This Used to Be a Ball Park

A foul ball streaked into the stands, but there was nobody there to chase it down, to bring it home to show off to envious pals. Hideki Irabu had his fastball, and it made great smacking noises, but there was nobody to hear it. The Yankees played a five-inning scrimmage on April 14 while a few dozen engineers clad in orange crawled over beams and under seats in an empty tier, looking for potential killers.

Is this how a great ball park dies?

Unseen chunks of steel drop into seats. Toilets overflow with even moderate usage, and the stench leaks into the corridors and passageways. It takes an inning to get a hot dog and a beer, even when empty seats outnumber those filled by 3 to 1. If you bring your car to the game (and thousands of fans do, and without them the Yankees begin to look like the Montreal Expos), you can still figure on spending an hour or so winding your way to street level. As for the Cross-Bronx Expressway, well, enough said.

Maybe it is time to kill Yankee Stadium, that monument to the way baseball once was but is no longer. Sure, celebrate the 75th anniversary of its opening on April 18, but then call in the sporting world’s answer to Jack Kevorkian. Have this angel of death in pinstripes perform some sort of ritual that would bring a tear to the eyes of Roger Angell or George Will or Ken Burns, and then blow the building up. Put it out of its misery, and ours. Build something there for the people of the South Bronx, the people who can’t afford to see a ball game.

Maybe that’s exactly what George Steinbrenner and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani want us to think. The Yankees’ principal owner has made it plain for years that he wants out of the Bronx, and he expected Mr. Giuliani to help him. “He’s my kind of Mayor,” Mr. Steinbrenner said on April 14 as he emerged from the Yankee locker room. And the Mayor, who reminds us constantly that he was a Yankee fan in Brooklyn in the 1950’s–as if that was somehow admirable–isn’t about to sit idly by while the Bronx Bombers become the New Jersey Swamp Rats. “The question with the Yankees is where, not whether, they’re going to have a new baseball field,” the Mayor said on April 14, the day after he ordered the stadium closed because of a fallen piece of steel.

But even those two personalities would have a hard time selling us on a billion-dollar ball park on the West Side. Goody-goody types would hammer on about using public dollars for a rich man’s playpen. Others of similar mind would talk about air pollution or the imperiled existence of a unique form of Hudson River algae. Keep the Yankees in the Bronx where they belong, they’d say.

And now? With 500-pound chunks of steel raining on seats, who will dare argue that all is well, that a ball park just 20 years removed from a $100 million makeover should be just fine.

It isn’t just fine anymore. Forget the bits of falling steel. Forget the ominous-looking bus parked outside the stadium, the one from the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management, the one painted in orange, blue and white–the city’s official colors, the Mets’ official colors. The game itself has changed. The poetry has become prosaic; baseball writers today can’t be distinguished from those personal-finance savants in the business section. It’s all numbers now, and the numbers don’t add up for poor old Yankee Stadium.

“The fundamental issues remain unchanged,” said Matt Scheckner, director of sports and entertainment for Louis Harris Associates. “Yankee Stadium is noncompetitive when contrasted with newer stadiums in such markets as Baltimore, Cleveland and Texas.”

Note Mr. Scheckner’s title: director of sports and entertainment. The Yankees aren’t competing with the Red Sox anymore. They’re competing with the Walt Disney Company, and Disney is in Times Square–America’s mall.

Reporters gathered to view the ailing ball park on April 14. They found themselves peering through a window into the press dining room–their dining room–where important people were gathered to talk about the patient. At one point, somebody inside noticed the morbid crowd outside. Some paper towels were produced and were taped up on the window. Sort of the way police handle accident scenes when the victims have expired.

The Monica Diaries

Continued excerpts from several hundred loose pages, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, which were dumped on The Observer ‘s front stoop and labeled, “The atached (sic) is my story, the story of a white house intirn (sic) in my own words, not that bitch Linda. ML.”

Aug. 17, 1997, 11:59 P.M.

dear diary,

so the Big Creep has not called for two weeks? and when i call that witch betty tells me he’s busy? so i made my move today there was a cookout at white house for intirns and even tho im at pentogon i have my WH pass so before the cookout i go over there and im wearing my striped sailor shirt and sailor hat and blue clamdiggers and its just me and secret service guys who are eating hot dogs and then i almost die because i see Mrs Big Creep in her flesh stomping across the grass and shes wearing a heinus yellow suit that makes her look fat and a big straw hat and sunglases and shes got a secret service girl ive seen named Vera in black jacket and teeny black skirt and Mrs Creepo comes up and my hands sweat and she says to Vera, Will you kindly leave us alone for a moment? but Vera who is wearing way too much lipstick looks pissed and Mrs. Creepo looks at her and says Vee -ra! so she walks away, and Mrs. Creepo is sweet to me and says I believe we’ve met im Hillary Rodam Clinton and your monica right? and i say Yes, but inside i feel im gonna puke and she points to this little round table and we sit in metal chairs that sink in the grass and Vera is hovering giving snake eyes and H. pulls out a pack of Camels and says Smoke? and i lie and say No and sudenly Vera swoops in with this gold liter and lights H.’s ciggie and H. blows out a stream of smoke and says My husband tells me you have been a wonderful employee and we are both very proud of you, you know when we first came to washington i said, Bill, I really want to bring the young people into the system so they will can see how it works from the inside, and Im like Thats nice, and she takes another long drag and blows it out through her teeth with a hiss sound and then she says From what i hear you have benefited greatly from my husbands presidency and I cant see her eyes so I cant tell if she is joking and I say Thank you, but it comes out like a sqweek , and she says My husband likes to be generous with all the white house staff and since you have moved up to an important job at the pentogon he feels he has shown you the ropes and it is time for you to stop coming by because you are needed at the pentogon, and i say Well i just came today to see friends , and H. says Im sure, but if we had everyone coming from the pentogon there would be no burgers left for the WH intirns, now would there? and she laughs but stops and smushes her ciggie on the grass and Im too scared to talk and she says Now Melissa and im like Its Monica? and she says, Mon ica, you and i know how important my husbands work is and sometimes the needs of the country must come before the needs of a smart young woman? and Im like, Yeah, and she says, I cant imagine how terrible it would feel to be the woman who hurt the country’s greatest president, can you? and im like, No, and she says Especially when hes so helpful to women , and Im like, Yep, and she says, Sometimes we can help our country best by staying quiet, doing our jobs and not causing a fuss when our personal lives dont work the way we’d like them to, do you think you can do that, Monica, i know you want to, because youre a smart girl and you have a long life and you understand how tricky things might get for you if you decided to make a fuss, right? and im like Yes and she gets up and Vera comes over and H. lowers her sunglasses so i can see her eyes and she says Make sure you get some of the carrot cake, im told its delicious and as soon as she’s gone i get in my car and speed home as fast as i can and the whole way all i can think is Why dont you talk to your own daughter shes the one whos a slut…

This Used to Be a Ball Park