A major league ball park is essentially a delivery system for beer and a mechanism for the disposal of its byproducts. The pitchers pitch, the batters hit, the fielders run, catch and throw, and the fans turn their libations into piss and vomit. The stadium does the rest. That’s baseball.
By that definition, the Yankees have not had as fine a season as everyone believes. For all the wonderful things that have been happening on the field, the grand old stadium is having a tough year.
Fans, thronging to the stadium to witness one of the finest seasons any baseball team has ever had, have encountered innings-long lines to get past the turnstiles and to reach the counters at the concession stands. In the absence of ushers, fans have wandered the upper decks in search of their seats, transforming the early innings into a game of musical chairs and the late innings into an unregulated rendition of professional wrestling.
George Steinbrenner, the team’s principal owner, has spent the better part of 20 years complaining about the ball park, blaming everyone-city government, the Bronx, the fans, Kenny Rogers-except himself for the team’s less-than-sterling (but still respectable) attendance records. But Mr. Steinbrenner’s familiar laments-traffic, crime, parking-ignore problems over which he has a great deal of control.
Much of what makes the historic stadium an uninviting place to watch baseball can be blamed directly on Mr. Steinbrenner. His employees and contractors run the show once you get to the turnstiles. The Yankees oversee the ticket takers, ushers, vendors, concessionaires, security guards and maintenance crews. And these are the very areas that have made life difficult for the millions who have defied Mr. Steinbrenner’s warnings about the neighborhood and poured into the Bronx to see the Yankees this year.
For all his reputed attention to detail (he was caught directing traffic in a parking lot last year), Mr. Steinbrenner has done little to make the stadium the kind of place that would attract the kind of fans he has in mind when he dreams of luxury boxes stocked with big-spending managing directors.
For example, on a recent weekday evening, the Yankees were playing the Texas Rangers before a robust crowd of 53,835. On the field, the scene was splendid. But a short stroll down any vomitory (the aptly named ramps from the seats to the outer corridors) revealed another Yankee team, the direct opposite of its counterpart on the field. Mr. Steinbrenner may pony up big bucks for his ballplayers and their needs (he renovated the clubhouse at considerable expense last winter), but he is notoriously tight when it comes to stadium operations.
While a random search of the rest rooms turned up few if any horrors, an equally random sampling of concession stand lines revealed why. It was virtually impossible to get a beer. One line, a mere four fans deep, clocked in at 23 minutes as the man behind the counter-a representative of Volume Services, which operates concession stands at the stadium-struggled to add and subtract. At one point, he spent three minutes and 23 seconds working on a calculator in an attempt to subtract $10.50 from $50. Eventually, the parched fans swarmed the booth, taking and opening their own beers, leaving the appropriate payment on the counter.
Joel White, director of customer service at the stadium, had a simple solution for fans waiting for their simple pleasures: “You can always step off that line and go to another that’s shorter, or go down to the next level,” he said.
Other selected scraps of evidence suggest a policy of benign (or perhaps not so benign) neglect of the proud old stadium that Mr. Steinbrenner so evidently loathes.
A 10-Foot Slick
On Opening Day last April, for example, an overflowing toilet in one men’s room in the upper deck, along the third base line, turned the bathroom floor into a swamp of urine, feces and vomit. Men laughed as they tiptoed through it. Yes, it was spring again, when hope is not the only thing that springs eternal. It took several innings for someone to come clean up the mess.
A few weeks later, at another home game, a 10-foot slick of vomit-as foul as it was impressive-barred the route from a bathroom entrance to the urinals. The smell turned away some, but not most, fans. When informed of the mess, a security guard shrugged and said, “Tell maintenance.” Two innings later, the slick was still there.
A home game in June: Over the course of several innings, a group of men in the upper deck spat on the heads of field-level fans. The victims complained repeatedly to security and identified the spitters but nothing was done-that is, until the spat-upon fans formed a raiding party and set out for the upper deck. Security staved off a rumble, but disciplined no one.
You could argue that all this is part of the ragged charm of the Bronx, that the roughneck atmosphere at Yankee Stadium is a welcome antidote to the sterile luxury-suite palaces that now rule the world of professional sports. But one person who won’t make such an argument is Mr. Steinbrenner. He clearly wants a sterile palace and the revenue stream that comes with it. So it is curious that he would allow his current home to be so inhospitable.
The Old Guard
In 1986, Mr. Steinbrenner got rid of the security guards who had patrolled the stadium since World War II and replaced them with a cheaper alternative: Burns Security International Services. The old guards, from the Local 177 guards union, still handle security at Madison Square Garden, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and Shea Stadium, where each guard makes about $85 a game. The Burns guards at Yankee Stadium make less than half that.
“We were more expensive,” said Sal Failla, president of Local 177. “Why in God’s name get rid of people who know the building inside out, just for a few dollars?”
The following year, the Yankees got rid of the ushers. “George didn’t like them taking tips,” said another union official, whose union still does business with the Yankees. “He complains about everything, but there’s so much within his control. He just doesn’t like to spend money.”
By contrast, Shea Stadium, home of the Mets, still has plenty of ushers and aggressive security. And even on the few occasions when the team draws a Yankee-sized crowd, the concession stands (operated by Armark Corporation) work smoothly. Perhaps Mr. Steinbrenner should check out the competition.