March 11, 2008

The Sanctity of a Venue- How Can Hockey Damage the Memory of Yankee Stadium?

They played beer league softball in Tiger Stadium.

Nicholas Cage shot Snake Eyes at the Montreal Forum.

Those are two examples of the last events at legendary venues in North America. As another iconic piece of architecture closes within the next year, it looks as if they're going to be playing hockey at Yankee Stadium before they close the doors for good.

After the news came out on Monday that the NHL and the Yankees are close to finalizing a deal to hold another Winter Classic outdoor hockey game at Yankee Stadium, the argument began over whether or not that should be the last event on the hallowed ground that is the "House that Ruth Built". There are many baseball purists who feel playing a hockey game to close out Yankee Stadium is sacrilegious. The memories of twenty-six world championships, the homeruns hit by the likes of Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, and the hitting streak of Joe Dimaggio should not be ruined by having a "hoc-key" game be the final memory there.

How silly is that thought? For starters, the outfield grass now is not the same patch that Joe D and Mantle roamed. The infield dirt is not the same clay that Phil Rizzuto and Tony Lazzeri turned many a double-play. The pitcher's mound and batting box is not the same as when Whitey Ford pitched to Yogi Berra. Since Yankee Stadium re-opened in 1976, many consider it "Yankee Stadium II" and do not hold such tight memories from when those many Yankee legends played. Having a hockey game there on January 1, 2009 would not diminish anything that occurred on that field since 1976 or in that stadium since 1923. Yankee fans are going to remember everything that went on at 161st Street and River Avenue forever. Playing some shinny for a few hours will not make those memories disappear.

With this being the final season in the Stadium, all Yankee fans want that dream ending in October. They want the final game in Yankee Stadium to be a clinching win in the World Series. You know, the storybook ending. Well, as we all know, Yankee fans have gotten the "horror ending" since their last title in 2000.

For those holding on to sacred memories of a final baseball game there, let's say the Yankees are in the playoffs and go down 2-0 or 3-1 in a first-round or ALCS/World Series and now have to go on the road to survive and wind up losing. There would be no final celebration, just the hope of Yankee Nation for the Bronx Bombers to hang on and force another game at home. Or, what if the final Yankee home game ever is a 21-0 stinker, whether in the playoffs or on September 21st (final regular season home game) against Baltimore, would that memory be better than seeing the Rangers and Red Wings/Bruins/Blackhawks/Canadiens play an outdoor hockey game a few months later?

The chances are also good that the game flow would be much better if it were played in a baseball stadium as opposed to a football stadium because the NHL would have much more time to construct a rink and build a perfect ice surface (pending weather conditions at the time of course). That was the one drawback of this season's Winter Classic. The constant stoppages to repair patches of ice slowed the game and probably drew some viewers away during the game. Given that the latest the Yankees would play is late-October/very early-November, that would give the league ice guru, Dan Craig about two months to prepare everything.

So I ask those opposed to this idea, "Why?" Staging an outdoor hockey game featuring the Rangers would really damage the lasting memory of Yankee Stadium? There would be 55-60,000 fans in attendance. Huge television ratings in New York and hopefully nationally depending on the opponent. It would bring much needed good publicity to the National Hockey League.

And maybe, just maybe, if things broke right, they could hand out some World Series rings to the Yankees during the first period intermission.

How does that sound?

UPDATE: From the NHL Tournament of Logos, sent in to Chris from a reader who was recently attending a Yankee Stadium tour.

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