DeMause that Roared

Neil DeMause, author of the essential Field of Schemes has called bullshit on Andrew Zimbalist’s NYT defense of George’s Folly, both on his own site, and in the Voice. Dr. Z’s math is all wrong, says deMause. This is the kind of argument that can make eyes glaze, but the issues are important, especially for Yankee fans. We prefer to focus, instead of on the math, on the fact that one of America’s great public spaces is slated for destruction, and at a net loss for the public in terms of seats available at reasonable prices. Those issues, I’d say, we can all relate to. Plus, um, it just might be a boondoggle.

28 comments… add one
  • The old Yankee Stadium was one of the great public spaces, but I think the engineers destroyed a large percentage of its quality in the 1970s. In terms of quality of ballpark, I’ll take Fenway any day.

    john January 26, 2006, 3:28 pm
  • The old Yankee Stadium was one of the great public spaces, but I think the engineers destroyed a large percentage of its quality in the 1970s. In terms of quality of ballpark, I’ll take Fenway any day. And Wrigley, and some of the new ones.

    john January 26, 2006, 3:28 pm
  • Fenway and Wrigley are not comparable to Yankee Stadium, either the original or the 70s-era vision we have today. Those first two seat about 35k. Yankee Stadium–“stadium” being the operative word, not “park” or “field”–holds upwards of 57k. Thee 70s renovations may not be pretty or charming, the exteriors may be dreary, circulation clogged, and amenities poorly arrayed, but the simple fact is that when the place is full, there is no other baseball stadium that can match it’s intensity. That feeling will be dramatically diminished in a new park, what with the seats removed from the field and from each other, with fewer seats altogether, and a far more pronounced balkanization between different fan groups (ie, corporate fans and everyone else.) So you can whine all you want about how Yankee Stadiumn is ugly, but you don’t go to the game to look at pretty architecture; you go to watch a game and be part of a great crowd. For all its failings, the present Yankee Stadium lets fans do those things as no other stadium, and on hallowed ground.

    YF January 26, 2006, 5:25 pm
  • Hey, I think Yankee Stadium should be torn down and no park rebuilt, but that’s just me. And Wrigley holds 40K not including Waveland, but whatever.
    More seriously, I find YF’s case both compelling and garbled. He’s right: we don’t go to stadia to see timeless art in building; these days if we get it we’re damn lucky. Or in Rome. So his statement that “you don’t go to the game to look at pretty architecture” is true, and a distinctly American phenomenon. As a practicing architect that’s a difficult thing for me to agree with but, in the case of sports facilities, fundamentally accurate.
    On the other hand, YF writes that the Yankee Stadium’s “circulation [is] clogged, and amenities poorly arrayed”, and this DOES impact our enjoyment of the game, as well as our sense of safety and community. At the very least we should expect such safety and such functionality from our public spaces. The best solution is likely an extremely expensive retrofit that takes care of the worst moments in the Toilet (everything outside the seating areas plus whoever is sitting behind me on any given day that I show up there), but that’s not so romantic, perhaps not even logistically viable construction or code-wise. Most obviously, it doesn’t provide the requisite luxury boxes and advertising space.
    Perhaps the Yankees should have grabbed Janet Marie Smith instead of Johnny Damon.

    SF January 26, 2006, 5:44 pm
  • “So his statement that “you don’t go to the game to look at pretty architecture” is true, and a distinctly American phenomenon. As a practicing architect that’s a difficult thing for me to agree with but, in the case of sports facilities, fundamentally accurate.”
    I have no knowledge of architecture (except that I like the Chrysler buidling and find the Tropical Fruit Punch skyscraper near Times Square repulsive) and I’ve been outside the country only a few times (and I’ve never gone to a sporting event on foreign land), so this is a truly naive and sincere question: Are football (soccer) stadiums in Europe aesthetically pleasing? I thought all sports fans (when enjoying sports) were phillistines? Is this a distinctly American phenomenon?

    Nick January 26, 2006, 6:26 pm
  • I think the stadiums are just much older. Made at a time, not unlike our older stadiums, that were made with less of the modern “functionality” that CEOs and those trying to squeeze the most money out of an edifice deem essential these days. Also, many European stadiums benefited from the early and mid 20th century “renovations” made in order to have better rallies (Germany’s Nazi party used stadiums for rallies quite often).
    I don’t think it’s an American phenomenon.

    walein January 26, 2006, 7:00 pm
  • Football stadiums in Europe vary in their age and quality; for the most part they are undistinguished, and because the dimensions are standard (like our football stadiums) don’t have the character of baseball parks. They are also, generally, much smaller in scale than the average NFL stadium.

    YF January 26, 2006, 7:16 pm
  • The queston is about new stadia, not why our older stadia are insufficent; those reasons are quite clear, and mostly tied to revenue generation. We can be sure (or, at least, we can sincerely hope) that the new Yankee Stadium would have better sight lines, better egress strategies, and sufficiently accessible seating and support for the disabled, but that wouldn’t make it a great stadium, for some of the reasons YF cites in his love for the original.
    The “American” phenomenon has to do more with the replacement of the old with the superficially “new”, with kitsch that does a hollow (yet superficially effective) job of acknowledging precedent. Witness the new stadium in St. Louis, or the (no longer new) Comiskey, or the Ballpark at Arlington. Their qualities come from their amenities and their sightlines, from their luxury and their geometry, but not from their architecture, per se. Like “New Urbanism”, these works wring thin and quickly fading emotion from terribly superficial things. It’s not a small crime, this incursion of cartoonish and thinly intellectual baseball parks.
    Some of the newer stadia in Europe actually challenge the idea of technology, of community, of public architecture itself. Herzog and deMeuron’s Allianz Stadium, or Abalos and Herreros’ work in Barakaldo are just two. And yes, they are football stadiums, so like YF says they do adhere to strict dimensional restrictions that constrain their idiosyncracy. Nonetheless, they offer new ideas about what this type of communal architecture can be.

    SF January 26, 2006, 10:12 pm
  • quoting jigga from the Derek thread (just minutes ago):
    Susan Sontag would love the perfect harmony of high/low brow, mostly middle brow, that is this site.

    Nick January 26, 2006, 10:53 pm
  • Yeah, looks like SF is confusing our black and white site with the Grey Room. Comparing starchitect-designed European soccer stadiums to good old American ballparks is really an apples/oranges exercise. (For what it’s worth Renzo Piano’s San Nicola stadium in Bari is pretty sweet, too.) Anyway, he’s an architect, so you’ll have to fogive him his trespasses. Our opinion: there’s a space between kitchy historicsm and acontextual formalism, and that zone is where most design belongs, ballparks in particular.
    But we’ve fallen away from the key subject here, which is that Yankee Stadium—the one we have right now—is a landmark, and one of our most valuable public spaces, and we shouldn’t simply accept the fact that argument that it needs replacement as some sort of essential truth. Because it’s not.

    YF January 26, 2006, 11:39 pm
  • I love the smell of anti-intellectualism in the morning.

    SF January 27, 2006, 6:34 am
  • by the way, I wasn’t being critical at all of SF’s post. As a layperson in these matters I found it informative. I just noticed that jigga ‘s post was the first one after SF’s. It seemed to me a hilarious study in contrasts and priorities.
    Good morning, SF.

    Nick January 27, 2006, 8:09 am
  • Nothing like agreeing with YF, almost in full, to get him to spew condescending invective. It’s nice to know that I can’t win, no matter whether I type something thoughtful and corroborative or reflexive and contrarian. Jeez.

    SF January 27, 2006, 9:42 am
  • Right now, NYC is overflowing with cash, and you have to pay big bucks to go to a crowded stadium. But that’s not what it was like even a few years ago, let alone when I was a kid, and there’s no reason to think the current situation will last forever.
    Before Steinbrenner bought the team, the Yankees had never drawn 2.4 million. Even a few years ago, they were struggling to get over 2.5 million. Let oil go to $100 a barrel, have 100,000 yuppies laid off in New York, and we could have plenty of room at the stadium.
    When I was a kid, in the Horace Clarke era, we would sit in the upper deck holding the wood and metal seats on each side of us. During rallies, we would smash the seats up and down in time to Yankee chants. The cavernous stadium, ringed by columns, the clanking seats, the iron catwalks that led to the seats — it was all great.
    Today Wrigley and Fenway are great. Yankee is not. The crowd can be, but the crowd won’t always be there.
    I’ve been to the following new stadiums: Denver, Baltimore, Cleveland,Atlanta, Detroit, Comiskey, Texas, San Francisco and Seattle. (Also “The Joe” — Joseph P. Riley Field, where the Yankee’s Single A Charleston River Dogs play.)
    There’s a lot to be said for intimacy. Seattle has 10,000 or more seats than San Francisco, and the experience is not nearly as pleasurable as SF’s, even when the Seattle stadium is full.
    Fenway is the most intimate. Does anyone think it’s not great and intense? Does anyone think Janet hasn’t improved it by spiffing up some of the worst places?
    If you compare Fenway to Yankee, you find more than size is involved. One: the seats are much closer to the field. Two: the the space is much more enclosed. The Green Monster and the outfield seats are not that much lower than the highest infield seats. The roof and the columns strongly shape the space, and hold it in (the space will be even stronger after the Sox build the restaurant in the outfield.)
    In comparison, the space at Yankee Stadium leaks out. It was stronger when it had the columns.
    The biggest advantage of the old stadiums is that the seats are usually closer to field. There are two reasons for this.
    The old stadiums had columns holding up the upper decks. The new stadiums have cantilevers (no columns). This means the decks are less deep, farther back, and more steeply raked. Get up in the top row, and you are a LONG way from home plate.
    Second, we now stick the new club levels under the top decks, pushing those seats even further from the plate. The expensive club seats are great, but the old upper decks are better than the new.
    The Yankees did an unusual thing when they “renovated” (trashed, in my opinion) the old stadium. They used a tension system to keep the old upper deck but remove the columns: a lot of the old structure is actually still up there (some may remember when a couple of tons of it fell down and crushed some seats shortly before a game).
    But when you go to the new stadium, it seems like the upper deck is farther away than it used to be. Here’s why: nosebleed seats were cantilevered up and out at the top and back, and the lower deck seats were extended further into the field, visually making it look as the upper deck is farther back.
    That’s because the old Stadium had enormous areas outside the foul lines (which were death to foul pop-ups). In the old days, Jeter wouldn’t have had to make his famous headfirst leap into the seats, because the seats weren’t there.
    That was the biggest flaw of the Stadium, in the opinion of me and many others: the fans were too far from the field. But look at old pictures of the stands, and you’ll see that the old stands counteracted that visually because of there much greater sense of enclosure: the very tall columns went straight up, almost making a wall, capped by a heavy roof. The new upper deck, which recedes and is uncovered until the back, has a very different effect: the space leaks out.
    I know this sounds unusual, because we don’t usually think this much about the architecture of ballparks (or architecture at all, for that matter). But Feway feels intimate for THREE reasons: because it is smaller, because the seats are close to field, and because the space is enclosed by the columns, the roofs and the Green Monster. We don’t think about it, but we do experience it.

    john January 27, 2006, 9:59 am
  • John: Again, you’re comparing apples and oranges. Yes, Fenway is more enclosed. But for a facility of its size, the seats at Yankee Stadium are REMARKABLY close to the field, and there is little foul territory. Some of the best seats in the house are in the upper deck, behind home plate–even way up at the top of the deck. Moreover, though the experience may be imposing, the seating is certainly intimate–though thankfully not as intimate as Fenway. If you though the old upper deck was better than the current, you’re going to be massively disappointed by what you find in iteration 3—if you can get a ticket. Smaller and dramatically farther from the field.

    YF January 27, 2006, 10:31 am
  • Are we sure SF isn’t posting as YF?
    My buddy Phil Bess, who ran the Save Fenway charrette, has studied these things and used the engineering drawings to measure distances from seats to home. Yankee Stadium is not great on that basis.
    That’s only one basis for judgement. A full crowd is only one basis, and attendance will go down again.
    The experience of Yankee Stadium when it’s only half full is mediocre. The concrete ramps around the stadium are one step above the experience of a urinal. The club seats, which we both agree will make the upper deck further from the field, are another basis that George will not do without. They are too profitable, and the crappy club seats we have now are not an financial substitute for the club.
    Downtown Detroit is as bad a center-city urban experience as we have in America. But believe it or not, in some ways going to a Tiger game is better experience than going to a Yankee game. It’s all part of the gestalt, as your friends at PAP like to say.
    Have you been to Busch Stadium? It’s a concrete donut, but the Cards actually retrofitted it pretty well, and when it’s full of Card fans its a more visceral experience than Yankee Stadium. And the high walls make it very spatial.
    It’s also right downtown, which is the hottest trend next to club seats. But the Cards are tearing it down because they want the club seats. So does George. So does every owner — expect the new club / restaurant at Fenway to be both good and highly profitable.
    Much better than the shitty old Fenway club / restaurant built by the old owners. When it came to architecture, they couldn’t tell shit from shinola.

    john January 27, 2006, 11:05 am
  • Great stuff, guys.
    From my standpoint, having been to Fenway and Yankee Stadium, I’d be curious to know the dimensions from baseline to first row of seats, and baseline to several specific points around the stadium, to gauge fan-field distance more accurately. My experience tells me that at Yankee Stadium you are, in fact, quite far away from the field, no matter where you sit. And I have sat in the first row behind home plate and in the seats adjacent to the Yankees’ dugout, along with the upper deck in numerous spots.
    At Yankee Stadium the initial distance from baseline to seating has decreased, but that’s because they have added a handful of high-price seating right on the field. So while there may be less foul ground than one would expect, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Like John, I have been to many stadia, from the torn-down Veterans, to the old Comiskey (incredibly intimate as well as dilapidated and full of terrible seats – we got lucky and sat in the first row of the bleachers and heckled Dave Winfield about Ruth Roper) and the new Comiskey (one of the worst places I have ever been), to Shea, Yankee, Fenway, Milwaukee County before the demolition, several others in the majors and a couple of minor league parks. John and I agree about Busch – it was poor-man’s Nervi on the outside, but a truly enjoyable and intimate setting once you got inside. Whether it’s replacement will offer a comparable experience is unknown, but my bet is that everyone will end up further from the action and closer to the concessionaires.

    SF January 27, 2006, 11:32 am
  • I’d be interested in those distance tables as well, but I wonder if there is some differentiation between vertical and horizontal distance from the field. Vertical distance, if you remain horizontally proximate, is not that big a problem (and this is Yankee Stadium’s strength).
    I’ve been to plenty of the new stadia (Baltimore, Denver, San Fran, Seattle), and generally enjoy them, though the experience is quite different from the older, traditional stadiums (no latin here!). I’d like to think we can have both. And it would have been nice if St Louis kept their donut. Losing that was a shame.

    YF January 27, 2006, 11:53 am
  • In the past the thought of Yankee Stadium the landmark being rebuilt as another stadium was abhorent to me. However, it’s really not a great stadium when compared to the visual experience you can get at a newer ballpark. The only problem with the set ups of a newer ballpark for me is that it’s customed designed to make fans become more active in the consumer aspect of the building (food, toys, games etc) and less active in the actual game. That being said, I know for many old time NYers, there’s nothing more annoying than paying a high price to sit high up and when the game is a little drizzly and/or the score differential is more than 3 runs, you look down to see all of that prime realestate on the floor vacated because the people that own those seats are more often than not, bullshit bridge and tunnel fans trying to use the game the same way floor seats are used at the Staple center.
    I don’t think the price raise, the less seats, the kids’ games, the bizzare times sq.-esque signage will make much more of a difference.
    My guess, is in the “New yankee Stadium” you’ll always be relatively closer to the action than you are now but never far away from a kids’ whiffle ball pen/videogame center/hot dog and fallafel stand, t shirt and derek jeter t shirt and poster stand.
    My only issue is that they keep it in the Bronx, keep it right in the same area, and keep making those bridge and tunnel people complain about the traffic.

    walein January 27, 2006, 2:00 pm
  • What Phil does is draw lines from the eye of someone seated in a seat to home plate. The distance is not vertical or horizontal but 3D.
    You can see some 2D dwngs of this here. Also take a look here.
    Phil’s book is good. That’s here.
    When I talk about intimacy, I mean more than Phil, because I’m also talking about the sense of enclosure.
    Take a look at the photo here. You would think the much bigger stadium on the right would seat more people. I think it actually seats fewer.
    You can also see how the old stadium is an enclosed space, while the new one is a lopsided space.

    john January 27, 2006, 3:43 pm
  • Here‘s a bigger and better page for the Comiskey photo.

    john January 27, 2006, 3:46 pm
  • I have not had the pleasure of going to Fenway since September, 2003 so my perspective might be a bit off, but I think Fenway is the better ballpark for two reasons:
    1. The farthest I’ve sat away from home plate in Fenway is tie between the deep bleachers and the deck in right field. The farthest I’ve sat away I’ve sat in Yankees Stadium is upper deck territory. At Fenway, I was *much* more in the game than I was up in no-man’s land in Yankee Stadium.
    2. In Fenway it’s almost impossible not to be able to see at least two scoreboards at all times, mainly because the old school scoreboard in the green monster. Yankee Stadium does not have such a convenient arrangement, which makes it tough when you’re trying to follow the out of town scores as well as the game at hand because you’re relying on two players to get your fantasy team in the playoffs this week (a very specific example, but the point is there are a lot of blocked sight lines)
    Anything that cleans up those problems and maybe also makes it so that you don’t have to push through lines of people getting food when you’re trying to get around the interior of the stadium would be, to my mind, a good thing.

    Eric January 27, 2006, 4:12 pm
  • Great links, John. Though Phil’s book cover takes some artistic/urbanistic license w/r/t the location of the Sears Tower, no?

    SF January 27, 2006, 4:14 pm
  • “When I was a kid, in the Horace Clarke era, we would sit in the upper deck holding the wood and metal seats on each side of us. During rallies, we would smash the seats up and down in time to Yankee chants. The cavernous stadium, ringed by columns, the clanking seats, the iron catwalks that led to the seats — it was all great.”
    John, I liked that passage so much. I just thought I should mention it.

    Nick January 27, 2006, 6:46 pm
  • Though Phil’s book cover takes some artistic/urbanistic license w/r/t the location of the Sears Tower, no?
    SF, like you don’t do that in your drawings? (kidding)
    Actually, I think the drawing is of Phil’s Armour Field, his counter proposal to Comiskey.
    Nick, thanks. Now we have the molded plastic seats that don’t move, don’t clank and invariably get mingy over time.

    john January 28, 2006, 12:20 am
  • Jeez, how sad is it that I miss my days in the bleachers of yore, before they were an institution. Banging wooden mini-bats (now banned) on the ass-contoured blue plastic seats (since replaced by benches) as Melle Mel directed the assembled in choruses of love for Dave Winfield. Those were the days

    YF January 28, 2006, 12:59 am
  • Herzog & DeMeuron, two of the chicest of the chic in the architecture fashion world, designed the new soccer stadium in Munich. You can see it here (bad translation courtesy of Google).

    john January 29, 2006, 11:25 am
  • Then there’s the abortion, I mean addition, at Chicago’s Soldier Field, by a Boston architecture firm. Photo here.

    john January 29, 2006, 11:30 am

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