Monday, February 09, 2009

Baseball Place No. 4: Monument Park, Yankee Stadium

All the ambiance of a McDonald's drive-through.

I have a bone to pick with Josh Pahigian.

How in the heck is Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park stop No. 4 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out?”

I’d place it a little lower, like around No. 102. Maybe 103 if I can find the spot where Rollie Fingers first bought mustache wax.

Alas, Josh is driving. So our next stop is the Bronx.

I actually went to a fair number of games at Yankee Stadium from 1987 to 1989, when I was a Connecticut resident.

My wife worked nights, and Yankee Stadium was fairly easy to get to from the northern approach, and without the bridge tolls.

I was in a Rotisserie league in the brief time when such things were cool, using American League players.

That was a down era for the Yankees, so I knew I could buy an upper deck ticket and grab pretty much the seat of my choice behind the visitor’s dugout and cheer on Kelly Gruber, BJ Surhoff, Joe Carter and the rest of my players. I didn’t draft Yankees, of course.

And once in a while I’d stroll through Monument Park because I like to explore every inch of every ballpark, a trait that drives friends and relatives nuts.

The last time I went out there was in 1991, when we were working on a ballpark story for the Flint Journal.

It seemed to have been “tarted up,” since my last visit, with the little walk way of retired numbers and a faux marble finish painted on the wall. The Yankees can’t afford real marble?

You just know Roger was counting on getting himself a plaque in Monument Park.

Then something totally freaky happened. You have access to the park during part of batting practice, and a batted ball came bouncing in, stopping at the foot of a teen-ager who was absolutely thrilled, holding it high and showing to his friends.

And then a security guard came over and demanded the ball, saying that was stadium policy. The kid, completely heartbroken, gave it up.

I think the guard just wanted the ball, because even the Yankees, loathsome as they most certainly are, wouldn’t have such a policy.

Had that been me, I would have kicked up a major fuss and demanded to see his supervisor, at which point the “policy” would have quickly been forgotten.

But I digress.

Monument Park started as a decent thing, with stone monuments to Miller Huggins, Lou Gehirg and Babe Ruth actually out there on the field, and plaques to owner Jacob Ruppert and General Manager Ed Barow on the outfield wall.

Fans were allowed to walk on the field and see them after the game.

But we’re dealing with the Yankees here, and excess is the norm. The plaques kept coming and were moved behind the outfield wall when the stadium was torn down and replaced with Yankee Stadium II.

In all, there are now plaques for 25 assorted Yankee players, front office types and announcers, plus Jackie Robinson, two popes and a memorial to the Sept. 11 victims.

I was present when the thing jumped the shark for certain, on Aug. 4, 1985, when Phil Rizzuto got a plaque. Luckily, Tom Seaver was on hand to redeem the day.

This is bad.

This is worse. And who wrote that copy? "Later as a manager he became one of the greatest Yankee managers." Um, how about: "He later became a great Yankee manager." Then, I would add: "Who was fired by the team five times. But he was great."

Adding Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin didn’t help. And if Red Ruffing was such a True Yankee, why’d they wait 58 years before giving him a plaque?

I’m sure Melky Cabrera and Kyle Farnsworth already have spaces reserved for their plaques in the new Yankee Death Star. Derek F. Jeter gets a monument. ARod, probably not.

I’ll grant that the Yankees were the first to do this, but others have followed and have offered spaces that are less tacky.

The Yankees are like the nouveau riche people who move into a neighborhood, tear down a perfectly nice home to build a McMansion and park their new red Hummer in the street so everyone has to see it. Subtlety is not in their playbook.

But the Phillies, Indians and Tigers, for example, did a nice job with a similar concept. And you can visit their parks throughout the game, not just during batting practice.

And the Mets, of course, display their retired numbers in a way that shows dignity and class.

No comments: