Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
New Ideas
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments Posted 01.01.09 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Mark Lamster

Yankee Stadium: Remembered



Yankee Stadium, 2008. Photo: Mike Sandman

In the summer after my junior year at college I got a job working in the records department of HIP, the health insurance agency. In a basement office with no windows, I’d review double-entry ledgers for typographical errors, a tedious process I considered beneath my dignity. It was depressing work, my colleagues were unfriendly and the most humiliating part of it was that I was just short of incompetent. I didn’t care and my work suffered. Then I came home to a message from the New York Yankees. I was going to The Show.

Weeks earlier, I’d written to Yankees Magazine, offering my services as an intern. A spot had opened. I quit HIP and the next week reported for duty at the Stadium, over-eager in khakis and a blazer. The office was in the dingy stadium basement: frayed carpet, no windows. My primary task was to proofread box scores and stat tables for the team’s minor league affiliates — these went in the back of the magazine. Not much of an improvement from HIP and the climate was no better. The secretary spent her days endlessly defending the integrity of Milli Vanilli, recently revealed to be a fraud, while playing their hit record on a boombox.

This was 1990 and things were bleak for the Yanks. Bucky Dent had been cashiered in favor of Stump Merrill, but the team was still heading for 67 wins and a seventh-place finish. The magazine’s basement office, out of sight and out of mind, was actually a blessing. No one wanted to be upstairs, on the executive level. The Boss’s comings were unpredictable and the staff lived in a perpetual state of fear for his arrival. It was said that he’d fire employees on a whim and for no reason other than appearing in his sight-line. The place was terrorized — joyless, somber, tense. I’d never experienced anything like it. In my entire time working there, I met one player, Luis Polonia, who was later arrested for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl. The highlight of my tenure was an elevator ride with Bobby Murcer, the beloved Yankee broadcaster. He wore white pants and a green plaid jacket — a joyfully loud ensemble — and made it a priority to greet every employee with his Oklahoma drawl. He was the anti-Boss.

There was actually one perk to the job. It came with a Yankee ID and with that I had free entry to as many games as I could stand. I could sit just about anywhere as well; the good seats were rarely occupied and with a flash of the badge I was clear to do as I pleased. I rarely sat in those good seats. I preferred the bleachers out in right field, where I’d been a regular for years, along with my closest high school friends.

The play on the field was grim, but the bleachers were always a party and the reason was Melle Mel, the founding genius behind Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. These were the days before “Roll Call,” before the “Bleacher Creatures” became a self-professed institution. Mel was the unquestioned leader of the gang and was usually accompanied Busy Bee, a lesser light of the hip-hop stage. The two knew how to get a crowd working; the bleachers were just another club. They usually arrived in about the third inning, rarely sober, often stoned. (I don’t think I’m telling tales out of school here.) I remember them flying especially high one evening and then returning home after the game to catch the last few minutes of Johnny Carson. On comes a “Just Say No” PSA featuring Mel: “Don’t Do It.”

Mel’s signature was a dead-on impersonation of Stevie Wonder doing “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” which he’d sing waving his head to-and-fro while standing in the ass-contoured blue plastic seats that were removed about a decade ago, in favor of benches. (More fannies, more dollars.) Mel wore a ring with his name on it that stretched across his entire hand; it was a danger during high fives. Whenever games got close in the late innings — this was known as “Toenail Time” for some inexplicable reason — he’d demand the entire bleachers stop drinking and pay full attention.

Mel gave the bleachers a bit of celebrity cache, but what really made his presence special was the sense he gave us that we were all — rappers, lunch-pail types, old timers, barrio boys, even us privileged kids from Manhattan — a part of something uniquely New York, united in our devotion to the Yankees. He was a “star,” and had a magnetic charisma, but he was inclusive. One night Busy came in with copies of his new album, passed them out to the crowd and invited everyone to his set that night at the Paladium. I wish we had gone, though I suspect we would never have made it past the velvet rope. I spent years of my life out in those bleachers. My friends and I developed our own traditions. After the game we’d take the 4 train back to Eighty-sixth Street and after a win, go for “victory donuts” at the shop on the corner of Lex. (Now a bank.) It wasn’t always so fun. In 1988, after Steinbrenner had picked a fight with Don Mattingly over his haircut, I found myself on the back page of Newsday, sitting below a group of regulars holding up letters that spelled “TRADE GEORGE.” We despised him and though I’m no longer the despising kind, I can’t say I’ve forgotten or forgiven his many trespasses and disgraces. Eventually, of course, Steinbrenner did himself in and for conspiring against Dave Winfield, always Mel’s favorite. And that was a new dawn for the Stadium, and the team.

By the mid nineties, my friends and I stopped visiting the bleachers with regularity. Schedules intruded, girlfriends, lives. When we did go to the ballpark and we still went often, we opted for better seats. The bleachers changed. The “Creatures” had begun to consider themselves an attraction, justifiably. With that new fame came unpleasant questions about authenticity, who was a true regular. Mel stopped showing up.

We were still fans, still true and we got our ultimate reward in 1996. My greatest memory of Yankee Stadium comes from that year, and it wasn’t even at the stadium. I watched the last game of the World Series that year with my future wife in her tiny studio apartment on Eighty-seventh Street and First Avenue. The joy of that game’s final moment, Charlie Hays clutching that last pop — the ultimate exaltation.

I had planned with my friends that, in the case of a win, we’d all meet up for one last victory donut. But somehow we found out that the Yanks would be holding their victory party that night at Cronies, a sports bar on Eighty-Seventh and Third, just a couple of avenues away. By the time we all met there the entire block was shut down and barricaded, fans were cheering and passing around champagne and the players were arriving by limo — Derek, Tino, Jim Leyritz in a ten-gallon hat. For years, we had been trekking out to the Bronx to cheer on our team. Now, after the win we had all longed for, they came home to us.
Share This Story

RELATED POSTS


TEDification versus Edification


When Buildings Kill


Decorating Brutalism: The Interiors of Kevin Roche


Fairy Tale Architecture: Why the Sun and Moon Live in the Sky


TEDification versus Edification



LOG IN TO POST A COMMENT
Don't have an account? Create an account. Forgot your password? Click here.

Email


Password




|
Share This Story



Mark Lamster is the architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News and a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington School of Architecture. A contributing editor to Architectural Review, he is currently at work on his third book, a biography of the late architect Philip Johnson. Follow: @marklamster.
More >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









MORE ON Baseball


The Demolition and Afterlife of Baltimore Memorial Stadium
On Places, just in time for the World Series, Keith Eggener recounts the saga of Baltimore Memorial Stadium, and explores the relationship between civic building and collective memory.

The Baseball Card as Design Inspiration
Baseball cards: the gateway drug to graphic design.

The Old Ballpark in the Bronx
The new Yankee Stadium is heading toward the close of its second season, and though I can't say I love it, I think I've come to terms with its existence.

The Curious Architecture of Albert Spalding
The house that the Spaldings — of baseball fame — built for themselves was an oriental fantasy.

Ballparks Redux
Metropolis has posted a slideshow of the outtake photographs by Sean Hemmerle for my story on New York's ballparks.

Play Ball: The Last Word on New York's New Ballparks
My comprehensive, last word on New York's ballparks can be found in Metropolis.

Take Me Out to the Old Yankee Stadium
The new Yankee stadium, like most retro stadiums, bears the burden of being faux, a recreation, like a Disney version of reality. It works and it doesn’t.

The (Faux) Old Ball Game
Since 1992, every ballpark in America has been designed on the nostalgic model of Baltimore's Camden Yards, including the new parks for the Yankees and the Mets. Why is it impossible to build a baseball stadium that looks like it belongs in the 21st century?

Any Baseball is Beautiful
Baseball spring training opens Tuesday. It is in this spirit that I stumbled upon the photographs of Don Hamerman. For the past few years, as he's walked his dog at a local park, he's picked up lost and forgotten baseballs. There are dozens of them now, all lovingly photographed.

The Collector
Jefferson R. Burdick transformed the act of baseball card collecting into a culture of commercialism, an achievement that haunted him throughout his career.