GORDON WHITE: Game Tickets Are Costly Proposition
Saturday, June 6, 1936 was a gloriously memorable day in my young life because it was the day Dad took me to Yankee Stadium to see my first major league baseball game.
I was thrilled and virtually mesmerized by the green expanse and impressive structure of that immense, three-deck arena and by sitting not far from my No. 1 hero of the time, Lou Gehrig.
The Iron Man obliged me by slamming his 10th home run of the season that would end with the Yanks' first baseman hitting 49 home runs. Tony Lazzeri, the great second baseman, also homered for the other Yankee run. What more could a kid ask for?
I didn't even mind that the Yankees lost to the Cleveland Indians, 4-2. It was just so exciting for this 9-year-old Yankee fan to sit a few rows behind the Yankee dugout in The House that Ruth Built that the outcome took a back seat to my first experience at the most famous sports stadium in the whole wide world.
Little did I think that day that I would return to Yankee Stadium time and time again as a sports reporter covering the Bronx Bombers. I never thought I would some day cover and, as a result, get to know Joe DiMaggio, who was a rookie in 1936.
The day Dad and I went to that game, DiMaggio gave a hint of his greatest achievement as he went 0 for 4. That ended a notable 18-game hitting streak, quite an accomplishment for a major league rookie. Five years later Joltin' Joe had his record 56-game hitting streak that was also ended by the Cleveland Indians.
The 1936 game remains a more vivid memory for me than many of the Yankee games I wrote about years later. Even the cost of our tickets is part of that 1936 memory.
I recall Dad putting down a $5 bill to buy two tickets. He got a pair of tickets and some change. I believe the price for our reserved seats behind the first base line was $2.25 each.
That occurred during the height of the Great Depression. Fortunately Dad still had a job and was able to spend the money for a joyful afternoon bonding with his only son. Actually, for the day and time I felt Dad splurged for reserved seats that day. Oh, the joy of it!
Now we are going through what is considered the worst economic setback in our nation's history since the 1930's.
Despite this big financial setback everywhere, the current Yankee bosses established a ticket price structure that was off the charts for the new, $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium. This arena, sort of a clone of the original, is just a few yards west of the old Yankee Stadium. It opened 17 days ago to a great deal of fanfare and a horrendous, 10-2 defeat to this generation's version of the Cleveland Indians.
The first game, April 16, was an understandable sellout at the highly anticipated new Yankee Stadium. But that all changed overnight as the Yankees proved less than worthy on opening day and continued to look pathetic by losing the third game of the 4-game series with the Indians, 22-4, Saturday, April 18.
Things changed for a more basic reason----money or a lack of it. The price of tickets comparable to the ones my Dad bought for $2.25 each 73 years ago ranged from $1,000 to $2,625 in the new Yankee Stadium last month. That was the cost for one ticket for one game.
Following that opening-day loss before a full house that began to empty out before the ninth inning, the second, third and fourth games were a display of more empty seats than occupied ones behind home plate and along the first and third base lines. It was a total embarrassment for the proud Yankees as the world watched fans stay away in large numbers.
There were numerous empty seats elsewhere as the cost of seats all over the stadium were between $95 and $375 in locations that cost well under $100 a ticket in recent years.
Since I haven't been in the new stadium I am not certain whether on June 6,1936, Dad and I sat in what has become the $2,625 sections or the $1,000 sections.
Sure, the cost of living has ballooned since the days of the Great Depression. But it has not exploded by a multiple of 1,167, which is the number needed to make $2.25 grow to $2,625.
How many fathers can afford $2,000 or more for a pair of tickets so they can take their son to a game and sit somewhere between first and third base on the lower deck? Better they stay at home and watch the game on television.
So embarrassed were the Yankees' owners by all the empty seats last month that they ordered prices cut drastically for those all-too-expensive tickets. Big deal! Now a $2,625 seat costs a mere $1,250. The $1,000 seat now costs $650.
Of course, the Yankees' primary owners, meaning George Steinbrenner and sons, expected the fat cats from Wall Street and other such greedy humanoids to buy those overly priced tickets by the thousands. Maybe that sort of thinking in the front office is why the Yankees have been so dismal for the past couple of seasons.
Didn't the Yankees get the word that tax payers are bailing out those Wall Streeters who screwed up the entire world of finance, including their own? And those tax payers used to be the Yankee fans who bought a lot of tickets like my Dad did years ago. Tax payers just don't have money left for high priced tickets.
The Yanks tickets, following price slashing last week, are still far in excess of the cost of a ticket across town at the new Citi Field where the Mets are also experiencing empty seats behind home plate. The average price for a Citi Field "expensive" ticket is $495 and may cost as much as $695.
I'd like to see someone like Jacob Ruppert Jr. return. He was the owner of the Yankees from 1915 until his death in 1939. He built the team from insignificance into the power it became during the Roarin' Twenties and Great Depression and ever since.
He inherited and ran the Ruppert brewery in Manhattan after serving four terms in Congress as a Representative from Manhattan.
At least Ruppert kept his ticket prices the same as the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers in the early 20th century -- about 50 or 75 cents for bleacher seats up to about $7.50 for a box seat. Someone who sold a big glass of beer for a nickel and a bleacher seat for a few cents can't be all bad.
Sure, things have changed. Players' salaries are over the top and the Yankees have the biggest payroll in Major League Baseball.
But let's not get ridiculous. The result may continue to be more and more empty seats, particularly if the 2009 team is not worth the price of a 1936 admission.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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