The Houses That Ruthlessness Built

Welcome to middling baseball in sleek new cathedrals

What's the worst baseball season in New York history?

Most fans, if asked that question, wouldn't cite the really bad years, the worst losing seasons—they rationalize those away by wrapping them up in jokey images. Yankees fans snicker about the "Horace Clarke era," inexplicably named for the undistinguished second baseman of the late 1960s and early 1970s, conveniently forgetting that Clarke's career batting average, .256, is above what current Yankee second baseman Robbie Cano is hitting this year (.252 as we go to press).

Mets fans pretend to revel in memories of "Marvelous Marv" Throneberry and bedsheet banners, but are appalled when their manager says, as Jerry Manuel did a few days ago, "We're No. 2 in New York."

Alex Ostroy

Most fans, if pressed to name their worst season, would recall the years of their biggest disappointments, and for fans of both New York teams, that means 2007. The Yankees suffered yet another humiliating postseason loss, ending the era of Joe Torre, the winningest and best-liked manager since Casey Stengel. The Mets, just an extra base hit away from the World Series in 2006, thought they were finding redemption during the first five months of 2007, only to suffer the shock of the worst September in major-league history. Fans—and the franchise—still haven't recovered from that trauma.

Yes, 2007 will do as the worst New York baseball season ever. But here's some good news: Before the 2008 season is over, Yankees and Mets fans may well be ready to say: "Come back, 2007—all is forgiven."

To go by the media coverage, you'd think it's the dawn of a golden era. Both the Yankees and the Mets have created cash cows by—to mix both metaphors and barnyard animals—killing the golden geese. You kill the old birds and cash in on the nostalgia for them while stuffing a new platinum goose just across the street.

By and large, the media has chosen to portray this blatant market manipulation as some sort of fans' choice. As front-office homer Michael Kay phrased it in an early-season Yankees broadcast: "The fans are showing up at Yankee Stadium this year, and they're already buying tickets in bunches for next year, so by and large, you'd have to say they approve of what's being done."

No, we don't have to say that. The fans weren't consulted on this, and there's no indication that they wanted Yankee and Shea stadiums replaced. Filmmakers and rabid Mets fans Kathy Foronjy and Joe Coburn—creators of the documentary on Mets fans, Mathematically Alive—are both skeptical about whether fans will even be able to identify with the new corporate-named Citi Field. Moreover, there's no indication that those fans in favor of the new ballparks will approve of the deal they're actually getting.

"Having seen a number of ballparks all around the country," says Coburn, "I can't deny the obvious blemishes on the surface of Shea: the sight lines, the bathrooms, the flight paths, etc. But many fans have essentially grown up in Shea, and they choose to embrace the flaws. In those flaws, we find the charm. Citi Field may end up being an amazing place to watch a game, but it will take a while to feel like home." Foronjy adds: "Seeing the beauty in Citi Field will be easy. Forgetting what I and many others saw in Shea will be much more difficult." Especially if many of those who grew up in Shea don't get to see a game in Citi Field.

Alex Belth of the Bronx Banter website points out something that has been left out of the equation in the game plan for the new parks: "The upper-deck culture, the regular Joes squeezed together in that classic New York fashion which forces you to co-exist with your neighbors as if you were on a packed rush-hour subway—all of that will be disappearing in both the Bronx and Queens. By next year, the crowds will be composed almost entirely of upper-class suburbanites." Or of those given an occasional party favor from corporate season-ticket holders.

Forget the working class: They've already been priced out of the equation. The new stadiums aren't designed to bring more people in, but rather to keep them out. With fewer seats and higher ticket prices, an increasingly rare element in our new ballparks will be the middle class. Going to a major-league baseball game in New York will be a once-a-year big family event, like going to a pro-football game.

Half a century ago, New Yorkers watched in sullen silence as the wrecking balls went to work on Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds. Fans of the Dodgers and the Giants lost both their stadiums and their teams. For most Mets and Yankees fans, is what's happening now any better than what happened in the late 1950s? For many fans, the new Yankee Stadium—which Yankees COO Lonn Trost proudly describes as "a five-star hotel with a ballfield in the middle"—and Citi Field will be as exotic and remote as Los Angeles and San Francisco were to fans of the Dodgers and Giants. Most will have no closer relationship to their teams than a television set—and if it's a choice between 162 games on a giant flat-screen HDTV in an air-conditioned living room with beer at 80 cents a can, and paying an arm and a leg to these already ridiculously profitable teams for the privilege of entering their new commercial temples on a regular basis, it's hard to blame them.

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