There's no truth to the rumor that Judge Ryan Keefer buried a copy of Fear Strikes Out under the foundation of the Verdict offices for this review.
Attending a Yankees game in the Bronx has been called a spiritual experience.
That may very well be true, but I've not been one to get involved in such an experience, largely because of the "Bronx Zoo" tag that has been given to the wild and crazy hijinks that occur among some of the Yankees more, er, dedicated fans. Still though, even a now-peripheral baseball fan like me is at least a little curious about checking out Yankee Stadium. I managed to check it out in the back seat of my friend's car, as we had some time before a business meeting in the area. He wanted to go see Archie Bunker's house, and I had to make sure I got to the meeting. But still, the "House that Ruth Built" is hard to ignore. You can see the façade from the highway; the next thing is that large bat that was built. The façade was original; the bat was not, and after more than 80 years of hosting baseball's most storied team, the Yankees are moving to a new stadium, and 2008 is the last year for the old salt, so naturally a retrospective is in order.
Baseball's Cathedral fills that bill rather nicely. Narrated by Chazz Palminteri (A Bronx Tale), the two-hour feature covers the drama, emotion and mystique of the stadium rather effectively. The piece starts, understandably, with how the stadium was built, using mostly concrete and completed in less than a year, which might not sound like much, but was rather impressive from an architectural standpoint. Then you have the games, and in the first one played in the new digs, a young outfielder named George Ruth hit a home run that helped the Yankees win their first game in the new stadium (I wonder what happened to that guy…).
The middle section, which talks about the men who played for the home team, is a veritable "who's who" of the Baseball Hall of Fame. DiMaggio, Gehrig, Rizzuto, Mantle, Berra, Ford, Jackson. There's a ton more than I'm missing I'm sure, but you get the general idea. The events that have transcended the sport are also discussed; the farewells of Gehrig and Ruth are memorable in the audio and photography fields, and each have their emotional moments. When the Yankees lost Thurman Munson in a tragic 1979 airplane crash, the Yankees soldiered on, winning an emotional game against Baltimore 5-4, behind the efforts of Bobby Murcer, who eulogized Munson earlier that day. Munson was memorialized in Monument Park. Oh yeah, the mystique; it's hosted perfect games held in dramatic circumstances; David Cone threw a perfect game on a day designed to celebrate Yogi Berra. Berra wore number eight, and Cone threw 88 pitches to retire the side. David Wells, who went to the same high school that Don Larsen went to decades earlier, threw his own perfect game as well. The phrase, "you couldn't have written it any better" is moot when it comes to the countless games that unfolded into memorable experiences in the Bronx.
Monument Park is pretty much what I'm describing. Several four-foot tall pieces of stone with Yankee legends carved in the front. The stones where in old Yankee stadium in deep center field, in play if a ball was hit that far; several renovations have shortened the fences and given the stones their own area which was named, you guessed it. Many of the legends I've named earlier, along with several others, are enshrined in the park, a testament to the legacy they left for the team they gave their hearts to most.
But enough of all this love for the Yankees because, well, it makes me feel icky. Yankee Stadium has been home to many moments over the years, most recently a Papal Mass in April 2008. It's held celebratory moments, like weddings; it's hosted moments for remembrance, like a service to honor the September 11 victims. It's held heavyweight title matches for Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali; it's hosted the Army-Navy football game in college, and the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts played a memorable football game in 1958 that many point to as the launching point for professional football notoriety in America.
The many different nuances of the Yankee Stadium experience are discussed also. The right field "bleacher creatures" are given air time, and the players' reaction to them is discussed; other things like Eddie Layton's keyboard and Bob Sheppard's public address announcing, both decades-old legends for the stadium, are given a few minutes. All in all, this is a pretty exhaustive piece on the team and the house that George Herman built, that George Steinbrenner is making new in the near future.
But wait, there's more! A second disc of material lasts a little under an hour and shows quick highlights of the memorable moments, assuming video exists for them. Things like the Gehrig speech and Murcer's comeback win efforts are shown, and other highlights are shown like the 1999 World Series and other games. A ten minute tour of Monument Park might be the only thing that's worthwhile viewing if you haven't seen the stadium up close and personal before. You even get a commemorative coin and ticket stub for the stadium's final year, as part of tangible bonus material.
All in all, this is quite the lengthy look at the stadium and the exploits in it. Shoot, even Frank Gifford talks about playing Giants games in the stadium! But the piece, all two discs of it, is mostly centered on the work the Yankees have done in the joint. If you're a fan of the team or of baseball, this is definitely worth checking out, and baseball fans should also give it a spin too to relive some of history and human drama at its finest.
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