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18th July

First Published in The New York Sun, July 18, 2008

By Andrew Wolf

It came as an relief to me that our Landmarks Preservation Commission has designated 30 mostly forgettable buildings along the west side of Manhattan as the “West Chelsea Historic District.” I can now sleep soundly secure in the knowledge that the R.C. Williams and Co. building, the Berlin and Jones Envelope Co. building, the Wolff Building and the Wolff Building Annex, and 26 others will be protected from the wrecking ball.

Meanwhile, several miles to the north, wrecking crews are anticipating the demolition of one of New York’s truly great, historic, and beloved landmarks, Yankee Stadium. Already it is being called the “old” Yankee Stadium much as we recall the “old” Penn Station, a great building destroyed in the name of progress and regretted ever since.

The All-Star Game is over, but the love-fest for the “old” Yankee Stadium will surely continue until the end of the season and beyond. It is the building where the Yankees won all those pennants and World Championships, and where Babe Ruth reinvented the game of baseball. It is the terra sancta where Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle, and Maris earned their place in the record books.

And it is a wonderful place to watch baseball, even lending a bit of excitement and drama to the largely meaningless All-Star contest.

My father used to tell me of the glory days of his boyhood hero, Babe Ruth, and watching the Bambino play the outfield from his 25-cent bleacher seat. He and I would occasionally go to the Stadium to watch my boyhood hero, Mickey Mantle, play center field, sitting in $1.30 general admission seats, or occasionally splurging on $2.50 reserved seats. My friends and I would casually take the Number 4 train from Kingsbridge Road and take in a Yankee game.

I dug up a relic from my past the other day, the ticket stub from game 5 of the 1976 American League Championship Series. Yes, I was there when Chris Chambliss hit his dramatic walk off homer to win the pennant for the Yanks. The price of my front row field level box seat (out in left field, but practically on the field)? $8.00. And that was for a post-season game.

Major League Baseball was a luxury even a poor kid from the Bronx could regularly enjoy, and we were privileged to have the opportunity to enjoy the national pastime in the greatest of all sports venues, Yankee Stadium.

The new Yankee Stadium will actually have some seats that cost $2,500 a game. I won’t sicken you with the gory details of the pricing, but some season tickets will cost more than the average New Yorker earns in a year. But, hey, if that’s what the market dictates, I won’t complain. I just feel badly for the children today whose families have been priced out.

Which brings me back to the “old” stadium. It should be salvaged, first for its unique history and also for its potential to bring baseball, history and entertainment to thousands, maybe even millions. Here’s how:

o Bring minor league baseball to the Bronx with ticket prices low enough for a family of four to pass through the gate for a $20 bill. These are the folks left out of the corporate design of the “new” Stadium, with its preponderance of sky boxes and luxury suites. What better venue is there for the dreams of young players than the ballpark that the greatest of the great have played in?

o Relocate the Baseball Hall of Fame to the Stadium, or, if necessary start a new one. There is no magic to the one upstate. Baseball was not invented in Cooperstown, and the Hall of Fame and Museum is a privately controlled entity whose president recently resigned in scandal. It draws only 350,000 fans a year (2 million enter the Bronx Zoo a year). The Hall of Fame at Yankee Stadium would become a major tourist draw, 365 days a year. And the parking and mass transit infrastructure will already be there.

o Recognizing that the capacity of the “old” stadium would need to be shrunk to reflect its new role, we could locate the Hall of Fame Museum to the area now occupied by the bleachers. And shopping and dining within Stadium walls could be humming all year long. The Stadium could generate hundreds, perhaps thousands of much-needed jobs and millions in tax revenue.

The ball could begin rolling with the Landmarks Preservation Commission intervening and stopping the demolition of this irreplaceable historic site. That is if they could turn their attention away from nonsense that nobody cares about, such as saving the inconsequential Berlin and Jones Envelope Building.

© 2008 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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