Monday, September 22, 2008

It's Over, But It Ain't Over

Yankee Stadium. "Born" April 18, 1923. "Died" September 21, 2008.

The Yankee organization was wrong to leave The Stadium and build a new one. But they did everything right when it came to closing the Big Orchard down.

All the major ceremonies came before the game, not after.

Having the lookalikes in 1923-style uniforms was a little goofy, although the guys they got to play Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig really looked like them, both in face and in form. Not so for the guy they got to play Joe DiMaggio. I loved that the Casey Stengel lookalike had cockeyed socks. Casey never did that, as far as I know, but it was the kind of thing he would have done.

They brought out pretty much all the Yankee legends, other than those who are otherwise employed by a professional sports team: Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Don Larsen, Moose Skowron, Bobby Richardson, Roy White, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph, Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage, Dave Winfield, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, David Cone, David Wells, and, introduced last, with a prolonged ovation, Bernie Williams. The next-best cheer after Bernie's was for Randolph, a huge one, as on Old-Timers' Day, a perfect way to show up The Other Team and their fans, The Flushing Heathen.

And, of course, the active ones: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Hideki Matsui.

And relatives: The widows of Phil Rizzuto and Catfish Hunter; the sons of Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin, Roger Maris and Thurman Munson; the daughter of Elston Howard; and the widow, son and daughter of Bobby Murcer, for whom Old-Timers' Day was probably too soon to come back, but this enabled Yankee Fans to give their husband/father a proper goodbye.

Not there, because they are otherwise employed: Dodger manager Joe Torre and coach Don Mattingly; Cub manager Lou Piniella; Sparky Lyle, managing the Somerset Patriots into the Atlantic League Playoffs; and Jerry Coleman, broadcasting for the San Diego Padres (though lately they've been letting him come for Old-Timers' Days).

Other notable absences among the living legends: Roger Clemens (we can guess why), Rickey Henderson (though I didn't miss him, either), Bucky Dent (not sure why, at last check he wasn't working in pro ball), Jim Leyritz (probably best he stay away, due to his legal troubles), Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry (thankfully, neither is in legal trouble at the moment, but Darryl is working for The Other Team and Doc is following nephew Gary Sheffield around as Sheff is three homers from 500), Aaron Boone (playing for the Nationals), Mel Stottlemyre (hope he's not sick again), Tommy Henrich (Ol' Reliable is 95 and has been too frail to come to The Stadium for the last 10 years or so).

I didn't like the "old-time" uniforms the players from the pre-renovation era wore. Yogi and Whitey both complained, Yogi saying, "It's too yellow."

I wasn't sure who would sing the National Anthem. Since the Montreal Canadiens, the Yankees of hockey, closed the Montreal Forum with a video recording of the great French-Canadian opera singer Roger Doucet, I figured the Yanks would put the late Robert Merrill up on the DiamondVision. No, they had the band from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point play it straight. Fitting, since the first Stadium National Anthem was by the U.S. Marine Band, conducted by John Philip Sousa himself.

But who to throw out the first ball? They got the right person: Julia Ruth Stevens, the 92-year-old daughter of You Know Who, connecting him to The House He Built one last time. And she threw it to Jorge Posada, to make sure he wasn't left out of the ceremonies even though he couldn't play.

*

Oh, yes, there was a game. The Yankees were trailing 1-0 in the top of the 3rd when Yogi and Whitey joined Jon Miller and Joe Morgan in the ESPN booth, and when an Oriole got a hit to make it 2-0, Whitey said, "Oh, shit!" His mike wasn't quite cut off in time.

But in the bottom of the 3rd, Jon asked Yogi about DiMaggio, and you know Yogi, he's the good-luck charm: While he was talking, boom, Johnny Damon hit a home run to make it 3-2 Yanks.

It would have been very fitting for Damon to hit the last home run in Yankee Stadium. Like Babe Ruth, he was a Red Sock who became a Yankee under controversial circumstances.

In the 5th, with the score tied at 3-3, perfect-game pitchers Cone and Wells were interviewed. Again, 2 Yankee legends interviewed, home run. This time -- Jose Molina, the guy who's caught most of the games since Posada got hurt. His brother Benjie hit one in the Angels' 2002 World Series win. His brother Yadier hit one to give the Cardinals the 2006 Pennant over the Mets (and we must never cease to remind the Heathen about that). Now, Jose goes into the history books: The last home run at Yankee Stadium, the last in a long line of Yankee "unlikely heroes."

Andy Pettitte didn't have his good stuff. He hasn't had it for 2 months. He's 14-14 this season. If I thought he could go, say, 16-10 for a Yankee lineup at full strength next year, when he'll be 37, I'd say come back, Andy, we need you. But at this point, he doesn't have much left to prove, and if this is the last game he pitches in New York, it's a great way to go out. He didn't get out of the 6th, but he goes down as the last winning pitcher at Yankee Stadium.

Derek Jeter went 0-for-5, but is the last Yankee to bat at The Stadium. When Joe Girardi took him out with 1 out to go, he got a great sendoff from the fans. Still, it was weird to see the last play at Yankee Stadium and not have Derek Jeter on the field. I was hoping the last out would be a pop-up to him, so he would, technically, be the last player at Yankee Stadium. (The first would be the Yankee starter in the first game, Bob Shawkey.)

The bullpen was great: Jose Veras was shaky, but Phil Coke bailed him out, and he and Joba Chamberlain were nearly perfect. When Mariano came out for the 9th, it was the last truly electric moment in The Stadium. He practically begged Girardi to be on the mound for the last inning. He got his wish.

He got the 1st 2 outs, and then, facing Brian Roberts, who's given the Yankees trouble the last few years, got him to hit a weak grounder to 1st base. Jason Giambi, who'd gotten a hit and an RBI in this last game, had been removed for defensive purposes. The replacement 1st baseman fielded it and ran to the bag for the final out. The last player at Yankee Stadium? I don't know what he's going to do in the future, but he'll forever be in the history books in this special role. Cody Ransom.

And, on WCBS -- I had the ESPN gasbags muted and the radio on -- John Sterling, for the last time in The Stadium, said, "Ballgame over! Yankees win! Theeeeeeeeeeee Yankees win!" (At least he didn't say, "Yankee Stadium over!")

Then the sound-effects man cued up Frank Sinatra singing "Theme From New York, New York," and it was over.

Almost. Midway through the 3rd go-around of the song, the current Yankees went out to the mound, and Jeter had a microphone, and thanked "the greatest fans in the world." (Yeah, a lot of teams say that, but... come on.) And he asked the fans to take that spirit across the street to the new stadium. And then the Yankees took a last lap around The Stadium -- in English soccer, they call this a "lap of honour."

*

I thought last night was going to be a very hard night for me. But, except for concerns that the Yanks might lose the last game, and that the last home run would be hit by an opponent, both of which turned out to be unfounded, I was fine.

I guessed I'd gotten my emotions out of my system on July 20, when I attended my last game there. Or that it would really come when the day of demolition came. (I've already got my line ready, the one Charlton Heston used to close the original Planet of the Apes: "You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!")

But this morning, ESPN had a tribute on SportsCenter, and in it, Yogi Berra said, "I'm not gonna miss this place. It's part of me. It ain't over even when it's over."

That got to me.

*

Days until East Brunswick plays again: 4.

Days until Rutgers plays again: 5.

Days until the Yankees' season ends: 6.

Days until the Devils drop the puck: 18.

Days until the new baseball season begins: 198.

Days until the new Yankee Stadium opens: 206.

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