Thursday, September 25, 2008

Will New Yankee Stadium become the expensive version of New Comiskey Park?

I must admit to paying attention Sunday to the sentimental schlock that took place in the Bronx, when the New York Yankees played their last ballgame in their 85-year-old stadium where many legendary athletic and social events took place.

What intrigues me about the whole concept of the Yankees tearing down their aging stadium and building a new version directly across the street (going so far as to keep the same name – only with a “New” tacked on) is that it sounds so like what our Chicago White Sox did nearly two decades ago.

IS NEW YANKEE Stadium destined to get the same derision that U.S. Cellular Field (which for 12 seasons carried the name New Comiskey Park) gets?

I doubt it, mainly because the Yankees brass will throw a massive hissy fit if anyone dares to badmouth their own fancy building being erected in what some might politely describe as a deteriorating neighborhood.

If the White Sox tried throwing a similar fit in defense of their own park and Armour Square/Bridgeport neighborhoods, they’d be trashed for being too defensive, and certain Cubs-fan pundits would lay on the White Sox criticism even more intensely.

Yet I can’t help but think that the Yankees are on the verge of doing what the White Sox tried to do back in the early 1990s.
New Yankee Stadium won't bring back the character of its predecessor ballpark any better than U.S. Cellular Field retained the feel of what was once on the site of a White Sox parking lot at Bill Veeck Drive. Photographs provided by Library of Congress collection.
BOTH BUILDINGS HAD lengthy histories (Comiskey Park stood for 80 years) of hosting major league baseball events, along with National League Football (Comiskey had the Cardinals, while Yankee had the Giants), Negro league baseball (Comiskey had the old East-West all-star game and the American Giants, while Yankee had the Cubans and Black Yankees).

Both had a history of staging some significant boxing matches and concerts (Comiskey was the scene of the Beatles in Chicago in 1965, unlike Yankee – as the Beatles chose crosstown Shea Stadium when they felt the need to perform in New York).

Now I’m not about to complain that Comiskey didn’t get the same amount of sentiment upon its demise that Yankee Stadium is getting. After all, with the exception of the late 1910s, the World Series was a rare event on Chicago’s South Side.

Thirty-nine World Series at Yankee Stadium, along with 45 years in which post-season baseball was played in the Bronx, adds an aura that no other sports-related building can match.

BUT STILL, THE similarities strike me. Both new stadiums were built (or are being built) in neighborhoods that non-residents would likely never venture into – if not for the desire to go to a ball game.

The White Sox have been blasted in recent years for using their new stadium built in the ghetto as a cash cow – a chance to milk every single dollar possible from their fans.

Already, similar talk is being heard about the New Yankee Stadium, where the growing Dominican population in the South Bronx is unlikely to ever afford the prices the Yankees plan to charge to be allowed to enter the gates and see a game.

New Comiskey gets trashed for having too many private boxes for corporate fans, while the New Yankee is being built so as to make those private boxes a primary seating area. If anything, the fact that fewer seats are being installed in the new Yankee compared to the existing one (about 51,000 seats, compared to 56,000 now) is being seen as a way of keeping the “unwashed masses” from spoiling the view for those more wealthy fans.

AT NEW COMISKEY, the White Sox initially tried to duplicate the concept of the old ballpark by copying the playing field dimensions and installing a center field scoreboard that put on the same lights-and-fireworks display whenever a Sox player hit a home run.

New Yankee plans to make similar gestures to the past by copying the playing field dimensions (although, sadly enough, not the dimensions of the park the way it used to be, when 450-foot fly balls could become routine outs) and the outer walls of the building.

Pseudo-Yankee Stadium will be the same as pseudo-Comiskey, only at a higher pricetag. New York is spending up to $1 billion for its new stadium, while Illinois made sure to stay within a $130 million price tag when it did a new White Sox stadium.

The Yankees made sure to have a strong law enforcement presence on hand for their final games in the old ballpark, so as to ensure that people didn’t try to rip out chairs or signs or sod or any other pieces of the building for a souvenir. They plan to have the ballpark taken apart (rather than demolished, so that the pieces can eventually be sold off to fans – making the old building yet another revenue stream).

THAT IS SO similar to what happened with Comiskey Park, which was literally taken apart all through the 1991 season. White Sox fans had to watch all year from the new park as the old one was gutted, instead of just blown to pieces one sudden day.

The pieces were then salvaged and sold off – so much so that there are many people who can say they own genuine Comiskey Park chairs (my step-mother’s mother actually has one, which is stored away in a garage somewhere) and bricks that the novelty of such items is miniscule.

Perhaps 200 or so years from now when most of those items have been destroyed by the elements and only a couple of pieces remain, then Comiskey will be worth something.

Is this the fate that Yankee Stadium, the building that hosted three papal masses, is destined to suffer?

THERE IS ONE difference, insofar as I can tell, of the way the two ballparks are departing this Earth.

New Yankee Stadium’s plans intend to include a playing field on the site of the old ballpark, which creates the possibility of future generations of youth leagues and other amateur ball clubs having the chance to play baseball on the same site where such ballplayers as Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio roamed.

That may wind up getting the New York version of a new stadium more respect than U.S. Cellular, which wound up using the site of Comiskey Park to add to the paid parking lots the ball club maintains for its fans.

Admittedly, many White Sox fans these days make a point of going to the lot and stepping on the spot where home plate was – as a gesture of good luck.

BUT THE REST of the playing field is covered by asphalt and white lines, marking spots where cars can park during the ballgame. I still remember the time my brother and I went to a White Sox game (against the Yankees, I believe) where we parked our car, then noticed we were right on top of the right-field foul line, literally about 90 feet from home plate.

Yankees fans will be able to look at their old field and dream of seeing the spirit of Billy Martin charging in toward home plate to catch an infield pop up because everybody else on the field lost sight of the ball in the sun.

But my brother and I?

It felt that day like we ran over the spirit of Dick Allen while playing first base during that awesome season he had in 1972 where he very nearly single-handedly led the White Sox to a division title.


EDITOR’S NOTES: A reminiscence of the building where the Chicago White Sox ( compiled a record of 255-428-3 during eight-plus decades of baseball.

Some memories ( of the events that once took place at a parking lot on the northeast corner of 35th Street and Shields Avenue.

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