8 Things New York Yankees Fans Should Miss From Their Old Stadium
8 Things Yankees Fans Should Miss From the Stadium
It has been five years since they tore down Yankee Stadium and the New York Yankees moved into a newer, more modern ballpark just across E. 161st Street. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long.
On the site of the Old Stadium now stands Heritage Field (part of Macombs Dam Park) complete with three baseball diamonds – one close to where the actual field used to be, one in what was the right field corner and one where the left field bleachers stood just beyond Monument Park and the bullpens. Though they leveled the area, they didn’t alter the shape, that is, the boundaries of the structure remain unchanged. As a result, fans going to the New Yankee Stadium can still envision where the Old Stadium stood, with home plate at the corner closest to the Major Deegan and the grand stand extending out asymmetrically to E. 161st Street and River Avenue.
I’m sure there are those who were lucky enough to see the original Yankee Stadium who claim the renovation was horrible. That it ruined their ballpark which, now changed, could never be as wonderful as the Old Stadium where greats like Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle thrilled crowds and established dynasties. I do envy these fans that saw the original park and I understand their perspective because I hold a similar one toward the New Stadium. Regardless, the renovated version is the Stadium I grew up in, the Stadium that I love, and though it had been gutted during the renovation, it was still the same building as the original Yankee Stadium. More importantly, construction crews clearly didn’t scare away any of the ghosts.
The greatest thing about Yankee Stadium 2.0 was that it had the same atmosphere of baseball’s historic ballparks (like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park), but it was modernized architecturally, i.e. nobody had to watch a game behind a steel beam (like at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park). It may not have been the same Stadium that was built in 1923, but for 32 years it was home for the pinstripe faithful and hosted some of the greatest moments in franchise history.
I’m still shocked whenever I go to a Yankee game and look across the street at an iconic site absent of the building that made it such hallowed ground. It’s a rush of nostalgic heartache that can’t be healed no matter how big the new diamond-vision is.
These are the top eight things I miss about Yankee Stadium.
8. The Bat
Outside of the main entrance stood a 138-foot exhaust pipe that was made to look like a Babe Ruth model bat, complete with a taped handle and Louisville Slugger logo. “The Bat” became the official meeting spot for fans before they entered the Stadium.
It’s these little, quirky elements that give Stadiums character. True, the Bat was a minor feature, but it was a clever one that made Yankee Stadium more unique. It remains in its original location, currently outside the Metro-North Station, but away from the Stadium it has lost its significance in the experience of going to a Yankee game.
7. The Courthouse
The aesthetic value of a stadium is not limited to the building itself. Rather, the view beyond the ballpark is just as significant. PNC Park in Pittsburgh boasts the Roberto Clemente Bridge. In St. Louis, the image of the Gateway Arch isn’t just mowed into the outfield grass of Busch Stadium – you can see the actual Arch beyond the stadium in center field.
Yankee Stadium had the Bronx Supreme Court out beyond right-center field. Honestly, this building has nothing to do with the team itself. But there was a familiarity of taking in the view of the entire ballpark with the Courthouse in the backdrop. It was a part of the Stadium experience.
Across the street from the Courthouse is a building that used to be the Concourse Plaza Hotel. In its heyday it was essentially the Bronx’s version of the Waldorf Astoria. Babe Ruth, among other athletes, lived there during the season and it was the site of many presidential campaign stops.
Neither of these buildings is visible within the New Yankee Stadium.
6. The Black Seats
You never want a team to remove seats from its ballpark, but during the renovation, the Yankees did just that in center field. By doing so, however, they created one of the most iconic aspects of the Stadium.
The black seats in center field functioned as the batter’s eye and emphasized the historic aspect of the Stadium. This section was like a black and white snapshot amidst the navy blue that dominated everywhere else, its romanticism augmented when considering people actually used to sit there for games.
Hitting a home run into the black seats became a feat in Yankee Stadium and many of the team’s most historic home runs landed in that portion of the park.
5. The Bleachers
For the most part, the bleachers haven’t changed from the Old Stadium – the Bleacher Creatures in right field still do roll call and the left field bleachers are actually closer to the field after re-situating Monument Park and the bullpens. But there is one glaring difference.
Instead of the black seats, the batter’s eye is now formed by the Mohegan Sun restaurant, the outside walls of which block the view of the field from some seats. If you’re sitting in the bleachers against the wall of the restaurant in either left or right field, the opposite portion of the outfield is cut off from view. Fans with these seats can only see the blocked parts of the field through one of the televisions they’ve mounted on the wall.
One of the advantages of the New Stadium was supposed to be a better viewing experience with more comfortable and better positioned seats. The fact that some seats have an obstructed view of the field is completely unacceptable. I long for the days when sitting in the bleachers meant being able to see the entire field.
4. The Upper Deck
Yankee Stadium was the first three-tiered venue in North America and seated nearly twice as many people as the average stadium at the time it was built. The renovation then added nine rows to the third level, effectively giving the Ballpark in the Bronx one of the most towering upper decks in baseball. What is more, it hung over the loge and main levels right on top of the field of play. It was steep and imposing and intimidated visiting teams.
The upper deck in the New Yankee Stadium doesn’t have as much of a presence being that it’s much further from the field of play. It’s also smaller in order to accommodate more luxury suites. This design change may make economic sense, but it essentially takes away the more affordable seats that should have been available to the average fan that actually cares about what’s happening on the field.
3. Bob Sheppard
I had the privilege of growing up during one of the greatest eras of the New York Yankees. Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, David Cone and so many others provided sights that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Bob Sheppard provided the sounds.
“The Voice of Yankee Stadium,” Bob Sheppard was the public address announcer for just over half a century. His plaque in Monument Park, dedicated on May 7, 2000 (his 50th anniversary season), comes closest to portraying the greatness of Sheppard’s voice, which truly needs to be heard to be fully appreciated. It reads:
“For half a century, he has welcomed generations of fans with his trademark greeting, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Yankee Stadium.’ His clear, concise and correct vocal style has announced the names of hundreds of players – both unfamiliar and legendary – with equal divine reverence, making him as synonymous with Yankee Stadium as its copper façade and Monument Park.”
Sheppard’s health began to deteriorate in 2006 and he ultimately missed the entire 2008 season, though, a recording of his voice was used for the final game at the Stadium. He died on July 11, 2010.
It’s fitting that his career ended before the move to the New Stadium (Paul Olden took over in 2009). Sheppard was never about flash. As his plaque indicates, he was about doing the job correctly, which is more reflective of the teams that played in the Old Stadium than the new one.
Still, three or four times a game, Sheppard’s voice echoes through the New Stadium when Derek Jeter steps to the plate. Captain Clutch does not wish to be introduced by anyone other than Sheppard – and why would he? If there was one reason to re-sign Jeter this year (besides everything he's done for the team), it was so that fans can continue to hear Sheppard’s pre-recorded introduction.
2. The Ghosts
The New Stadium has hosted some historic moments, such as Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit, Mariano Rivera’s 602nd save and a World Series title in 2009. But I doubt it will ever match the historic significance of its predecessor.
The Old Stadium was home to 26 championship teams and 21 Hall of Famers. Attendees witnessed October heroics from players like Don Larsen and Reggie Jackson and November heroics from Derek Jeter and Scott Brosius. The historical and emotional significance of the Stadium is immeasurable. It didn’t gain the moniker “the Cathedral of Baseball” for nothing.
But its importance was not limited to baseball. It hosted papal masses, boxing matches, concerts and even football games, including the “Greatest Game Ever Played” between the Baltimore Colts and New York Football Giants (which Bob Sheppard announced).
The Stadium had this palpable aura of history and wonder that couldn’t possibly be moved across the street with the team like some piece of equipment. I feel sorry for the next generation of Yankees fans who will never experience it.
1. The Tunnel
One of the features of the New Stadium is that you can see the field as soon as you walk in the park. Some people love this because it allows you to see the game as you walk around to get food or go to the restroom etc. I believe that’s what the seventh inning stretch is for.
I absolutely hate this design. As a kid, and even when I got older, one of my favorite parts of going to a Yankee game was the anticipation of getting to my seat. I’d almost always be in the loge or the upper deck, depending on who I was with, usually on the first base side. Walking to whatever section my seat was in, I’d get brief peaks of the field, glimpses of the spectacle to come, with every tunnel I’d pass until I finally reached the one corresponding to my seat.
Then, it’s show time. Walking through the tunnel, the field is slowly revealed. First you see the sky (hopefully blue), then the top of the Courthouse, then the recreated façade, then the bleachers and the black seats, the outfield wall (which in my mind will always have a “Nobody Beats the WIZ” advertisement in right field) until finally an explosion of the greenest grass and most finely groomed infield on planet Earth. I doubt there is a single baseball fan that could walk through the tunnel without pausing at the end to take in the breathtaking visual of Yankee Stadium.
I miss the thrill from something as simple as walking to my seat, but in the Old Yankee Stadium, every second was exhilarating. It was where I made my first pro baseball memories and, besides my backyard, where my dad taught me the greatest game known to man. I still have trouble coming to grips with the fact that it's been demolished.
There’s a portion in the book Shoeless Joe when J.D. Sallinger describes the pain he felt when his New York Giants moved to San Francisco and the heartbreak when they tore down the Polo Grounds. The Yankees didn’t move across the country, but they did tear down the Stadium where I grew to love the team that called it home.
George Steinbrenner claimed the New Stadium was for the fans and I do believe he meant it wholeheartedly. But I, for one, didn’t ask for it.