Lights Go Out On Broadway: Farewell to Yankee Stadium
And so it happened. After 85 years of existence, The House That Ruth Built became a memory—a piece of history. Something cherished forever.
Broadway yielded. Legends cried. The last game ever played at Yankee Stadium left fans on their feet as Sinatra’s “Theme from New York, New York” blared repeatedly over the loudspeakers.
Sunday, September 21 st, 2008 will always be remembered as the day no one wanted to end. The Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles 7-3. It marked the end of one of the longest love relationships in history: Yankee Stadium and… the rest of the world!
Those who were lucky enough to be there in the Bronx for the final memories on Sunday woke up Monday morning wondering if it was all a dream.
How surreal it was to see Reggie Jackson sitting in the black center field bleachers in the exact spot one of his World Series home runs landed back in the 70s. “It’s like saying goodbye to an old friend,” Jackson told a security guard as he choked back tears.
Who will forget the pandemonium when Yogi Berra walked out to home plate in his off-white Yankee jersey from his playing days? How about Don Larson taking the mound shortly thereafter? Or the cheers for Willie Randolph as he sprinted out onto the field and slid into second as he had done countless times in his playing days? The longest ovation—for Bernie Williams—put a baseball in everyone’s throat as he tipped his cap numerous times acknowledging the fans. In these moments, legends became young, and today’s players became younger watching in awe as their heroes took the field one last time. Mickey Mantle’s son represented his father, and one could swear from the resemblance that it in fact was “The Mick” that flashed his trademark smile and tipped his cap as he looked over his shoulder. It wouldn’t be the first time the ghosts of Yankees past made appearances on such hallowed ground. The ceremony became more than just a tribute. It became a legendary mystical wonder. Don Larson gathered dirt from the pitcher’s mound in a water cup; Scott Brosius shook hands with Graig Nettles, and chants of “Paul O-Neill!” vibrated the very structure of Yankee Stadium just as they did during his last World Series game years ago. The legends cleared the field for today’s stars, and Derek Jeter led The Boys one last time onto the field.
In his final address to fans during his battle with throat cancer, Babe Ruth said, “I’m very proud to have hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium. God knows who'll hit the last one." These words haunted fans, reporters, and players, until Johnny Damon lifted a ball in the third inning out to right field. A sure fly-out at first glance quickly turned into a home run as the ball was seemingly carried into the right field seats by a mysterious breeze. Jose Molina answered in the fourth with a shot of his own that came to rest on the netting that protects the Memorials out in left-center field. Molina rounded the bases to mark the final home run at Yankee Stadium, and secure his place in Yankee history forever.
All these moments on Sunday built up to the final memories and images that will be engrained into our hearts forever. Andy Pettitte left the game after the fifth inning to a roar. He would eventually notch the win for the Yanks.
The ninth inning arrived too quickly, but it would prove to be the most memorable of the game. Mariano Rivera walked with his head down out of the Yankee bullpen, past the memorials, and approached the gate that would allow him passage to history. The gate opened, Mettalica’s “Enter Sand Man” pierced through the speakers, and Rivera ran out onto a field being showered with flashbulbs. He’s done it countless times, but tonight he would close not only a game, but an era. He would finish what Ruth started all those years ago with a home run into the upper right field deck. He would finish it with brilliance.
The final curtain call at Yankee Stadium took place with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. Derek Jeter left his position at shortstop to deafening pandemonium. Moments later, the chants of “DER-EK JE-TER!” brought the Yankee captain to the top step of the dugout to give the crowd one more image.
The final out at Yankee Stadium was recorded minutes later. The crowd didn’t leave, nor did the players. They were like high school sweethearts after the night of their lives. They didn’t want it to end. After a lap around the field waving and acknowledging their faithful, Jeter and the rest of the team saluted the crowd on behalf of the entire organization. “The great thing about memories is you’re able to pass it along from generation to generation…most of all, we have the greatest fans in the world.” With those words, the final speech at Yankee Stadium was spoken, and the historic day finally came to an end.
And so it happened. Babe Ruth built Yankee Stadium with his bat, and Mariano Rivera closed it with his arm. On this September night in 2008, the legends returned, the crowd cheered, the aura of Yankee Stadium took full presence. The House rocked into the dark New York night one final time.
So who’s to say that after the lights dimmed to darkness over the field, and the last crew member locked the gate and headed home, that there wasn’t a rustling in Memorial Park? Who’s to say that those legends didn’t emerge from the cornfield that is the left field wall and give Yankee Stadium itself one last private viewing of what it has seen since the beginning? After experiencing the mystique myself two years ago, I feel safe giving you one last thing to ponder about Yankee Stadium and its final chapter:
Who’s to say Babe Ruth didn’t hit the final home run at Yankee Stadium?
By Tim Gaffney
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