Update: NHL will play two games at Yankee Stadium next January

May 15th: Done deal, both the NHL and the Yankees have officially announced it. The first game (Rangers-Devils) is scheduled for 12:30pm ET on Jan. 26th (Sunday), the second (Rangers-Islanders) for 7:30pm ET on Jan. 29th (Wednesday).

April 16th: Katie Strang has confirmed the NHL is planning on two outdoor games at Yankee Stadium next season, with the three locals participating: Rangers-Devils (Jan. 26th) then Rangers-Islanders (Jan. 29th). The deal is expected to be finalized soon.

April 10th: Via Helen Elliot: Yankee Stadium is the “preferred venue” for an outdoor NHL game on January 26th of next year. The NHL is hoping to play three outdoor games next winter — the scheduled Winter Classic in Michigan plus two others. Dodger Stadium is the favorite to land the third game.

The Yankees have been trying to lure the Winter Classic — the NHL’s annual marquee/cash cow event — to the Bronx since the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, but scheduling conflicts with the Pinstripe Bowl have prevented it from happening. The Pinstripe Bowl contract doesn’t expire until 2015, but the Winter Classic is usually played right around New Year’s. The tentative late-January schedule of this game could make it possible. Either way, I’m totally there if it happens. (h/t Ryan Dadoun)

What Went Wrong: Yankee Stadium

(Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)

The current version of Yankee Stadium is now four years old, so we have enough data to definitively say something like “the place gives up homers like crazy.” It’s no longer a small sample size fluke, like we argued back in April 2009. We also have enough data to say that the place can be pretty lifeless at times, and that seemed to be especially prevalent this season. The place is only four years old, so it’s a problem.

Attendance
For the most part, attendance over the last eight years has held pretty steady, and therein lies the problem. There should have been a spike when the new building opened, just like there was when the old place closed…

Total Per Game Capacity MLB Rank
2012 3,542,406 43,733 87.0% 6th
2011 3,653,680 45,107 89.7% 7th
2010 3,765,807 46,491 88.9% 7th
2009 3,674,495 45,364 86.7% 8th
2008 4,298,655 53,069 92.3% 5th
2007 4,271,083 52,729 91.7% 7th
2006 4,243,780 52,392 91.2% 5th
2005 4,090,692 50,502 87.9% 5th

There was a spike after the 2009 World Series, but for the most part the new place was selling seats at a similar rate to the old building (before the closing spike). I doubt the Yankees expected that. The problem was especially noticeable in the postseason this year, when there were swaths of empty seats in the club’s five home playoff games. Was the lack of postseason attendance overstated? Definitely, but the fact that there were empty seats to talk about in the first place is a problem.

Obviously we can point to the ticket prices as a culprit for the less than stellar attendance, but I don’t believe it’s that simple. Maybe it is, I just happen to think there are more factors in play. The economy has sucked the last few years, parking prices are ridiculous, stuff like that contributes as well. I never have trouble finding $20-ish dollar tickets to a typical regular season game, but I’m one person, one data point. The Yankees have won plenty in recent years, so performance isn’t an issue.

Long story short, the Yankees aren’t going to drop ticket prices because they’re still selling a ton of tickets. The prices are set at what people are willing to pay (not team payroll, contrary to what many seem to believe), and they won’t drop until people stop paying. Given the size of the city and surrounding areas in addition to the high tourist traffic, I wouldn’t count on it happening anytime soon.

Atmosphere
This one is entirely subjective, though I suppose you could bring a decibel meter to the park like they did with CitiField. Good luck finding historical data for the Old Stadium to use as a comparison. Besides, crowd noise isn’t the be-all, end-all of stadium atmosphere.

Anyway, has the atmosphere of the old Stadium been overstated in comparison to the new place? Absolutely. Trust me, that place wasn’t exactly rockin’ all the time like you’ll be led to believe. It was definitely more energetic than the current Stadium though, there’s no doubt about that in my mind. Why is this? Tons of reasons, really. The building itself doesn’t provide great acoustics, but that’s not a “the Yankees screwed up!” thing, that’s a “the City of New York says you can’t build like that anymore” thing. Is the security crew too harsh? Maybe, I’ve never had an issue though. There are a lot of factors beyond the team control here.

One part of the stadium experience the Yankees do control but have largely ignored in recent years is the quality of the between-innings entertainment. How long has the Cap Game been going on? The Subway Race? I mean, the YMCA-dancing grounds crew was neat the first time and literally never again after that. I have yet to see anyone say “oh great, it’s Cotton Eye Joey!” during a game. Monument Park as well, it’s hidden way in center field and can’t really be displayed, even if you’re sitting up in the grandstand and just looking around.

I also think the Yankees have generally done a poor job of cultivating fans in recent years. They don’t have any caravan events, don’t let kids run the bases after games, don’t do any of these super-fan-friendly things other teams around the league do. Yeah I can get to the park early and shake hands with a fringe roster player at the ticket gate every so often but who cares? Baseball is more of a generational sport than any other, dads and sons and grandkids all enjoy it together. I don’t think they’ve done enough to reel in the younger fans out there, the ones who are still impressionable.

This turned into more of a rant than I expected, so my bad. I think the new Stadium is pretty awesome in general, I love the nice wide corridors and the restrooms that are actually properly sized and all sorts of other stuff. The food choices could be a little better, but that’s terribly important to me personally. The postseason attendance and atmosphere problems this year were very noticeable though, and they really helped make some of the other deficiencies at the new building stand out. It’s never going to be the old Stadium in part because what we remember of the old Stadium has been romanticized and no longer jibes with reality, but I still feel it’s lacking compared to other state of the art facilities.

Attendance data via ESPN.

Notes from Girardi’s end-of-season press conference

(Seth Wenig / AP Photo)

The Yankees were swept out of the ALCS by the Tigers almost a week ago, but it wasn’t until today that Joe Girardi conducted every manager’s annual end-of-season press conference. He said the team has yet to look back and evaluate the 2012 campaign just because everyone takes a few days off to be with their families and kinda get away from baseball immediately after the season ends. They’ll obviously evaluate the club top to bottom in the coming weeks. Here are the important notes from the press conference…

On Alex Rodriguez

  • “These were things that we evaluated a lot before we made our decisions,” said Girardi when asked about benching A-Rod in the postseason. “I don’t go back and second guess myself.”
  • Girardi has not yet spoken to Alex (or any other player for that matter) about their relationship, but said “that will take place … it just hasn’t yet.” He isn’t worried about things being strained but acknowledged that actions have consequences and he will deal with them if need be.
  • Girardi said he believes A-Rod was healthy in the postseason and was just struggling, particularly against righties.
  • “Can Alex be a very good player again? Absolutely, I don’t have any question in my mind,” said the skipper. He praised A-Rod’s baseball smarts and said he expects him to be his everyday third baseman next season.
  • Chad Jennings has Girardi’s full quotes about A-Rod if you aren’t sick of hearing about it yet.

On the playoffs…

  • “Yes it was somewhat puzzling,” said Girardi on the offense’s struggles. He attributed Robinson Cano‘s disappearing act to being pitched well and just falling into a poorly-timed slump. He did acknowledge that Robbie was frustrated, which likely compounded the problem.
  • Girardi said he doesn’t think the team’s unfavorable postseason schedule contributed to their lack of hitting, ditto all the tough games they had to play down the stretch in September. He basically said he doesn’t believe his team was worn out after a month of playoff-type games.
  • “I hope not,” said Girardi when asked if he may have he lost the trust of some players by sitting them in the postseason. “I was making moves trying to win ballgames … I’ve been honest with our players and I will continue to do that, and I will do my best for this organization to win every game.”
  • Girardi attributed the dull Yankee Stadium atmosphere in the postseason to a lack of scoring on the team’s part, nothing more. “I think our fans are very passionate about the Yankees (because) we see it even on the road.”

On injuries…

  • “(It has) not taken place,” said Girardi when asked if CC Sabathia has gone to visit Dr. James Andrews about his elbow. He is encouraged by his ace left-hander’s performance in September and the ALDS and he expects to have him in Spring Training. “We’re always concerned that it’s maybe something more than you think it is … I don’t like people going to see doctors (but) sometimes people have to be evaluated to make sure everything is okay.”
  • “We expect him to be back and playing for us next year on Opening Day,” said Girardi about Derek Jeter and his fractured ankle. He added that there are always concerns following a surgery, including Jeter pushing his rehab too hard and having some kind of setback.
  • Mariano Rivera did throw sooner than expected this year but Girardi never did ask him if he will definitely return next season. “I don’t think you push a rehab like he pushed it unless you have some interest in coming back,” he said.
  • There were no undisclosed or “hidden” injuries this year, so to speak. Russell Martin‘s hands are banged up but that is typical catcher stuff and isn’t a long-term concern.
  • Both hitting coach Kevin Long (elbow) and third base coach Rob Thomson (hip) will have surgery this offseason, if you care.

On free agents and the team moving forward, etc…

  • “There’s a lot of hunger and fire in him,” said Girardi about Andy Pettitte, but he doesn’t know if the veteran southpaw will return next year. He expects him to discuss things with his family before making a decision.
  • He mentioned briefly that like Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda is among the players who will make a decision about his future and playing beyond this year.
  • Girardi said he was unsure about Ichiro Suzuki coming back next year but he knows the veteran outfielder enjoyed his time in New York. He also praised Ichiro for making adjustments like playing left field and batting towards the bottom of the order.
  • “I think this kid has something to offer us,” said the manager about Eduardo Nunez while also acknowledging that his role for next year is undetermined because other parts of the club are unsettled. “There is talent there, there is speed, there is excitement, he has a lot to offer.”
  • “There’s a lot of players we have to decide what we’re going to do with, but I believe when Spring Training starts next year, we’ll be a championship club,” said Girardi, acknowledging that the team has a lot of players with open contract situations.
  • He also spoke about the Yankees getting power from non-traditional power sources (specifically catcher, second base, and center field) and their ability of the offense to absorb the loss of a homerun hitter (i.e. Nick Swisher) if that happens this winter.
  • Girardi acknowledged that the team has a busy offseason coming but doesn’t expect the chaos to be a problem. “Sometimes quiet is a bad thing,” he joked.

On the status of him and his coaches…

  • “No. The pressure you see I put on myself,” said Girardi when asked about the pressure of entering a contract year. He doesn’t expect the team to talk about a new deal until his current one expires and he doesn’t anticipate asking for an extension before then either.
  • Girardi expects the entire coaching staff to return next year but again pointed out that the team has not yet discussed everything.

Miscellaneous…

  • Girardi praised his role players for stepping up into more prominent roles than expected this year, mentioning Raul Ibanez, David Phelps, and Cody Eppley by name.
  • When asked about Cano’s general lack of hustle down the line to first base, Girardi said he “will address with every player to play hard.”

Rain Out Fun: Old Yankee Stadium photos

Yankee Stadium in the foreground, the Polo Grounds in the background. Click for larger.

There are few things about baseball that I love more than the history, especially old photos of the Yankees and Yankee Stadium. The photo you see about comes courtesy of (the ironically named) Stuff Nobody Cares About, which also has plenty of other old photos of the Stadium. Some are even high resolution and in color, which is always neat. Needless to say, the entire gallery gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation, so make sure you check it out.

[h/t Craig Calcaterra and Alex Belth]