Yankee Stadium retires at age 85
With all the pomp and circumstance that was due for such a momentous (and bittersweet) occasion, the New York Yankees bid farewell last night to the "House That Ruth Built," which has been their home for the past 85 years. Even though the visiting Baltimore Orioles took an early lead, the Yanks came back in the third inning and then took the lead for good in the fourth inning, winning 7 to 3. Official attendance was 54,610, about 3,000 less than capacity, but the grandstand and bleachers looked pretty full to me watching on TV. The difference is probably due to a large number of "comp" tickets given out to various dignitaries, former Yankees, and their relatives.
It was wonderful to see Yogi Berra, Don Larsen, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, and other former Yankee greats in the pre-game ceremonies. It was like when Ted Williams was at Fenway Park for the 1999 All-Star Game. Too bad Bobby Murcer didn't live quite long enough to be there. (Where were Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez, or Roger Clemens? What about Joe Pepitone or others from the early 1960s?) The daughter of Babe Ruth did a great job of throwing out the first pitch, especially for someone of her age (91). The daughter of Elston Howard, who became the first African-American to play for the Yankees in 1955 (as catcher), represented her father, who died in 1980.
Of course, it was Babe Ruth himself who hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium in 1923, and in his farewell speech in 1946 he said, "God knows who'll hit the last one." Now we all know it was Jose Molina. See MLB.com. (In the third inning Johnny Damon hit the next-to-last home run at Yankee Stadium; it would have been something if another former member of the Red Sox who became a Yankee had hit the very last homer there!) Trivia buffs will want to file away these tidbits of information:
- Final game score: Yankees 7, Orioles 3
- Final home run: Jose Molina (4th inn.)
- Final hit: Jason Giambi (7th inn.)
- Final RBI: Robinson Cano (sac. fly, 7th inn.)
- Final run scored: Brett Gardner (7th inn.)
- Final batter: Brian Roberts
- Final put-out: Cody Ransom (1B)
- Winning pitcher: Andy Pettitte
- Closing pitcher: Mariano Rivera
(Why have I never heard of Jose Molina, Brett Gardner, or Cody Ransom before?) Here are some of the individual all-time records compiled at Yankee Stadium:
- Career home runs: Mickey Mantle -- 266
- Career hits: Derek Jeter -- 1,274
- Career RBIs: Lou Gehrig -- 949
Jeter passed Gehrig on the all-time hits list earlier this month. Unfortunately, he did not get any hits last night, possibly because of a hurt hand. In his brief "speech" on behalf of the Yankees after the game, he said,
And although things are going to change next year, we're going to move across the street, there are a few things with the New York Yankees that never change -- it's pride, it's tradition, and most of all, we have the greatest fans in the world. [sic; he probably meant the possessive "its"]
Because the Yankees (85-71) are eight games behind the Rays (92-62) in the American League Eastern Division, and six and a half games behind the Red Sox (91-64), last night's game will probably have no significance for the championship series in October. Nevertheless, it did keep alive the mathematical possibility that the Yankees might make it to the postseason, so in a sense, the last game at Yankee Stadium really did count. If the Yankees had lost last night, the Red Sox would have clinched a postseason berth, eliminating the "Bronx Bombers." The fact that the Yankees won means that, if they win every one of their remaining games (six, all on the road), and the Red Sox lose every one of their remaining games (seven, all at home), those two arch-rivals will end up tied at 91-71, forcing a one-game playoff for the Wild Card slot. I know, it's not bloody likely. But if you think it's impossible, don't forget what the Colorado Rockies did in late September last year!!
Yankee Stadium is the only home the New York Yankees have ever had to themselves, and in that regard they are unique among all Major League teams, other than the new ones founded in the 1990s. Before Yankee Stadium was built in 1923, they shared the Polo Grounds with the New York Giants, and before that (1903-1912), the team was known as the "Highlanders" and played in Hilltop Park. For the team's first two years of its existence, they played in Baltimore and were known as the "Orioles"; see the MLB Franchises page. It is ironic that the final game in Yankee Stadium was against the team whose identity matches the Yankees' own original identity.
While the closing of the grand old cathedral in the Bronx is very somber for those of us who are ballpark aficionados and Yankee fans, it's not the end of the world. (Remember, "there's no crying in baseball!") The "old" Yankee Stadium did have shortcomings, and in any case, the renovated post-1976 version bore little resemblance to the way it looked in the "good old days" of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle. I'm sure the new version will be more "fan-friendly" in many respects, and I will keep an open mind about it as the Yankees begin a new era next spring.
Cubs, Rays clinch
Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs for clinching the NL Central Division for the second year in a row, and to the Tampa Bay Rays for clinching their first postseason berth in franchise history. That means that all four of the franchises founded in the 1990s have made it to the postseason.