In 2008, the New York Yankees sold out their last 38 games. This year, they haven’t come close since Opening Day.
In the 1987 film “Wall Street,” Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko says, “Greed ... is good.” It can also be deaf, dumb and blind. Example: The New York Yankees, having deserted The House that Ruth Built, not grasping what they had.
From 1923-2008, the Yankees played in sport’s brightest light. Yankee Stadium meant monuments and sloping shadows and steep-ridged tiers. Each television camera angle was intimate; each seat, usually filled. The 2005-08 Bombers yearly passed a nonpareil 4 million in attendance. Baseball’s ATM tied profit, élan and class.
Since Yankee Stadium wasn’t broke, why fix it? That toxic virus: greed. The Bronx Bombers wanted more pricey corporate suites, deep pockets getting deeper. Imagine! A whole park inhabited by pre-meltdown AIG. Recently, The House that Greed Built debuted to bile reserved for Sarah Palin — except that at least she liked the middle class.
Last year I predicted here the folly of torching Babe’s abode: “For a time, the new Big Ballpark in the Bronx may seem hip, a new iPod or DVD. Later, flaws — cash-cow seats; worse TV angles; less sense of coming home — will evoke the old’s long-playing record.” I was right, if too generous: The new stadium’s honeymoon was shorter than the Singer Midgets.
Lawyer Edward Bennett Williams would have nodded, having owned the Redskins and Orioles. “What’s dumber than the dumbest football owner?” he said. “The smartest baseball owner.”
Today’s exception is Williams’ protégé, Larry Lucchino, owning the 478-straight-game-sellout Red Sox. The rule is the Yankees, building a park its public opposed and now reviles.
The 2008 Bombers sold out the last 38 games. The ’09ers haven’t come close since Opening Day. On April 23, perhaps 20,000 pocked the smaller orb (52,325 vs. 57,000 seats). One reason: ticket prices. Individual box seats behind home plate and dugout to dugout cost $525 to $2,625. One day the Associated Press counted only 37 of 146 top-pricers filled. Commissioner Bud Selig “broke down all the ticket prices of all the seats,” he reassured, “and they are affordable.” This is true if you’re Warren Buffet.
Television’s center-field shot now shows boxes emptier than a Chrysler showroom. “On TV, it stands out like a big sore thumb,” said Business of Sports Network head Maury Brown. “When was the last time you saw seats in the first row behind the plate empty?” added the New York Daily News’s Bob Raissman. Not in Ruth’s house, for sure.
The old stadium included bird’s-eye first- and third-base camera wells: “A must for a new big league park,” said the New York Post’s Phil Mushnick. The new junks them for vacant boxes. Worst is the home-plate camera, baseball’s TV window on the game. The old stadium’s exquisite low shot was unobscured by the wire backstop. The new’s towering vertical screen blocks half the infield, like peering through bars. Wrote Mushnick: “Impaired-sight TV lands between annoying and intolerable.” Yogi Berra said he observed a lot by watching. You don’t watch what you can’t see.
What a hash. Old stadium decks perched on one another: din crashed against the tiers. Right field’s new upper tier is so remote as to be in Palin’s Nome, erasing the park’s signature third-deck homer. Related flaw: an abbey-like still, sound wafting between the grandstand and bleachers. “You guys call yourselves Yankee fans?” the Times quoted a patron. “Make some noise!” Goodbye the P.A.’s “New York, New York.” Hello “The Sounds of Silence.”
By twist of irony, a new study estimates the Yankees’ net value at a baseball-high $1.5 billion — the price of their new park. Yet how long will they sit in the counting house, counting all their money? Already laughing: the Red Sox, dwarfing the Yanks’ ballpark/TV ambiance. The undeserved last laugh: on Bombers fans, who, unlike their yahoo ownership, saw this calamity coming.
A 1943 novel proclaimed “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” A tear grows in the Bronx, recalling Frank Sinatra’s “There Used To Be a Ballpark”: pinstriped players, under a cloudless sky, with the moon over baseball’s Oz.
Curt Smith is the author of 12 books and former speechwriter to President George H.W. Bush. Mr. Smith writes twice monthly for GateHouse Media’s Messenger-Post Newspapers. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.