Selig recalls first trip to Stadium
Commissioner has fond memories of legendary ballpark
NEW YORK -- I'm not sure Bud Selig came to New York on his 15th birthday in 1949 more excited about going to Yankee Stadium in the afternoon or seeing the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "South Pacific" on Broadway at night.
Today, as the Commissioner of Baseball reminisces, there's no debate.
Selig admits his heart is heavy as baseball bids farewell to the best-known arena in all of sports. That's why he made certain, as the Yankees prepare for their beautiful new $1.3 billion state-of-the-art palace across the street, his old friend would get a fitting sendoff by scheduling the All-Star Game here.
Yankee Stadium closes for good after this season and Selig says he plans to be present, but that can wait.
Seldom has there been so much pomp and circumstance. Tuesday, on a spectacular evening, Yankee Stadium was the true All-Star.
Just as important was a tribute to the Boss -- longtime Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, a close friend -- and adversary -- of Selig's who's brought so much to the sport during his tenure.
Yankee Stadium certainly deserves its lofty perch among stadiums, and during his prime no owner was as recognizable -- or as controversial -- as Steinbrenner.
If you weren't knee-deep in nostalgia or shed a tear or two as Tuesday's events unfolded, switch to another sport.
Maybe Selig should have stolen one of the lead songs from South Pacific for this very special occasion.
Nothing could better describe it as "Some Enchanted Evening."
The game itself aptly provided the finishing touches to one of the most memorable days, nights and early mornings in All-Star yesterday.
When the American League staggered to its 15-inning, 4-3 victory Wednesday morning the clock at Yankee Stadium read 1:37. The 4-hour, 50-minute marathon is the longest in All-Star history, certainly making an indelible mark. It was almost as if the ballpark didn't want it to end.
The NL hasn't won since 1996, but that's not what this was all about.
"My 15th birthday was a day that I'll never, ever forget," Selig was saying Tuesday. "It was my first trip to Yankee Stadium, and we went to see South Pacific with Enzio Pinza and Mary Martin at night. It was the thrill of my life."
Selig, who's birthday is July 30, thought the entire crowd at Yankee Stadium was celebrating it.
"I didn't know it was also Casey Stengel's birthday and that's what all the excitement was about," Selig said.
Stengel, the Yankees manager, was celebrating No. 59.
Regardless, that first trip to Yankee Stadium began a love affair for the shrine that Bud's never been able to put aside.
"That first afternoon started a long trail of memories for me," he said. "I've been watching Yankees highlights in my hotel room this week. When I think back personally -- I'm a kid sitting in Milwaukee and watching all the great events that took place here.
"There was the Notre Dame-Army football game, great boxing matches, pro football games. There's no place like it -- the most famous sports cathedral in the world. Even for me, there's something about walking into Yankee Stadium."
Yes, Selig says, he's sad to see the demise of Yankee Stadium.
"But like everything in life, I am a pragmatist. I give the Yankees a great deal of credit for building the new stadium right next to it [the old stadium]. It's going to look even more like the place that I saw in 1949."
Selig says nothing can equal a first trip to Yankee Stadium, and I agree. He beat me by a year, but when Hall of Famer Robin Roberts talked Tuesday about the 1950 World Series, my first experience flashed back.
It was on Oct. 6, the third game between the Yankees and Phillies. I sat with my father a few rows behind the third-base dugout. The crowd that Friday was 64,505, nearly 10,000 more than Yankee Stadium now holds.
The Yankees won, 3-2, en route to their four-game sweep.
"I remember that game," said Roberts. "We had a 2-1 lead with two out in the eighth inning, but couldn't hold on."
Roberts thinks he might have played in an exhibition in New York, but considers the 1950 World Series "my first trip to Yankee Stadium. I'll never forget the moment I walked onto the field."
Roberts, the Phillies' perennial 20-game winner, had pitched three times within the last five days of the season as his team won the National League pennant. He pitched the second World Series game in Philadelphia, a 2-1 loss in 10 innings thanks to Joe DiMaggio's home run.
"The thing I remember most about playing the Yankees was that we lost three of the games by one run," said Roberts, who took part in Tuesday night's tribute to Hall of Famers.
He agrees no matter how many times you walk into Yankee Stadium nothing can surpass the first time.
"You play that moment over and over again. It's the type of thing that's etched in your history."
For me, I'll always remember that Friday in 1950.
And I suspect years from now July 15, 2008, will also have a special place.
Yes, grand old Yankee Stadium.
Happily, but not forever.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.