Somehow, it's been four years since the old Yankee Stadium closed its doors. The 2008 New York Yankees hold a somewhat infamous place in the team's history since they are the Yankees team in the last 18 seasons to miss the playoffs, so in the final season of "The House That Ruth Built," the last game played was a regular season affair. That team never spent a day by itself in first place, and they chased both the defending champion Boston Red Sox and surprising worst-to-first Tampa Bay Rays for the duration of the season. A disappointing 13-15 August put them seven games behind Boston in just the Wild Card race, a deficit too much for even a 17-9 September to overcome.
Thus, there was no pennant race to distract Yankees fans from the fact that their beloved stadium was closing its doors. Any emotion from such late-season excitement was, for the most part, poured into a difficult "good-bye" to the old building on the other side of 161st and River. A great deal of fanfare surrounded the final game, which was played on September 21, 2008.
ESPN got the broadcast, and the actually produced a very nice intro for it, which is in the YouTube clip above (MLB.com did a pretty good one as well, remembering the park's many memorable moments). From numerous World Series titles to perfect games and from the Babe to Derek Jeter, Yankee Stadium sure did host some amazing games with a cavalcade of Hall of Fame players. As they did on the first day of the Stadium, the Yankees raised the 1922 American League championship banner. Many of the great players in Yankee history or relatives of those who had passed away came back for the pregame ceremonies, and they stood where they once played for the last time. Longtime public address announcer Bob Sheppard was unable to attend, but he pre-recorded the Yankees lineup and the PA played his mystic voice introducing the lineup..
At catcher, there was the always-present Yogi Berra, the oldest living Yankee legend. Joe Girardi, the current manager and former catcher for Joe Torre's Yankee dynasty teams of the late '90s stood with Berra, as did two others. Cheryl Howard, daughter of Elston, the first African-American to play for the Yankees and the 1963 AL MVP was there, joined by Michael Munson, son of Thurman, the late Yankees captain whose locker still stood unoccupied in the home clubhouse.
First base featured three living Yankees: Bill "Moose" Skowron, a vital member of Casey Stengel and Ralph Houk's Yankees from 1954-62 was the eldest of the trio. With them were a pair of playoff heroes: Chris Chambliss, whose 1976 ALCS Game 5 homer into the New York night sent the Yankees back to the World Series for the first time in 12 years, and Tino Martinez whose World Series homer heroics ranged from awe-inspiring grand slams (1998 Game 1) to series-saving clouts with two outs in the bottom of the ninth (2001 Game 4). The only shame was that "Donnie Baseball," Don Mattingly, could not be there since he was coaching with Torre and the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was a fine group regardless, one that boasted 10 different World Series rings and over 450 homers including the playoffs.
A surprise awaited Yankee fans at second base. Skowron's teammate Bobby Richardson was there, as was Billy Martin Jr. in place of his deceased father, the former '50s player and on-again, off-again manager. Then, from the dugout came Chambliss's teammate Willie Randolph, the popular 13-year mainstay who late won four more World Series rings as Torre's third base coach before taking a managerial opening with the New York Mets. The Queens team ignominiously fired him in the middle of the night on a west coast road trip in June, but the Yankee fans who always loved roared with applause as Randolph entered the field and slid into second base.
Longtime shortstop and broadcaster Phil Rizzuto passed away only a year ago, and it was sad that "the Scooter" could not be there to see the Stadium off, but his dear wife Cora was there for him. Despite her old age of 88, she steadfastly stood throughout the festivities, accompanied by the greatest reliever in Yankees history, Mariano Rivera. Superscout Gene Michael, another former Yankee shortstop, joined her at the position, although the most famous shortstop in team history had yet to join them.
An interesting trio stood at "the Hot Corner." Witty but powerful third baseman Graig Nettles was arguably the best third baseman in team history, but Wade Boggs was there as well, a recent inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005 (though the Boston veteran only played in New York for five years). 1998 World Series MVP and Martinez's fellow '01 World Series magic man Scott Brosius was the third of the third basemen. He had a less-impressive resume than the other two, but he had as many World Series rings as the two of them combined.
The mound featured some colorful personalities and the greatest pitcher the Yankees ever had, Whitey Ford. There was also his teammate, Don Larsen, the only man to ever throw a perfect game on baseball's biggest stage, the World Series. Both took some dirt from the mound as mementos. "Louisiana Lightning," Ron Guidry, struck out more men in one game than any pitcher in Yankees history, another Stadium highlight. He was there, as was the widow of his good friend Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Helen. The tall man with a Fu Manchu mustache that saved many of Guidry's Yankee wins, Goose Gossage, joined him, reveling in his honor as the most recent Yankee Hall of Famer (just inducted in July). Finally, Larsen's fellow perfect game artists, David Wells and David Cone, rounded out the group. At least one member of this group had participated in every World Series championship the Yankees had won since 1953, 11 in a row (a figure that excludes Ford's World Series title from his pre-Korean War rookie year of 1950).
At the corner outfield spots were Roy White and Dave Winfield in left, and Reggie Jackson and Paul O'Neill in right. Randy Maris, the son of the AL's single-season home run king, Roger, proudly stood with Jackson and O'Neill at the position where his father made some tremendous throws in days of yore. Center field would be an especially emotional spot. Bernie Williams returned to Yankee Stadium for the first time since the 2006 ALDS, after which the Yankees declined to give him a major-league contract. Bernie was hurt, but by now had let bygones be bygones and received the loudest ovation of any player. Mickey Mantle was the hero of the "Baby Boom" generation, and though he could not be at the Stadium, his lookalike son David jogged to center field wearing his father's number 7 uniform. Both Mantle and Maris's sons had uncanny resemblances to their "M&M Boy" fathers. The Mick's successor in center, Bobby Murcer passed away in July after a battle with brain cancer, and his widow, Kay, as well as his two kids, Todd and Tori, stood in for him. They had not yet been back to the Stadium since Bobby's passing, and they wept as they stood where their dad once did many years ago.
The starting lineup joined each famous Yankee group at their respective positions. Xavier Nady, Johnny Damon, and Bobby Abreu from left to right in the outfield, Jason Giambi at first base, Robinson Cano at second base, and Alex Rodriguez at third base. The senior member of the starting rotation, Andy Pettitte, met his former teammates Wells and Cone on the mound. The recently-crowned all-time Yankee Stadium hits leader and the best shortstop of them all, Derek Jeter, went to shortstop with "Stick" and Cora Rizzuto. Jose Molina was the catcher tonight, which was a bit disappointing since veteran Jorge Posada was injured for most of the season. Nonetheless, he played an important role in the final ceremony, catching the ceremonial first pitch from none other than Julia Ruth Stevens, the 92-year-old daughter of the Bambino himself.
Babe Ruth hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium, and Posada's replacement Molina would hit the last, a two-run shot in the fourth inning against Chris Waters. It broke a 3-3 tie and the Yankees held the lead for the rest of the game. Rivera entered the game in the ninth to secure the now 7-3 score. Even though it was not a save situation, everyone seemed to feel that it was appropriate for "Mo" to close out the Stadium's 85-year history. After two quick outs, Girardi removed Jeter from the game and he received a roaring applause as he left the field for the last time as a player. A groundout later and it was all over. Jeter thanked the fans in a speech for their dedication to the team.
Shortly thereafter, Yankee Stadium went dark for the final time. As Yogi alluded to in the ESPN clip though, the memories will never go dark for the people who saw so many games there.