The new Yankee Stadium officially opened to the public today. Much has been made of the design touches that replicate parts of the “original” Yankee Stadium. There’s just one problem with that story: the original stadium–the House that Ruth Built, that DiMaggio graced, that hosted Larsen and Berra’s great hug–was destroyed more than 30 years ago. The building that was demolished this winter was a cheap imposter.
The 1976 renovation of Yankee Stadium (which actually began in 1974) was so drastic that it turned what had truly been a baseball cathedral into Shea Stadium North, a bland mass with little personality, lots of terrible seats, and a false claim to history. The centerfield wall that stood behind DiMaggio and then Mantle was 461 feet from home plate; the one that got knocked down this winter stood at 408. During that renovation, the stadium’s upper deck was completely rebuilt; it’s famous facade was removed from the top of the stands and a phony version was tacked onto the top of the scoreboard (which was also completely redesigned).
The version of Yankee Stadium that closed at the end of the 2008 season was so different from the one that closed at the end of the 1973 season that director (and lifelong Yankees fan) Billy Crystal had to film the 2001 movie 61*–about Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris’ home run chase–in Tiger Stadium instead of Yankee Stadium. Because, as the official press release about the film explained, “the current renovated stadium bears little resemblance to the architecture of the original,” and Tiger Stadium looked more like Yankee Stadium than Yankee Stadium did.
So sure, get excited about the new digs. But don’t rave to me about how nice it is that it has a new new version of the old new version of the original facade. It’s like going to a housewarming party and having to listen to the owner brag about how he installed a replica of the orange shag carpeting that had once been in the den, and restored the electric fake fireplace left behind by the previous owner. The best parts of the new stadium are the ones that hark back to its grandfather Yankee Stadium (1923-1976), not to its overrated imposter father, Yankee Stadium Jr. (1976-2008).