As the Yankees play their final games at Yankee Stadium, I've come to realize that I've never really shared my reaction to the organization's decision to move across the street into a new billion-dollar stadium built primarily with public money. When they announced the plans for the new stadium in June 2005, I said nothing. When they broke ground in August 2006, I remained silent. Beyond a few kinds words for the old park and some photos of the construction taken out of curiosity and a desire to document a significant event, I've almost ignored the entire stadium business altogether in this space.
I realize now that the reason I haven't said much is that every time I start to think seriously about the move, I become overwhelmed with mixed emotions. Certainly there's a sadness that comes from knowing that after Sunday I'll never again be able to watch a game at the old ballpark, which has been a part of my life and my love of baseball for 20 years and which I've visited more than 125 times. There's also a curiosity about what the new place will bring and an optimism about the new memories that might be made there. There's also resignation, as this moment was sure to arrive at some point during my lifetime, even if it didn't necessarily need to be now. Above all else, however, there's anger.
I'll put it as plainly as I can. The new Yankee Stadium has been conceived and built exclusively for the high-end luxury customer. It is not for Yankee fans; it is for corporations and the super-rich. It is an oversized ATM built primarily with public money, and the cash it spits out will go directly into the coffer of the New York Yankees, a private corporation. It is a monument to corruption, greed, and the failures of our municipal and state governments to act in the best interests of the people they are supposed to represent, and a vile and disgusting insult to all but the wealthiest of Yankee fans.
This April, Yankees' Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost, who along with team president Randy Levine was the primary executive behind the new Stadium, said that the new Yankee Stadium would be "a five-star hotel" with "a ballfield in the middle of it." Indeed, the new Stadium will be more convention center than ballpark. A DVD presentation of the new Stadium handed out at a recent home game and included in the season-ticket relocation guide spends eight of its 26 minutes detailing the luxury suites, outdoor suite seats, conference centers, and associated high-end dining options in the new building and just nine minutes on the ballpark's other features (included among the latter are a grill room, steakhouse, martini bar, and a center field sportsbar with indoor game seating, all of which will likely exceed the financial reach of the average fan).
A closer look at the relocation guide reveals that huge swaths of the seating bowl representing the best seats in the ballpark are available only to full-season ticket holders and are being sold on a multi-year basis, pushing the commitment price for those seats toward, and in some cases past, a million dollars per seat, forcing many long-time individual ticket holders to release seats that have been in their families for generations. Those are now seats only corporations and the super-rich can afford, which is exactly as the Yankees intended it. Visual evidence of their desire for such "patrons" (the DVD tellingly uses that term in place of "fans") is seen in the computer models of the swanky club areas located under the lower level stands and accessible only from those outdoor "suite" seats.
Even beyond that horseshoe of exclusive field-level seats, which stretches from where the foul line approaches the retaining wall in left field to the identical spot in right field, fans looking to buy partial-season packages of less than 20 games cannot purchase tickets in the new Stadium's lowest deck. Higher up in the new park, a seating deck in the new Stadium roughly equivalent to the current Stadium's Loge level, but actually representing seats relocated from the current upper deck, is comprised entirely of luxury suites aimed at corporate clients.
The Yankees like to brag that the new Stadium moves more seats closer to the action on the field (the DVD boasts that two-thirds of the seats in the new Stadium are in the lower deck, "providing closer views for all"), but what they've really done is take affordable seats away from the common fan who can only afford to sit in the upper deck or bleachers of the current Stadium and relocated them to parts of the ballpark only the wealthy can afford. To make matters worse, the new Stadium will hold 4,561 fewer fans, and you can surely guess which seats are being slashed. With a smaller bleacher capacity, a smaller upper deck, and an increase in luxury and outdoor suite seating, the new Stadium will be spitting out fans of modest means to accommodate the organization's target audience of free-spending fat cats. I mean that literally. One reason this massive new Stadium, which is 63 percent larger than the old one, will have a smaller seating capacity than the old park is because the seats will be several inches wider to accommodate the swollen wallets of the well-to-do.
As for those remaining cheap seats, the DVD lists the upper deck's "gentler slope" as a positive feature, but the current upper deck's steep pitch is what puts the fans in the cheap seats right on top of the game. The reduced incline in the new Grandstand will only serve to push the fans in the nosebleeds further away from the action. Meanwhile, fans in the bleachers closest to center field will be able to see neither the opposite side of the outfield, nor the Stadium's new high-definition video screen (despite the latter being seven times larger than the current park's Diamondvision) due to the imposing 4,900 square foot sportsbar that will replace the black batters' eye beyond center field. Adding insult to injury, I doubt many of the fans in what amount to the worst seats in the park will be able to afford to eat in the restaurant that is blocking their view.
Such criticisms of the park itself amount to mere nitpicks when one considers the cost to the community in displaced park land--some of which will be replaced, I kid you not, by Astroturf on top of newly constructed parking garages--and actual dollars, which are desperately needed by schools and other public facilities in the Bronx and the other four boroughs. Though, much like this post, it's surely too little too late, State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky will present a 31-page report to Congress today detailing the Yankees' stadium swindle. A summary of the report can be found here and the full text of the report can be downloaded from a link at the bottom of that page. In short, the press release at the time of the groundbreaking which claimed that, "Funding for the $800 million in construction costs is being provided fully by the Yankees," has proven to be a bold-faced lie. The report blames the city as much as the team for this, but it's no more encouraging to learn that the two entities worked together to game the system and swindle the taxpayers for the sole benefit of a corporation that Forbes estimates will be worth $1.5 billion once it moves into its new headquarters on the north side of 161st Street.
This is all very ugly business and enough to give me serious misgivings about my involvement in promoting the team in this space and elsewhere. That, in turn, opens up a giant can of worms about why it is I do this in the first place, and suddenly I've gone from mixed emotions to a full-blown moral crisis. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), I'm not the sort of person who can easily break a life-long habit. Similarly, I've worked much too hard for far too long on this blog and elsewhere to simply walk away, no matter how disgusted I might be. Still, the thought has certainly crossed my mind.
Instead, I plan to spend the next few days focusing on the old Stadium, which has been like a second home to me over the past 20 years and helped foster my love for the game of baseball and its history. Ultimately, no matter how ruthless and cynical the Yankees might be as an organization (and they've rarely been anything else), the purity and excitement of the game on the field is both real and enduring. I only wish that the field itself would remain accessible to the passionate and diverse fanbase that is ultimately paying for it. Sadly, I have little reason to believe it will.