All-Stars to give Stadium fitting sendoff
'House That Ruth Built' deserves veneration in final season
NEW YORK -- There is no other ballpark like Yankee Stadium, because there is no other ballpark that has been home to 26 World Series championships.
The physical facility is unique in many ways, as the first baseball cathedral in the land. But what lives here cannot be identified in brick and mortar alone. What sets Yankee Stadium apart is the intangible quality of history, of tradition, of what the best of the Yankees meant and still means.
The place is so significant that it only requires one name, like "Babe," like "Mickey," like "Whitey." When you say "the Stadium" here, the "Yankee" part is not needed. This is the Stadium.
Major League Baseball has chosen to honor Yankee Stadium in its final season with the 2008 All-Star Game on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET. The All-Star site is always a choice, but the argument could be made in this case that there was no other choice.
In recent years, MLB has located the All-Star Game at a succession of new parks, all of which represent hopeful signs for baseball's future. Here, the opposite impulse is in place. The past, in Yankee Stadium's case, could not disappear without being honored.
Whitey Ford's tribute to Yankee Stadium nicely summed up that concept: "Usually, All-Star Games celebrate new parks, not ones going away," the Hall of Fame pitcher said. "I can understand why this is the exception -- so much of baseball's history has happened there, and it's still a beautiful ballpark. It still gives me chills like the first time I wore a uniform there, or the first time I went as a fan."
Everybody has favorite parts of Yankee Stadium. A personal favorite here is off-the-beaten public path, in the basement essentially, in the press workroom; a picture of Ford delivering a pitch in the late afternoon shadows. It is a wonderful picture of the left-hander, perfectly reflecting his concentration, his determination, his craft. It is a perfect Yankee Stadium picture.
As the baseball portion of the All-Star festivities began on Sunday with the Futures Game, the place began to come alive. This remains a baseball Mecca, and over these three July days, a lot of baseball people will be making the pilgrimage.
One of them is Lou Piniella, uniquely positioned as a former Yankee who played on championship teams. He is now managing the team with the National League's best record at the break, the Chicago Cubs. Piniella, who will serve as an NL coach in the All-Star Game, was asked what it meant to him to have the Midsummer Classic at Yankee Stadium in its final season.
"I think it should mean a lot to baseball in general," Piniella responded. "It's been a bastion of baseball stability throughout the years, and there is so much history and tradition there, so many great players, so many championships won. In a small way, I was a part of that for quite a few years there in the '70s and early '80s. So I look forward to it.
"It's a little bittersweet going there and taking Willie Randolph's spot, because he was one of my teammates," Piniella said, referring to the recently dismissed New York Mets manager whom he replaced as an All-Star coach. "He's just a good guy and a favorite of mine. But I look forward to my time there. They're going to parade all of these great old timers, and it should be a wonderful spectacle."
And so this fourth and final All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium will be a unique experience. This game always epitomizes the best of baseball's present, the contemporary stars of the game on display. But this particular All-Star Game will also be a tribute to baseball's history, in the one ballpark that has known more significant victories than any other.
Given the history of the franchise, given the 26 World Series championships, given the great players and great events that have filled this place over the last 85 years, this last All-Star tribute to Yankee Stadium seems not only fitting, but necessary.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.