Farewell to the Stadiums
By Maury Allen
Mickey Mantle Day at Yankee Stadium, June 8, 1969
Tom Seaver leading the 1969 Miracle Mets to the World
Championship, one of the greatest upsets in Series history.
By Maury Allen
Babe Ruth hit a home run when Yankee Stadium opened in 1923. Why not? He was the Bambino.
Casey Stengel bragged about the 55 bathrooms when Shea Stadium opened in 1964. Why not? He was Casey Stengel.
Now it is nostalgia time as the Yankees and Mets opened their penultimate seasons in 2007 at the historic ball park in the Bronx and the romantic stadium in Queens.
The Yankees will play in Yankee Stadium this year and next and then move across the street to the House That Steinbrenner Paid For in 2009. Farewell, Babe, farewell, Lou. Goodbye to Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle and Yogi and Whitey and Scooter Rizzuto.
The Mets will play this year and next in Shea stadium, named for the lawyer Bill Shea who bulldozed the City of New York into building the park in 1964, with threats to form new leagues and escape town.
Goodbye to Hot Rod Kanehl, Marv Throneberry, Richie Ashburn, 120 losses in one hilarious Polo Grounds season of 1962. Goodbye to Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Ron Swoboda, Tug McGraw and all the miracle makers of 1969 who won a championship and thrilled the universe.
“If man could walk on the moon,” Seaver said, “Why can’t we win a title?”
Man walked on the moon in 1969 and kids stole grass and bases from Shea when the Mets defeated the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
After the Yankees escaped the home of the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds with their own home ball park more than 80 years ago, they soon became the Bronx Bombers. They watched the Babe hit sixty homers in 1927 and they watched the gasping Pittsburgh Pirates go down to defeat in four straight even before the first pitch was thrown.
Lou Gehrig moved a crowd on July 4, 1939 when he called himself, “The luckiest man on the face of the earth,” less than two years before his death and DiMaggio thrilled some 70,000 when he accepted honors on his day in 1949 as baby brother Dom DiMaggio, in his Boston Red Sox uniform, looked on.
Mantle hit massive home runs and Yogi Berra slapped the Brooklyn Dodgers around in World Series play and Billy Martin made miracle catches, got winning hits and managed immaculately.
The Pope filled the Stadium and the old New York Giants played football there and Joe Louis knocked out Billy Conn there.
Some long haired kids called the Beatles filled new Shea Stadium in the 1960s and another long-haired kid named Joe Namath electrified a crowd.
The ball park across the street from the present site will still be called Yankee Stadium and the familiar façade will tower over the top.
The name of Shea will be lost forever – few know who he is anyway – as modern commercial baseball takes over this new field called Citi Field for a company putting up the big bucks. The team bosses resisted pressures to name it for Jackie Robinson, who never played there (he retired in 1956 and died in 1972) but will concede to the town’s history with a style much like Brooklyn’s old Ebbets Field and a rotunda in center court named after Robinson.
Memories flooded back as I walked through both stadiums in early April, memories of games past, people I admired, situations I would love to see repeated in this same lifetime.
I was there in the Bronx when Roger Maris hit that 61st homer in 1961, withstanding the greatest pressure any player, save for Robinson in his integrating year of 1947, ever experienced. I was there often when Mickey Mantle crushed baseballs into the furthest reaches of the third deck. I was there when DiMaggio and Mantle walked on the field together as Mantle’s number 7 was retired . I was there when DiMaggio ducked a Bobby Kennedy handshake after some ugly rumors involving former wife Marilyn Monroe. I was there when Billy Martin came back to lead the team after a brutal firing.
I was at Shea when Cleon Jones cradled the final out off the bat of future Mets manager Davey Johnson in the 1969 Series and I was there when Mookie Wilson hit a ground ball in 1986 that slithered through the wide open legs of Billy Buckner and only Ralph Branca could understand the pain.
I was at both stadiums in the year 2000 when the New York Yankees and the New York Mets met for the first time in a World Series that could not end until Mike Piazza
slugged a 400 foot fly ball to Bernie Williams for the final out. The Yankees have not won a Series since.
The days dwindle down to a precious few in the historic lore of Yankee Stadium, hard by the Harlem River, and the Shea stadium edifice of National League baseball in Queens.
There may be victories for both teams in 2007 and 2008, maybe even another October classic enjoyed by subway riders, in the cool fall breezes. No matter.
The memories of the Yankee years from 1923 on at the Stadium and from 1964 on for Shea will last forever in computer images and aging brains.
Then new Yankee Stadium and new Citi Field will create new legends starting in 2009. Nothing is forever.
One last ball park thought. Fenway Park in Boston opened in 1912. Wrigley Field in Chicago opened in 1916. Both still going strong. How about that?