school, I could buy tickets on a whim; by the end of college, StubHub was the only way to go. The stadium changed as the Yanks fancied up the seats with extra padding and waiter service. But the shell of the structure was reaching 80, and the Steinbrenners wanted a modern facility.

Today, we come to expect winning from the Yankees, and I wouldn’t want to return to those days of bad baseball with no crowds. Today, we have a gleaming, modern facility with wide open concourses and a different view behind center field. Sometimes, I may miss being a little kid and being awed by the park and players below. There is an innocence to it that we cannot recapture. But that is what our memories are for. Today, the Yankees win, and the Wade Taylors, Jeff Johnsons, John Habyans and Greg Cadarets of our youth are better left there.

Open Thread: Terry Mulholland
Mailbag & Poll: Pineda, Non-Guaranteed Deals
  • IRememberCelerinoSanchez

    The umpire in the photo is Al Clark. I was lucky enough to meet him a few times in the late 70s/early 80s, when I was a kid. Super nice guy. It was a shame he ran into some troubles later.

    Ben, thanks for the nice memory.

  • PagsRags

    “Eventually ARod arrived?” I may be drunk but I’m not that drunk- The Yanks started filling the stadium WAY before ARod jumped along for the ride. I think things really picked up in 1994 when, absent a strike, The Yanks would have gone all the way.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      I’ve looked at this in depth before, but here’s the short story from 2000 until A-Rod.

      Average Home Attendance
      2000 – 37,772
      2001 – 40,307
      2002 – 42,787
      2003 – 42,785
      2004 – 46,608
      2005 – 50,502

      Maybe it wasn’t all A-Rod, but there’s a big jump in attendance once A-Rod arrived. It helped that the Yanks were good.

  • Brendan

    The new stadium sucks. Also the Yankees finished 7th in 1990, not 1991. But this is about the level of attention to detail I’ve come to expect from RAB.

    • VLM

      Just curious: If you’re going to be a huge dick about tiny mistakes that they’ll obviously correct, why do you keep reading the free content they provide?

    • nedro

      Then go read fucking bleacher report, fucking douchebag troll.

  • Mr. Sparkle

    Two things I really miss about the old days (80s to early 90s in my case): Being able to, as Ben said, go to a game on a whim and easily get tickets. What I really miss is being able to buy upper deck seats ANYWHERE in the upper deck, for a really cheap price and still have a great view of the game (even without sneaking down to the better seats!)

    You really felt as if you were right on top of the field no matter where you sat in the old stadium. I’d take the cramped seating and ladder-like stairways in the old upper deck over the leg room and need for binoculars in the new stadium.

    I know everyone will jump over me as one of “those guys” who just doesn’t like anything new. Not true. I went into the new Stadium very excited and left very disappointed. I see it this way, the new Stadium is great for tourists. The original Stadium was great for fans.

    • KeithK

      I wouldn’t want to return to bad teams but I’d return to the old park and 20-30k crowds in a heartbeat. I love deciding to go to a game on a whim and buying walk-up tickets day of game. Much better than StubHub. And Sparkle has it right – the sight lines were just better with the steep rake in the upper deck in the old yard.

      More than anything else, give me a place where everything is focused on baseball and I’m happy.

      • Professor Longnose

        In the 70s, the team was great AND you could go to almost any game at the last minute and get tickets. Only Bat Day and Old-Timers’ Day were guaranteed sellouts. And tickets were a hell of a lot cheaper then, too.

        • Cris Pengiucci

          And salaries a heck of a lot lower …

    • AdamC

      Agree Sparkle…..just heading down to the stadium and getting a couple of seats just about anywhere….I used to walk across the old dilapidated ball field on the north (I think) side of the stadium and cut through a torn fence to walk up to the gates. I know, it’s all new and pretty now, but there was a simplicity to things in the late 80s and early 90s….plus, the low expectations of a lousy team… was baseball, pure and simple.

      The team and stadium is now corporate Yanks. From the food (prices!) to the white collar fans taking far too many seats and the $200 million payroll that leaves us feeling empty if the team doesn’t win the Series…’s not the same.

      Hey, I’d rather have the great team than the bad news squad of the late 80s…..just saying there was something attractive back then.

  • Hollywood

    That stat about the 1990 Yanks prompted me to look at Yankee history tonight. What I found: at .414, the 1990 Yanks had the lowest winning percentage for the franchise since 1913! Makes you understand how awful that team was, and appreciate the Yankees’ dominance over the years.

    Also found a stat I had heard of a while back: the Yankees had 39 consecutive winning seasons from 1926 through 1964. Thats the best all-time, and the second-best is the Yankees’ current streak of 19 winning seasons in a row. I inquire: does anyone think the Yankees will rip off 20 more winning seasons in a row to match that record?

  • RetroRob

    RetroRob appreciates Retro Week.

    A-Rod definately had an impact on attendance, but there were other forces, indeed greater forces, driving the Yankees attendance, but A-Rod was certainly part of it.

  • Cal

    The first game I ever attended at the Stadium was in 1991. Being from Virginia and having no local team, I’d gone with my dad and grandfather’s favorite club. I’d only ever saw them on road trips to Baltimore, but I did get to watch Bernie, Hensley, Kevin Maas, etc. as minor leaguers in Prince William County.

    I drove up on a lark one Saturday at dawn. Being in the days before GPS, I was following an old atlas and guess-timating the best way to get near the park. After driving through uptown and Harlem in my used and abused powder blue Coupe De Ville (with a powder blue CB attached as a custom item from the previous owner), I ended up on one of the side streets near the ballpark and paid $5 to a kid to find me a spot on the street. Someone will remember better than me what the going rate was for bleacher seats, but I paid either $5 or $10. (I remember that I gave the ticket booth guy a bill that I’d got in change from the kid who found me a parking spot, and the guy kept passing the worn bill under this blue light three times or so before giving me the ticket.)

    I intended to wander the stadium, but soon realized that wasn’t happening with a bleacher ticket. Still, it was great taking in the atmosphere for the first time. The game was against the Angels and the Yanks eventually found their way to defeat. I don’t remember too many other game particulars except for the banners and chants insisting that “GEORGE MUST GO!” (What a difference a few years eventually made…) I got back to my car and saw police checking out a junky van directly behind my car that had been broken into. I further noticed that I’d left some change strewn on the front seat meant for tolls, and then heard the cops say ‘when will these people learn not to try and save a few bucks by parking out here.’ I counted my blessings and hit the highway; not too shabby for my first time seeing the Bronx Bombers at home.

    • Darren

      That’s a fun story – thanks for sharing. Yeah in the old days, you could park in front of the courthouse on 161st and a guy would “watch the car” for you for $5.

  • gargoyle

    I hate the new YS. They couldn’t have screwed it up any more than they did – in every way. But what do you expect from any project in which Randy Levine is a major player?

  • Ross

    Good piece, Ben. Very relatable. I love this kind of stuff. And by the way, you’re spot on about the “A-Rod effect” on attendance. However, another hypothesis of mine is that attendance jumped with the announcement of the new stadium. WAYYY more people started buying season ticket plans so they’d be guaranteed seats in the new stadium. I know that’s what I did in 2004! Before that, I used to go to as many or more games per year, but once the new stadium was announced, I jumped on a plan. I’d imagine there were a lot of people who were more casual with attendance before the new stadium was announced, but figured the resale value would eventually pay back any extra tickets they had to buy as long as they had tickets in the new place!

  • sevrox

    I was stationed in Hawaii in the ’80’s. My uncle, who lived in Jersey, used to record games for me on Sony Betamax tapes (!) and mail them out for me to watch. Good times! Teams might not have been too good, but watching Rickey Henderson, Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and the other offensive cast of characters was entertaining regardless.

  • Brian in NH

    I’ve only ever been to one game at YS2 back around 2003. I’ve attended far more games at Fenway (growing up in NH and all). I remember my first game at Fenway, and back then anybody could get almost any seat the day of the game, much like these days of yore at YS. I was able to sit right near Pesky Pole and catch foul balls. During BP Rob Deer of the Tigers handed me a ball. I gave it to my little brother to look at and he promptly threw it back on the field. So Rob Deer went and got it for me again and signed it. It was one of the coolest moments of my young life. Thats not even possible now at YS3, and rare at Fenway. Prior to 2003 the sox were getting good and tickets were harder to come by, but once 2004 happened you basically have to go to ebay or stubhub now to get tickets.

  • jason

    Retro week prompted me to put a list together, mostly nondescript Yankees (mostly pitchers) of the late 80’s & early 90’s. Makes me realize there hasn’t been a Clay on the team for a while. (Kershaw is signed through 2013 I believe).

    Ken Clay
    Clay Parker
    Clay Christiansen
    Christian Parker
    Justin Christian
    (Kevin Christian Maas)
    Clay Bellinger
    Wade Taylor
    Cory Wade
    Chuck Cary

    • AdamC

      Chuck Cary! I loved him and his screwball.

      Clay Parker was sent to Detroit in the Nokes deal….with Lance McCullers, who had just blown a game on a wild pitch a day or two beforehand.

      Wade Taylor, along with Jeff Johnson and Scott Kaminicki (sp?) were the new “guns” the Yanks were counting on as they began to emerge from the dark ages…..I think Taylor and Johnson ended up with ERAs over SIX one year….and we’re talking in 120+ innings! Yikes.

  • JohnC

    WOW! I wish the YES Network would show one of those games on its YES NEtwork Yankee Classics with those teams. Or even better, one from the original Yankee Stadium with the 1973 team before it was remodeled the first time

    • JohnnyC

      First off, WPIX owns the footage from those years. Secondly, the tapes probably no longer exist. It wasn’t general practice until fairly recently to archive live telecasts. All of the kinescopes and tapes of the Tonight Show from 1962 to 1969 when it moved to LA were thrown into the garbage to clear storage space in 30 Rock. Like those tapes, the only existing copies are owned by collectors. For example, the 1960 WS kinescopes recently released were Bing Crosby’s personal copies, made only because he was in Europe at the time of the Series and wanted to watch it after he returned.

  • gc

    I loved the old stadium, despite its many flaws. I love the new stadium, despite its many flaws. But I do remember the days when the old place was so empty, it was actually depressing to go there. The funny thing is, I remember my first game which was in 1978. The Yanks were defending world champs, it was a weeknight, and there were maybe 25,000 people at the ballpark. The overwhelming majority of seats in the upper deck were empty and my friend and I spent most of the game just running all thru the empty seats in the highest part of the upper deck in right field. Yankee Stadium, new or old, is at its best when it’s teeming with people as far as the eye can see. And of course, it doesn’t hurt if there’s a really good team to watch on the field either. The 2012 season can’t get here fast enough!

  • moonimus

    I have many fond memories and old ticket stubs from all my games when I was much younger. The old stadium definitely felt warmer and welcoming. I like the new stadium especially the wider concourses and the bigger/cleaner bathrooms but the old stadium had a charm. It wasn’t dressed up to do anything but have come in, sit on your ass and take in a ballgame.

    Also I loved for years that the opening song at Yankee Stadium was “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” This was back in the days that I could not go out and purchase that tape or record so I always loved that it would come on before the Yanks took the field.

    Now they play that Star Wars theme which is good but the old song was better.

  • Dale Mohorcic

    I’m thinking of making the trip from LA this summer as I haven’t been to the new stadium yet. Any suggestions on how to get tickets, where to sit, where to stay? Things have changed some since I moved in 1997. . . .

  • Milo

    I just wrote a piece for LoHud about the new Stadium: While the early 90’s had small crowds, that’s not my enduring memory of the old Stadium. The design choices they made for the new place has definitely taken away from the experience.

  • dkidd

    those were the days. i remember WPIX endlessly replaying that ball that hit second base and bounced to willie randolph

    the last few years, every time the yankees face jim thome, i look forward to the clip of his first career home run into a completely empty ys2 right field

  • DSFC

    My first game was in 1981 against Chicago. I was 5. I remember three things – Britt Burns completely shut them down, Reggie got thrown out for arguing a called strike three, and the Yankees lost.

    Those teams would break your heart. Until the 1989 disaster, the Yankees were almost always in the hunt through most of the season before falling apart late in the year. The 1985 team had that fantastic offense with Donnie, Rickey and Dave Winfield and would have made the playoffs today with the wild card. The 1988 August collapse was particularly brutal – 9-20. Ouch. It became a sad joke the way they always, ALWAYS lacked starting pitching, every single year.

    Remember what a huge story it was in like 1991 when Sam Militello came up and threw a gem in his major league debut? That’s how starved for a good young pitcher we were. For years, they’d call up young pitchers and then dump them when they weren’t overnight successes – Jose Rijo, Doug Drabek, Bob Tewksbury, Al Leiter, etc. I remember the supposed “youth movement” in that horrible 1989-92 period, when the young future stars were the likes of Pat Kelly, Oscar Azocar, Mike Blowers, and the already mentioned triumvirate of suck that was Wade Taylor, Jeff Johnson and Chuck Cary. Scott Kamieniecki was the best starter they produced from 1989-94 – yikes.

    On attendence, I can remember driving up from Virginia for games during college in the mid-late ’90s and being able routinely to buy tickets at the box office shortly before game time. It seems crazy now, but we could get rather good upper deck seats for something like $20 an hour before the game. Parking was something like $15, $20ish for the seat, maybe another $10 for a hot dog and a coke. Now you can’t barely park for $45 or so that used to be the sum of the cost of going to the game. I haven’t been up to the new stadium yet since I’ve lived in Florida until very recently, but I can’t imagine the experience is the same – puny crowds and all, I still miss it.

  • Pipes

    My first game was Billy Martin day August 10th 1986. I’m 30. Some general memories of the Yankees of my childhood… random thoughts… The mets were good and it wasn’t “cool” to be a Yankee fan. I loved Matt Nokes…. miss games on WPIX…. also I remember being so upset when winfield was traded… mattingly was our only “star” we went to a lot of games because it was so cheap.

  • Jason T

    For those kids of the 80’s and 90’s that grew up thinking Kevin Mass was their own Mickey Mantle for a moment, the ones who grew up into poor or middle class income bracket adults, the new stadium is a fantasy.

    This whole week has lacked a bit of heart, just a bunch of sabermetrics to let us know if someone was good or bad, if a trade was smart or not.

    The charm of the players from that era is in the memories and really a lot of the writers here have said up front, they don’t remember the players and it doesn’t seem like they made an effort to learn anything about them beyond their stat sheet.

    My God I saw one of the writers here throw Andy Stankiewicz’s name out as a quality performer for the Yankees in the early 90s. I actually laughed out loud at that, a fun kid for a season and a half but he was average at best, a little slap hitter with heart who got playing time because Mike Gallego was made of cardboard.

    Don’t let knowing the value of OPS+ fool you into thinking you can write about players as if you saw them play.