It’s the day before Opening Day (well, technically the season started last week in Asia. Oh, and there’s a game on ESPN tonight. Ah, never mind). I’ll write up my thoughts on the Mets later.
Today there are a pile of baseball preview sections in all the major newspapers. Most of them have tributes to both Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium. The New York Times coverage is fairly typical of all the rest: long on Yankee, short on Shea.
Richard Sandomir has a great column in which he breaks down the technical steps involved with deconstructing Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium.
The wreckers will arrive at Shea Stadium soon after the Mets’ final home game in late September or sometime in October. In February or March, Yankee Stadium’s dismantling will begin. The old ballparks will be taken apart piece by piece over two to three months with hydraulic jackhammers, blowtorches and grapplers.
The concrete will be chopped up, pushed toward the middle of the fields and removed by trucks. The steel girders will be cut out, cut up and carted away for salvage.
Shea will then be reclaimed as part of the parking lot, and Yankee Stadium as three baseball fields surrounded by 12,000 trees.
This will be the first razing at Shea, a survivor of the multipurpose, cookie-cutter stadium era dating to the mid-1960s. But it will be the second demolition at Yankee Stadium, which was shut down for two years after the 1973 season to be renovated.
The Mets have taken charge of Shea’s destruction — because of the construction background of the ruling Wilpon family — and the city is responsible for bringing down the House That Ruth Built (and Mayor John V. Lindsay overhauled).
The demolitions will not resemble those of Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds in two significant ways. There will be no wrecking balls, which are generally not allowed in the city. And explosive charges will not be set off to blow the ballparks to smithereens, or more technically, to implode them. The city also prohibits implosions.
“I’d hate to put my brand-new facade at Citi Field only to have something fly over and damage the new stadium,” said Jeff Wilpon, the Mets’ chief operating officer.
Mike Taylor, the executive director of the National Demolition Association, said, “Do you think anybody really wants to see Yankee Stadium blown up?”
(How about Red Sox fans?)
Still, implosions are spectacular to watch. The percussive, rapid-fire demises of Three Rivers Stadium, Cinergy Field (originally Riverfront Stadium), the Kingdome and Veterans Stadium are viewable on YouTube. The flattening of the Vet was as artful as a Grucci fireworks show: section after section collapsed inward in synchronized order — like fans executing a wave.
The St. Louis Cardinals originally planned to implode the old Busch Stadium in 2005, but they opted for a traditional demolition in part to limit the impact of the explosions on surrounding buildings and on the nearby light-rail service. But the demolition crew swung a mighty wrecking ball.
“I went to a 10,000-pound ball,” said Ted Ahrens, a co-owner of Ahrens Contracting in St. Louis. “We got a crane to carry it as high as 250 feet in the air.” As a Cardinals fan, Ahrens said: “It was hard for me to watch it. The upkeep was fantastic.”
The upkeep at Shea bothered its chief engineer, Rick Praeger. In 1960, he told The New York Times that the stadium, then only in blueprints, would be “the kind that will make a man want to return — and bring his wife and children the next time.”
His son, Rick Jr., said last week that his ailing father loved Shea (and went to work on Dodger Stadium), but “worried that the maintenance had been so bad that he was afraid it would collapse.”
Much of what is valuable at the old stadiums — seats, grass, signs, foul poles, screens, lights, scoreboards — will be removed before it is demolished and sold or auctioned by the teams in conjunction with the city, which may use some leftovers elsewhere in the five boroughs. The Mets will have 15 days from their last game to extract all of Shea’s most salvageable goodies.
Lonn Trost, the chief operating officer of the Yankees, said, half-jokingly, “I’m concerned people will try to take out the seats while we’re still playing.”
The growth of the memorabilia market is a guarantee against the apathy the Yankees exhibited during the mid-1970s renovation. Back then, Bert Sugar, the author and sports historian, took a fleet of U-Haul trucks to the Bronx to tote away seats, signs, turnstiles, the door to the manager’s shower, Jacob Ruppert’s archive and a bag with Babe Ruth’s underwear.
Sugar, who was working on the Yankees account for an advertising agency, said he got a call from the team asking if he wanted to rummage through the 50-year trove.
“So I laid two checks on Gene McHale’s desk,” he said, referring to the Yankees’ treasurer at the time. “One was to look around, the other was if I liked what I saw.”
He added: “I went into rooms that hadn’t been opened in years. They saw me dragging things out, getting emphysema from the rooms underneath. The dust went back to 1923.” Sugar said he brokered the deal in which E. J. Korvettes sold seats for $7.50 and five Winston cigarette packs.
“I don’t think George Steinbrenner knew what he had,” Sugar said, adding that he recalled the team offering seats free to those who proved they held season tickets.
According to the book “Diamonds,” by Michael Gershman, Cuyahoga Wrecking, one of the companies that demolished the original Yankee Stadium, sold turnstiles for $100, a Gate A sign for $300, box seats for $20 and bricks for $1 each.
The price of nostalgia will be more expensive this time.
“I’d love a patch of grass,” said Arline Blake, a longtime Yankee fan who is upset at the razing of a ballpark with so many of her memories. “It’s like Fenway Park. Would those Bostonians ever want to see it demolished for something better? Never.”