In this week’s New Yorker, Paul Goldberger, an architectural critic for whom I have great respect, has a piece in the “Talk of the Town” section entitled “Cathedrals: The Park That Ruth Built.” It’s about the old Yankee stadium and what the city should do with it. The article begins:
“When Shea Stadium was torn down and its site turned into a parking lot for the Mets’ new Citi Field earlier this year, nobody seemed to care, least of all historic preservationists. It didn’t have that much history, and it was ugly besides. Shea was no Yankee Stadium.”
Why does this always happen? Why does anyone think or say this? Did nobody care? Not that much history? The first stadium concert ever? The Miracle Season of 1969? The Miracle Decade of the Eighties? The preferred stadium of MORE THAN HALF of everyone who attended a major league baseball game in New York from 1962-1995? More than 100 million afternoons and evenings filled with the warmth of family, friends, or the solitary delights of a genuinely beautiful game?
Ebbets Field was home to the Dodgers for 45 years. Shea was home to the Mets for 45 years. Would anyone ever say that Ebbets Field didn’t have much history? Do you know much about the Dodgers before 1947? Are their 45 years worth so much more than our 45 years? Apparently there are people who think so.
I wasn’t alive for the Dodgers and I never liked the Yankees. But my 47 years with the Mets have meant a lot to me. And unless I am a psychotic and have imagined it all, there are millions of people who have been there with me. I am not sure why people often don’t respect us, or even see us, but I’m pretty certain we’ve actually been there and that our experiences deserve to be considered history as much as the experiences of anyone else.
Shea may not have been beautiful. A lot of wonderful and meaningful things aren’t, strictly speaking, beautiful. But it’s funny, sometimes, how people define beauty. Greenwich Village and Soho were almost torn down by developers who wanted to make it easier to get from the Holland Tunnel to the Manhattan Bridge. They wanted to get Federal slum clearance money to tear down what they considered to be ugly old buildings, which they wanted to replace with hi-rise towers filled with air and light. Jane Jacobs and a few local residents had to stand up and say that their neighborhood might not be beautiful, but it had vitality, and besides they lived there. We didn’t make that kind of argument to preserve Shea. We knew it wasn’t as worth preserving as the Village and Soho. But it had vitality and it was our old neighborhood. It felt a lot more like an old neighborhood in New York than Citi Field ever will. Even if it wasn’t worthy of being preserved, wasn’t it worthy of being spoken of with respect?
Paul: There were people who cared when Shea went down. It’s true that Shea Stadium was no Yankee Stadium. But that’s why we went there.
My new book, The Last Days of Shea: Delight and Despair in the Life of a Mets Fan can be pre-ordered on Amazon for $11.53. You will have it in your hands before the end of August. In the meantime, you can read samples and blurbs here.