On Friday, I paid my respects in person for the last time. At almost 1 a.m. Monday YES, had just finished its post-Stadium coverage, closing the lights on viewers’ window into "The House That Ruth Built."
The last game at “baseball’s cathedral” was over, bittersweet with memories of great accomplishments at a place I’ve visited hundreds of times and whose likes will never be seen again.
Brought into your living room by YES and/or ESPN2, the ceremony, celebrating Yankee Stadium, was part All-Star Game, part Old-Timers Day, part museum piece. The Yankees trotted out legends past and of more recent vintage to their various positions of glory on the field. There were also surrogates for stars and wives/children of men who passed way too young. Cameras flashed and flashed.
Yogi. The Chairman of the Board. Louisiana Lightning. Cora Rizzuto. Bobby Murcer’s wife Kay and their children. David Cone, Bernie, back for the first time since 2006. They were all in the Bronx for the funeral of an old friend and a wake rolled into one before a nation’s eyes.
Respects were paid. Achievements described. Indelible images, many of them black and white, rolled. A recording of the voice of the building, Bob Sheppard who at 96 and frail, hopes to make the transition up River Avenue to the new stadium, intoned the Yankees lineup one last time.
And yes, the Yankees won, 7-3 after trailing by a pair early, just as they had done to the tune of .a 630 winning percentage over the life of the Stadium’s 85 years. A disappointing team (thank you Brian Cashman) closed out "The Big Ballpark in the Bronx" in fine fettle on the field, taking eight of 10 on its final homestand, staving off playoff elimination for the first time in 13 seasons for one more day
But that’s what was missing, what separated this place from all others — the post-season. Yankee Stadium’s last dance should have been a World Series game, not a regular-season affair versus Baltimore. And not even a Nov. 9 concert to play farewells one last time before a wrecking ball reduces the building, but not the memories and spirit, to rubble.Yes, it should have been a World Series game No. 101. YES’s final game telecast from the Stadium Saturday afternoon ended with Frank Sinatra’s “There Used To Be A Ballpark Here.”
On Sunday night, Sinatra’s "New York, New York" boomed over and over, as the players did a long last lap, waving to friends, family and fans. Then, the players lingered, grabbing dirt from the pitcher’s mound, not wanting the moment to turn into dust just yet.
After clubbing the first homer at the Stadium, Babe Ruth said God only knows who would hit the last. The answer: Jose Molina. The journeyman catcher deposited one into the netting in left center in the fourth, taking Johnny Damon’s third inning, three-run dinger to right out of the record books. As my son Alex pointed out, Damon’s shot would have been more poetic. Just as Ruth joined the Yanks in a trade from the Red Sox that turned the franchises around, Damon left the Bosox for the Bronx after hitting a grand slam in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, the most embarrassing moment in the history of the Bronx Bombers and their grand building. Since then, the Yanks’ fortunes — on the field at least — have dimmed, while their rival’s to the north have ascended.
Still, there were appropriate final fittings. Andy Pettitte, who had won so many big games for the Yanks during their most recent glory run form 1996 to 2001, evened his record at 14-14, his best days well behind him. Brett Gardner, a speedy centerfielder with little stick, scored the final run, emblematic of the Yanks’ search for a worthy successor to Williams and what is arguably the most famous position in sports. Oh, yeah, that opening now must be filled up the street.
Jason Giambi, a symbol of when management opted for fantasy stats over chemistry following a heart-wrenching loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 Fall Classic, had the last hit in the ballpark. Ironically, Juicey blooped one to left, a field that has been open to him throughout his days as a Yankee, as the opposition routinely overshifted against his pull hitting.
Derek Jeter, who broke Lou Gehrig’s record for most hits in the Stadium, was struck on the left hand by a pitch Saturday. No way, he was missing the send-off. In the finale, The Captain’s 0 for 5 will be remembered for being capped with the final out by a Yankee at the Stadium, a grounder to third. Like most of his MLB career, though, Jeter quickly rebounded, leading the Yankees in their on the field, caps-off salute to the fans.
Jeter’s speech and jaunt preceded the last sounding of “Enter Sandman” — unless Metallica appears at the Nov. 9 closing show — as the incomparable Mariano Rivera strode from the bullpen. During the sixth, Reggie Jackson, Mr. October, told Jon Miller and Joe Morgan on ESPN’s telecast that he believes Rivera ranks among the top five Yankees of all time. Talk about stirring the drink! Naturally, it was three up, three down for Mo
Brian Roberts — no, not the Comcast boss — grounded to Cody Ransom for the Stadium’s final out.
A K on a cutter would have been a perfect ending on the Stadium’s last night.
Maybe that time will come soon for the Yankees at the House that George is Building, a luxury palace in the name of progress and revenue generation whose suites, amenities and pricing may be beyond the means of many of the more than 4 million fans the Stadium averaged during its last four years.
As Rick Horowitz famously wrote: “In a perfect world, we’d all be Yankees.”
Well, if there’s a perfect world ahead in the sky, then even more of us will be looking to make that team — and play at the Stadium.