"When you use those words, `mystique’ and `aura,’ those are dancers in a night club. Those are not things we concern ourselves on the ball field.” - Curt Schilling
Whatever, Curt Schilling talks too much. As much as a die-hard Philadelphian doesn't want to admit, there is something special about the New York Yankees.
Maybe it's the 26 World Series Championships. Or the legends of Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, et. al. Or George Costanza on Seinfeld.
It's many of those things. But they all share a common thread, and that common thread is Yankee Stadium.
But alas, Yankee Stadium is no more. Sure, the physical structure is still intact for now, and the stadium hasn't closed yet. But major league baseball will never be played on that hallowed ground again. And with it, the Yankees have lost a lot of those qualities Schilling oh-so-elequently dismissed.
I had the chance to catch a game in Yankee Stadium in 2000. David Cone started for the Yanks against the Angels and was clobbered. But it didn't matter. What mattered was that I was inside the crown jewel of baseball, the cathedral of my adopted religion, so to speak. Fenway is charming and Wrigley seems to be as well, but neither can match the electricity that flowed through Yankee Stadium.
The first thing I noticed is that Yankee fans are loud. When the Yankees scored their first run to make the score like, I don't know, 5-1. the crowd was louder than anything I had ever heard at a Phillies game, sadly. And this was a meaningless August contest. I complained that the PA announcer was too boring and monotone: little did I know that voice belonged to Bob Sheppard, who had been working at Yankee Stadium in the same capacity even before my dad's birth. Boy did I need to learn some respect for my elders.
No matter what happened, the Yankees were baseball's model franchise. They won the most titles, they had the most fans, and they carried the most weight with the American zeitgeist. This was only elevated in 2001, when in the aftermath of 9/11, the Yankees became the diversion NYC needed at that time. When they won games 4 and 5 in such dramatic fashion at the Stadium, it was almost as if the ghosts of the past willed them to the victory.
Then, in 2003, all signs pointed to the Red Sox, the Yankees' fiercest rival, finally defeating their nemesis and advancing to the World Series. But then, it all came undone. Pedro Martinez was hung out to dry by Grady Little, the Yanks tied it up, and Aaron Boone's extra-inning home run was a mere formality. You just knew the Yankees were going to win that game. Indeed, it could make fans of any other team feel just a little jealous.
Things started changing in 2004. The Yankees lost to the Red Sox and all of a sudden, the gold luster of the Yankee franchise began to wear off. With every free-agent bust, early playoff exit, and managerial controversy since, the unraveling of the Yankee Jealousy-Empire only grew.
And now, it can be argued that the Yankees are just another baseball team. The Red Sox and Rays have passed them in the standings, the Mets are the hotter team in town, and the Yankees are full of aging, bad contracts and disappointing youngsters. Add to all of that the fact that Yankee Stadium has closed, and the Yankee blandness is unthinkable.
Next year the Yankees will play in a brand new stadium, with all the trimmings that you come to expect from new facilities. They will undoubtedly have a talented team and a record-high payroll again. But don't be fooled: the Yankees aren't the same anymore. There's no reason to be jealous of their success or envy their history. Their history is being partially demolished across the street from Steinbrenner's new playground. There is no reason to feel inadequate anymore.
You will not enter the new Yankee Stadium and look around at the massive nature of the place. You will not be able to picture Reggie's 3 Home runs, Chambliss or Boone's walk-offs, the Cone or Wells perfect games, or Wade Boggs on a police horse. You will instead pay $17 for an overpriced drink from the Yankee Martini bar, settle into your $100 seat and watch two ordinary baseball teams play baseball in a stadium where the only thing extraordinary about it is the price tag. Hell, one reason the ghosts won't make the pilgrimage across the street is because they won't be able to afford tickets.
In addition to saying goodbye to Yankee Stadium, the Yankee franchise better also say goodbye to its soul. That's something even Curt Schilling wouldn't argue about.