Before you fire off your angry e-mails, let me explain what this list is. And the best way to do that is to begin with what this list isn't.
It isn't a list of the best sports venues. If it were, Pittsburgh's PNC Park would rank No. 1, not No. 78.
And it isn't a list of my favorite venues. If it were, Fenway Park would top the rankings.
Nor is it a list of the most beautiful venues. If it were, the Astrodome wouldn't make the list at all, let alone the top 10.
Rather, this is a list of America's 100 most important sports venues. And by that I mean the venues that have had a profound influence on the way American sports are played or have enjoyed multiple historic moments or, better yet, have had both. The criteria are a little open to interpretation, but one of the basics is that the venue must still be physically in existence (no Shibe Park or Ebbets Field). And preferably (but not necessarily), it still should be in use by someone, if not the team with which it is most associated. Oh, and another thing -- as you'll see, the venues need not be actual arenas of competition.
In short, these are 100 venues that best exemplify Winston Churchill's quote regarding the bombed House of Commons: "We shape our buildings. And afterwards, our buildings shape us."
Will you agree with most of my picks? Probably not. I'll make an argument for each one, and like the Baseball Hall of Fame (No. 6), that's where all the fun begins.
So which is the most important venue in American sports? Well, let's let the place speak for itself
1. Yankee Stadium
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Location: The Bronx. Opened: 1923. Capacity: 57,545.
Are you whacked? Of course I'm America's most important sports venue. Like you thought it might be Tropicana Field? (You don't know how angry I am right now that that domed abomination will host a postseason game this fall and I won't. And to think Tampa Bay pays its salaries with revenue earned right here but the Yankees have to "share'' with cheapskate clubs that can't make it on their own. Aww, don't get me started )
Hey, I know I'm not the prettiest stadium out there, but what do you expect? I have been sitting in the Bronx for 85 friggin' years and haven't had so much as a facelift in more than three decades. So if you want some architectural diva built for the snooty, wine-sipping crowd, go to Pac-Bell Park or SBC Stadium or VH1 or whatever the heck they call their "darling" park in San Francisco these days. Just be sure to count how many world championship banners you see while you're there.
But if you want a stadium where they won't look at you funny for ordering a hot dog and a Budweiser, if you care more about what's on the field than in the food court, if you want to sit and talk baseball with real fans who know what they're talking about, if you demand champions in exchange for your hard-earned dough and, most importantly, if you want HISTORY -- this is the place.
They say I'm the House That Ruth Built, but that's not true. American sports history built me, one championship at a time.
I know the trendy thing now is to build cute "retro" ballparks that seat 38,000 yuppies, but I'm a testament to the golden era of sports when teams built their own stadiums and built them to hold as many fans as possible. What has always distinguished me is that I'm a stadium, a massive structure -- nobody, not the Babe, the Mick or Mr. October has hit a ball out of me -- and I was designed for appropriately monumental events, like Yankees games. I was the first three-tiered sports facility in the country and baseball's first lasting "stadium," and by God, they needed every seat I had.
Sure, everyone knows about my most famous tenants, who happen to be only the greatest sports franchise on the planet, with 26 world championships (hey, only 19 more to go, Boston!). But I'm about so much more than that. What really separates me from the field is the wealth of sports champions I've had. Everyone, and by that, of course, I mean anyone who matters, has played here. Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and Billy Martin all fought here. Back when men were men and played both ways without helmets, Army and Notre Dame played some of the biggest games in college football history. The modern NFL was born on my field in the 1958 NFL championship game, the best pro football game ever played. All the greats have competed here. Unitas. Pele. Some baseball players you might have heard of by the names of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and Jeter. Good God, I've had so many Hall of Famers call my locker rooms and clubhouses home that they had to build Monument Park to honor them all.
Ruth's blasts, DiMaggio's catches, Don Larsen's perfect game, Mantle's tape-measure shots, Roger Maris' 61st home run, Reggie's three-homer game in the World Series, Jeet's Mr. November walkoff -- they all happened here, pal. You would have to be blind to not see the history here, and even if you were, you still would be able to hear it, as loud and clear as Paulie O'Neill complaining about a called third strike. The most famous words in American sports -- "Win one for the Gipper" and "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth" -- were delivered here. Holier words were never spoken, although I suppose you would have to consider the sermons given here by Pope John VI, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, along with the voice of God himself, Bob Sheppard.
How much of a worldwide draw am I? Right after he was released from prison, Nelson Mandela came here and declared to a sellout crowd, "I am a Yankee."
And when it comes to a red, white and blue place in American history, no one comes close to me. Everyone knows about Kate Smith and Ronan Tynan and "God Bless America," but I'm such a proud part of Americana that John Philip Sousa once led a marching band on my field. The president pitched from my mound after Sept. 11, 2001. (And in proud Yankees tradition, he fired a strike.)
But to think, my run is over. The Yankees are moving next door and taking the wrecking ball to me. My replacement cost is an estimated $1.3 billion. I don't care how long the "new" Yankee Stadium lasts, it will never come close to matching the sports history and thrills I've provided. No matter if it hosts so many World Series that it seems, as Yogi once said, "like deja vu all over again," the new place will never be able to say Ruth trotted around its bases or Louis clobbered Max Schmeling on its infield or Mantle slammed a home run off its facade.
Yeah, it's depressing to leave. But you won't get any tears from me like you're sure to get from that dame over in Queens. Just roll out the tarp, turn out my lights and play "New York, New York" (Frank's version, not Liza's) one last time and always remember that I'm "top of the list, king of the hill, A NUMBER ONE."