Photo courtesy Harvey Frommer
September 25, 2008
Yankee Stadium — or The Yankee Stadium, as it used to be called — hosted its final game on Sept. 21. It was an emotional affair, with much pomp and celebration with the Yankees beating the visiting Baltimore Orioles, 7-3.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the demolition of baseball’s grand cathedral, which first opened its gates in 1923. The first is somewhat mournful over the loss of tradition and memories of past glories; the second holds that the real Stadium was the one before renovations were made in 1974, so this is no big deal.
Several authors marked the transition by publishing coffee table books this year (even though the “final page” had yet to be written). Harvey Frommer has written seven titles on the Bronx Bombers, including his latest, Remembering Yankee Stadium: An Oral and Narrative History of the House That Ruth Built (Harry N. Abrams), a marvelous compendium of interviews, photographs, and stories evoking the tradition and history of sports’ most successful franchise.
“It was a labor of love,” said Frommer from his home in Lyme, NH — deep in the heart of “Red Sox Nation.” “It was very enjoyable. If you look through the “Voices” [section], I got batboys…talking about their time at Yankee Stadium. I was able to get authors like Roger Kahn and Leigh Montville, [who] provided a unique perspective.”
Through his website, Frommersports.com, he also sought the sentiments of the man in the street. “I could have done two or three books, that’s how much material I had.”
Remembering Yankee Stadium would seem to lack just one thing: It does not have an “official” stamp of approval, either from the Yankees or Major League Baseball. But Frommer wouldn’t have it any other way. “If you get that endorsement, it’s an excellent thing, but you pay a price,” he said. “They control the book; they vet what you write. So I could not have gotten Jim Bouton interviewed in the book, and other people who had some negatives to say or controversial commentary.”
Bouton, who pitched for the team in the 1960s, became persona non grata to the baseball establishment after writing Ball Four, a watershed book in sports genre.
Frommer, who also wrote Growing Up Jewish in America: An Oral History and It Happened in the Catskills, decided to do his new Yankees book almost 10 years ago, when rumors about a new location began to spread. First the team was relocating to northern New Jersey, then it was the West Side of Manhattan. Ultimately, they’re literally moving next door to their current spot.
Kahn, who penned the classic Boys of Summer, suggested it was time for a new venue, describing the old structure as “a tried old lady.” On the other hand, Bouton has said that New York taxpayers were getting ripped off. Frommer said his position was “somewhere in the middle,” while admitting that recent events have turned him off in many ways. “The old ballpark site was supposed to be a museum and a high school and other things, and now from what I can gather…it’s going to be turned into a parking lot.”
Photo courtesy Maury Allen
Closer to home, Maury Allen, the veteran sportswriter for The New York Post and Sports Illustrated, recently released his book of Yankees World Series Memories (Sports Publishing).
“I thought the Yankees would be in the playoffs and this would be a perfectly timed book to describe what it was like in all these other World Series,” said Allen, who moved to Cedar Grove a couple of years ago. “But they went down the drain.” The best laid plans…
“I wanted to really do it from my own standpoint rather than the sort of historic or players’ standpoint,” said Allen, who rated each Fall Classic for its drama and excitement instead of chronological order. Judging by the feedback he’s already received, there are a lot of fans who beg to differ with his assessments. “Everybody has an opinion. That’s what sports are about. That’s why it’s fun.”
First on his list was the Yankees-Dodgers subway series of 1947; he recalled eating salami sandwiches while waiting for the tickets to go on sale. “That Series seemed to have drama every at bat every day,” made all the more intense by the interborough rivalry.
Allen grew up in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. He caught the baseball bug from his father, a coffee salesman, who took him to his first game at Ebbets Field as a young boy. Although he said he was probably more excited by munching on a couple of hot dogs and a soda than the play of the field, Allen marveled at “the environment, the people screaming. It sounded like my family living room.”
Allen had to excuse himself from the original appointment because he was being interviewed for an upcoming documentary about Jews and baseball. The project is being written by former New York Times’ sportswriter Ira Berkow and directed by Peter Miller.
While the Dodgers and New York Giants actively sought a Jewish player as a way to increase their fan base, the Yankees made no such concession. “The Yankees were run by George Weiss, and George Weiss was probably the most racist and anti-Semitic guy that was involved in public life,” Allen said. Weiss made no secret that he didn’t want African-American players on the team, and Allen said he felt that way about Jews as well.
Allen said he was looking forward to the impending changes. “New stadium, new press box, new facilities, easier to get into, easier to park….
“I think that’s the way of the world. Things change…. It’s time for a new stadium. I think after they play 10 games [at the new ballpark], people will forget the old Yankee Stadium.”
Because of the history behind the House That Ruth Built, people tend to forget that the Mets’ home since 1964 is closing down as well this year. “Shea was sort of outdated 10 minutes after it opened up,” Allen said. “Yankee Stadium was at least a beautiful place.”