Thursday, August 17, 2006

"Groundbreaking for new Yankee Stadium a step back for history" USA Today 8/16/6

Groundbreaking for new Yankee Stadium a step back for history

by Ian O'Conner
Posted 8/16/2006 10:06 PM ET

NEW YORK — Beyond the oversized tents stuffed with bloated functionaries, in the shadow of a billion-dollar exercise in corporate and political might, Yankee Stadium looked as elegant as ever under a mid-morning sun. The marquee told of a night game with the Orioles, but it would have better served the public by announcing the question of the day.


Why are the Yankees tearing down one of the last great temples of American sport? Why are they leaving a perfectly functional ballpark, only the world's most famous ballpark, for a monument to big-business greed next door?

You don't just level Yankee Stadium, the same way you don't just level Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. You paint them, renovate them, equip them with new bathrooms and modern, fan-friendlier ways of watching the game.

But you don't reduce them to dust and ash for an extra 40 luxury boxes and a happier bottom line.

This truth was lost on the two Georges, Steinbrenner and Pataki, and the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, as they lorded over an extra-large dais of lesser officials and team mascots (Yogi Berra, Billy Crystal) assembled for the groundbreaking of the team's 2009 home, a ceremony held in the echoes of community protesters raging against this spiked-up trampling of Macombs Dam and Mullaly Parks.

CHANGES IN THE BRONX: Yankees break ground on new $1 billion stadium

Those who stepped to the podium ignored the distant chants and swore the new, retro-charged stadium would better match the stadium of Babe Ruth's prime than the renovated one now standing. Who cares? You can't pack the traditions and memories with the tobacco chew and sunflower seeds. You can't slide mystique and aura into a limo and drive them across the street.

On the anniversary of Babe Ruth's death, too many people were too willing to celebrate the scheduled demise of Ruth's 84-year-old house. Steve Swindal, Steinbrenner's eventual successor, said, "We promise to deliver to you, the fan, the finest baseball facility in the world."

That facility already exists, Steve. Your team plays there 81 times a year. There's a reason why you clear 50,000 customers for every game — Yankee fans love to feel a part of history as much as they love to see Boston reverting to second-place form.

Shea Stadium is a charm-free dump, a place that deserved a date with the wrecking ball a year after it was built. Yankee Stadium is an artifact, a museum, a city treasure that needed to be preserved.

Steinbrenner was never leaving the Bronx despite years of empty threats to the contrary, so the city and state didn't have to commit hundreds of millions of dollars to build him parking garages and a train station, to grant him tax relief, and to give him an out with community leaders by creating recreation areas to replace the gobbled-up parks.

Those leaders don't want their new parks scattered here and there, with some fields plastered on the roofs of garages, of all places.

"What's wrong with the current stadium?" said Delmas Vernon Cole, a 59-year-old resident and member of the protesting group, Save Our Parks. "This is all about greed. They're cutting down 400 trees for a 14-story monstrosity that will take from us 22 acres of contiguous parkland, a place where we played and our kids play.

"We don't want this, and yet it's being rammed down our throats because we're a predominantly poor, black and Hispanic neighborhood."

Lawrence Brandwein, a 64-year-old resident and a white member of the group, shouted at various officials as they entered the invitation-only event. "Look who's going to this, white men in nice suits," Brandwein said. "They should go back to the Hamptons. They wouldn't do this in a white neighborhood."

Four dozen protesters chanted, "Save our parks, save our community," as they marched north on River Avenue. On the other side of the barricades, elected officials and assorted project backers spoke of how the new stadium would improve traffic and parking in the area and provide an overall quality-of-life boost. Jobs for Bronx residents were promised, lavish lockers for Bronx Bombers were assured.

"We're just happy that we're able to do this for the Yankees," Steinbrenner said, "and happy to do it for you people. Enjoy the new stadium. I hope it's wonderful."

After following an endless series of long-winded, say-nothing speeches, Steinbrenner had wobbled out of the sun toward the mike and spoke for a half minute. He got the only standing ovation of the day, a day he coveted long before his team drew four million fans a year.

Steinbrenner would be among 17 officials to grab the ceremonial shovels and dig into the ceremonial dirt, and he would be the only one to refuse to wear a silly Yankee hardhat to mark the occasion. The owner was surrounded by politicians who kept saying the new stadium signified a South Bronx resurgence, and by posted corporate logos that said something else.

The new Yankee Stadium will come with a surrounding-area subtitle paid for with Fortune 500 cash. The additional luxury boxes will more than compensate for the 5,000 fewer seats, and the stadium construction costs will be lopped from the revenue-sharing fees paid to the small-market clubs.

So baseball's richest team will get richer, at least in the pocketbook. But tearing down Yankee Stadium makes the world's most celebrated ballclub poorer in every other way.


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