Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Yankee Stadium Fire Sale

It is not exactly what one would refer to as a fire sale. Nevertheless, all the ingredients are there - - making an extra buck, capitalizing on people’s nostalgia and their desire to get a piece of the action, the right timing . . .

From all reports the New York Yankees are poised to profit from selling off parts and pieces of 85-year-old Yankee Stadium before it is no more. What will be on the selling block remains pure speculation. But the famous blue plastic seats seem fair game. Derek Jeter’s locker, used by him for his 14-year career could fetch $50,000 to $100,000 if the Yankees decide to auction it. At a hundred bucks a pop, pieces of the white frieze plastic replica running around the top of the bleacher's billboards would fetch a pretty penny or two or three.

And there is so much more – railings, pitching rubber, jock straps, uniforms, furniture from George Steinbrenner’s office. . . .

We have been here before but in a much less hyper way. That was when Yankee Stadium was renovated and refurbished after the 1973 season and re-opened again in 1975.

The final game in the “old Yankee Stadium was September 30, 1973.

DUKE SIMS: I caught that last game for the Yankees. It was only at the moment of the final out when I saw the crowd hit the field that I went "Whoa! They want souvenirs." It seemed there were thousands of people, all in a frenzy, tearing up everything, even scooping dirt from the ground. I was right at home plate. If I were smart, I would have grabbed it.

DAN MARENGO: By the sixth inning of that last game, all you heard was hammers. When the game finally ended, people jumped out of the stands trying to get anything that was not nailed down. They even took stuff that was: second base, sod, signs, advertising paraphernalia, chairs. Using tools my father had brought along, my friend Jerry and I took the chairs we had been sitting on. But we saw people carrying off rows of seats.

The Stadium was chaos, a free for all to get souvenirs. People had come not only to see the last game but to take pieces of the Stadium, and they were tearing it apart. Back then, they didn't have that much security.

JOEY COOPERMAN: I took the wooden chair I had been sitting on. Heck, nobody stopped me. People were wandering around with chairs. It was like a riot broke loose. Phil Rizzuto, on the broadcast, was very, very upset that somebody stole second base.

Afterwards, a more civilized disposition of Yankee artifacts was organized. The bat racks and bullpen steps were donated to the Smithsonian. Babe Ruth's widow received home plate; Lou Gehrig's widow was given first base. George Steinbrenner loaned a group of seats for the audience to the producers of a new television show: "Saturday Night Live." (Never returned, they remain in use to this day.) Those seats that had escaped the free-for-fall following the final game were sold to ex-players and fans.

PHIL SPERANZA: I went down with three friends and we all bought seats, thirteen dollars each, the old wooden seats, all blue, the ones that when fans banged on them, an echo would go through the Stadium. I also picked up a one-piece grounds crew uniform which had the Yankee logo on the back for about eight dollars.

JIM BOUTON: I bought a whole bunch of stuff: pictures, chairs which I have in my basement right now, a stool from the clubhouse --Babe Ruth used to sit on a stool like that.

TRACY NIEPORENT: My brother Drew and I got ourselves a chair for just ten bucks. It had iron stanchions and was very heavy. We'd come up to the Stadium by subway and now had to climb that damn El on 161st Street to get back home. When we did, we found a piece of petrified gum underneath the chair. At first, I thought to scrape it off. But then I thought it might have been there when Joe DiMaggio had his 56th game hitting streak.

SETH SWIRSKY: I got one of the seats. It has the original paint on it, that particular blue and the slats in the back. I sit in it in my house now, and I think about whoever sat in this seat over the years

The 1973 season marked an end of an era whose time was captured by Bob Sheppard in an elegiac ode:

Farewell, old Yankee Stadium!
You've filled these fifty years
With a treasury of memories
Some laughter, thrills and tears.
Farewell, old Yankee Stadium!
We'll miss your graceful sweep...
The far fa├žade...that triple deck...
That centerfield so deep.
Farewell, old Yankee Stadium!
We'll miss you while at Shea;
But we'll be waiting anxiously
For your next Opening Day.

The 1973 "Fire Sale" of artifacts and mementos sold off by Invirex of Long Island, the firm hired to dismantle the Stadium, netted:
$30,000: lights purchased by Oasaka baseball team of Japan
$10,000: foul poles purchased by Osaka baseball team of Japan
$500: box seats, enlarged photos of Babe Ruth on Babe Ruth Day, and clubhouse stool purchased by Jim Bouton
$300: sign "Gate A"
$200: huge picture of a young Joe DiMaggio
$150: photo of Dan Larsen making last pitch of perfect game
$100: turnstiles
$75: locker room scale
$50: an old duffel bag that belonged to Joe Pepitone
Box seats: $20
$10: groundskeeper's uniform
$5: trays of hot dog vendors
$3: Men's' lavatory "In" sign
$3: A sheet of World Series tickets, unused from the 1972 Yankees' near miss
50 cents: sign: "Scout Admission – 50 Cents"
Total proceeds from that sale were $300,000.
How much the 2008 “fire sale” will net is beyond imagining.
Harvey Frommer is the author of REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOUSE THAT RUTH BUILT (The Definitive Book) Fall 2008 (Abrams, Stewart, Tabori & Chang).


Harriet Lesser said...

Love this article! As Yogi would say, it's deja vu all over again. I remember that '73 sale. I raced over to Gimbel's in Green Acres, LI, to buy a chair for my younger son. He was so afraid they'd be sold out, but that was definitely not the case.Ironically, years later as a professional tuba player, he shared a stadium dressing room with the Yankee "chicken."

Married now and a dad, my son still treasures that blue wood chair which has a place of honor in the den of his house.

Michael Markowitz said...

Do we know yet when the Big Sale will be? Will it be online as well? Google searches turn up a lot of seats, etc, but not the actual, official sale. Thanks for any info.