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So long

Goodbye to Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium

With the Yankees and Mets both moving into new showplaces in 2009 -- both built in very close proximity to their current parks -- the baseball world paused in September of 2008 to bid a fond farewell to these two historic parks.

If someone told you that Shea had more history than Yankee Stadium, would you think he was nuts? Of course you would ... but he may just be right. That's because the Yankee Stadium that the Bronx Bombers vacated on September 21 didn't date back to the days of Ruth and Gehrig. No, that ballpark was largely torn down following the 1973 season. During 1974 and '75, the Yanks joined the Mets as tenants at Shea, as a new Yankee Stadium was constructed using some of the same exterior walls and superstructure as before ... but it was a new facility, one that took fully two years to construct.

The Mets began playing in Shea (following two years at the old Polo Grounds) in 1964, or 12 seasons before the Yanks moved into the ballpark that is being demolished after the 2008 season. Makes it a little hard to get so nostalgic about Yankee Stadium, doesn't it?

Regardless, there's been a structure called Yankee Stadium on this spot since 1923. And it's impossible to overstate its importance. In my book on ballparks, I called it "the most famous sports facility in North America." Considering its championship football games, prize fights, Papal visits and unbelievable baseball accomplishments, I think even that phrase understates its historical relevance!

I made a point of making one last visit to Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium in July of 2008 because I wanted to photograph these venerable ballyards the way they looked during their final season. Let's take a look at their similarities and differences.

Technically, both parks were constructed during the concrete-and-steel, function-over-form era of the 1960s and '70s. You can see the concrete outer walls of Yankee Stadium in the left-hand shot above. It was taken from the top of the parking garage (cost to enter: $15) that is just outside the homeplate entrance.

The exterior of Shea (above right) is dominated by the concrete walkways that carry fans up and down to the upper decks.

Compared to the impressive entryways at today's newer parks (e.g., Coors Field, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington), the entrances to parks built in the sterile '60s-and-'70s era were rather plain. Yankee Stadium's entrance behind home plate is shown on the left above, and Shea's home-plate entryway is above right.

Concourses and walkways were also much, much less roomy and opulent compared to today's newer parks. In particular, the concourse behind Yankee Stadium's upper deck is almost criminal with how little room you have to maneuver around vendors and the masses of fans. I'm anxious to see what kind of roominess will exist beneath the stands at the two new parks in 2009.

One good thing you can say about the time period when Yankee Stadium and Shea were built is that engineering had progressed to the point where poles that obstruct fans' views had gone by the wayside. While the sightlines probably won't rival those of the two new parks, from most vantage points you have a fairly open view of the action. One limitation that both old parks share, though, is that you can't see anything remotely close to the outfield fence below you from the upper decks in the outfield. Again, this is Yankee Stadium on the left, and Shea on the right.

Both parks have special, unique touches that, one hopes, will be transferred to the new facilities. Of course, Yankee Stadium probably has more examples of this than Shea (I bet even Met fans wouldn't argue that), and three of my favorites from the Bronx are above. First is the area that you walk through when you enter Monument Park just beyond the left-field fence. Here you see all of the uniform numbers that have been retired by the Yankees, and I dare say that no team in any sport can claim a who's-who list like this!

Next is probably the greatest single spot in any ballpark in the land. In the heart of Monument Park are the original three monuments erected in what was once the field of play in the original (1923 through 1973) Yankee Stadium. Here are the plaques immortalizing (from the left) Lou Gehrig, Miller Huggins and Babe Ruth.

And did you know about the item in the right-hand photo above? A bronzed bat -- allegedly belonging to Lou Gehrig -- sits atop the flag pole the base of which you can see in the center photo above. By the way, behind the flag in that shot is a short section of the famed "frieze" that is one of the stadium's most distinctive features. In the original ballpark, the frieze was copper and ran around the front of the roof over the upper deck of the main seating bowl (i.e., not in the outfield). Note how it looked in this photo in Wikipedia. When the new Yankee Stadium opened in 1976, the frieze had moved to the top of the outfield stands. Interestingly, it will be back around the infield when the Yanks take the field in their new home in 2009.

The Mets can't lay claim to the team history that the Yankees can, but they have added some popular features to Shea over the years. Just to the left of the scoreboard is a large top hat from which a bright red apple appears when a Met hits one out of the park. And on top of the scoreboard is a glittering representation of Manhattan's skyline. When I attended a game at Shea during the 2001 season, this skyline showed the World Trade Center towers alongside the other landmark skyscrapers of New York. Now, of course, there is a symbolic ribbon there.

Finally, the Yankees and Mets won't have to move their bats and gloves very far when they settle into their new facilities. The shot above is looking west on East 161st Street in the South Bronx. This is the street that separates the site of the Yanks' home since 1923 (on the left) from their home for decades to come (on the right).

The photo below shows just how close Citi Field is to Shea, as the gleaming new facility dominates the view beyond left-center field.

When April of 2009 comes along, the Yankee Stadium of 1976 through 2008 and the Mets home from 1964 through 2008 will both be demolished. The memories of the fans of the Yanks and Mets, though, will stand for a lifetime.