As the days of Yankee Stadium wound down in September, there was a lot of talk about the majesty and perfection of the original, 1923-73 ballpark, and talk of how the remodeled park (1976-2008) paled in comparison.
I worked in both ballparks. Let me tell you, when the new one opened in 1976, nobody talked in disappointing terms. The feeling was that the new had captured the grandeur of the old, while adding the touches that made it more fan friendly, not to mention safer. The old place, after all, was no longer structurally sound and needed repair.
What has been largely forgotten over time is the horrible obstructed view seats in the original park, with so many steel poles extending through each deck, causing horrible sight lines. In addition, there were no escalators, the rest rooms were antiquated, the place was developing a seedy quality, and it wasn't attractive to fans. Barely a million a year were trekking up to the Bronx.
It's like the nostalgia for Ebbets Field. Few remember how narrow and uncomfortable the seats were. Your knees bounced off your chest. It was a terrible place to see a game.
The new place opened to generally rave reviews, and two million came to see it in year one. It was the first time an American League team had drawn that many people in a quarter century. Baseball was beginning to find its sea legs in the mid '70s after a decade of lost ground to the NFL. An exciting '75 World Series set the table. A Yankee pennant in a new Yankee Stadium in 1976 really set baseball into its modern marketing era.
The introduction of luxury suites, a modern marvel scoreboard, and hey unobstructed views from every seat turned Yankee Stadium into a fan delight. On top of that, the team began to shine with star after star. They won ten pennants in the new Stadium, and although they won zero between 1982-1996, the team was always competitive, always had star power, and became worthy of Broadway show prices.
Munson and Jackson were followed by Winfield and Mattingly, and they were followed by Jeter and Williams and O'Neill and Rivera. With skilled role players, the roster was finely crafted to produce not only championships clubs but also a likeable Yankee team a new concept to a sports culture used to either loving or hating the Yankees.
To me, the only regret about the modernization was that it eliminated the ability to have Yankee Stadium declared a landmark, and to keep the concrete walls standing. I welcome the new stadium. No one ever expected the team to draw four million a year, and they just plain outgrew the current one.
But it would have been nice to see the concrete shell, the one that goes back to 1923, find a way of remaining, no matter what will ultimately come to be on the land itself.