We can look forward to these "historic" markers growing increasingly absurd as the year wears on, with broadcasters encouraging fans to catch the historic final midweek series against the Rays in July, and in August alerting us to Carl Pavano's historic final trip to the Yankee Stadium Trainers' Room. (I can almost hear Suzyn Waldman reverently running down the historic implications of the latter event: "Should Pavano somehow stay with the Yankees next year, and need a cortisone shot, or a rub down, or a precautionary X-Ray, it will be at the new Yankee Stadium.")• My parents were just in town, and in addition to getting to watch the Dodgers opener with my dad, I took him to see the plaque commemorating the signing of Jackie Robinson to a professional contract at the Dodgers' offices on 215 Montague Street in Brooklyn, a few minutes' walk from my new apartment. Speaking of Robinson, Steven Goldman has a great (and free) piece on his arrival in the majors, set up by another scene from Steve and Jay's Excellent Promotional Adventure:
Of course, there will be an audience for all the sentimentality that's being unleashed with the Stadium's send-off. In a sport that conscientiously markets itself on its past and its traditions, the Yankees trade most effectively in nostalgia. Possibly the greatest achievement of the Yankees' nostalgia machine is the perceived continuity between the building that Colonel Ruppert built in 1923 to house Babe Ruth's bat and the current Yankee Stadium. The 1976 "renovation" was more of a gut-and-rebuild job than a simple sprucing up of the structure. Just about every significant detail of the building -- its dimensions, the playing field, the seats, the scoreboard -- was altered, resulting in an arena that doesn't fit in with the great classic ballparks like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, but doesn't quite have the plastic uniformity of the cookie-cutter parks of the '60s and '70s, either. Although many still admire its timeless look, Yankee Stadium II (as we sometimes like to call the post-1976 structure) shares little with the original other than its address.
Across the street, the new new Yankee Stadium looks a bit like the Death Star, circa Return of the Jedi, enough so that I half-expect it to sprout a laser cannon and vaporize the present stadium sometime after the last pitch of the 2008 season is thrown. Its still-under-construction exterior shell self-consciously recalls the original structure, but the ballpark within will be thoroughly modern and built from scratch-there's no longer any plausible deniability that this isn't a break with history. Talking to fans around the ballpark, the recurring theme was anxiety about the new ballpark. Will they be able to afford tickets? Will they be near the other regular ticket plan holders in their section? Will the new Stadium be the same kind of place the old one was?
I hope you enjoyed Opening Day, or as I like to think of it, the 61st anniversary of America. Yes, there was 1776, when the 13 colonies declared independence, or 1787, when the current Constitution kicked off, or even 1865, when Abraham Lincoln both ended slavery and established the supremacy of the federal government over the states by force of arms. Yet, in all that time, the country never began to close the gap between its rhetoric and its realities. That had to wait for 1947 and Jackie Robinson.The point I tried to make in that three-way scrum was that I have colleagues who don't consider any major league baseball before Robinsons's arrival in 1947 to be valid -- an extreme view, perhaps, but by no means an unreasonable one. Anyway, what follows that excerpt is a lengthy history lesson involving democracy and baseball, one that rises above even Steve's usual high standards. Read it.
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. A couple of weeks ago, Jay Jaffe and I were in Philadelphia for a BP book signing. We were doing our usual Q&A when an older black man, standing at the back in a tweedy newsboy cap, raised his hand. He didn’t really want to ask a question, but to say a few words — well, a lot of words — about Barry Bonds, and how the color of his skin influenced the way he had been treated by the media and by official baseball. I’m not completely clear on how the conversation progressed, because the gentleman was making a speech without stopping to breathe, let alone allow us to answer, while Jay and I were simultaneously trying to respond and reclaim our platform, with the result that the three of us were talking over each other in a way that became unintelligible even to me.
I do know that at one point, while the gentleman was indicting baseball for racism, I brought up Jackie Robinson, saying that whatever happened since, the breaking of the color line was a huge, gigantic thing, more than just a seminal moment in baseball but in all of American history.
That gave him pause. "Why?" he asked.
"Because for the first time in this history of the country, something that had been promised at the very beginning was finally delivered: equality of opportunity."
"Well, I don’t know about that," the gentleman said. At that point Jay jumped in again, and the conversation spiraled off in another direction. Eventually, the gentleman thanked us for the use of our soap box and left.
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