By Rick Reilly
Yankee Stadium is our Roman Coliseum, our sports Louvre, our Delphi. So why are people planning to steal from it?
Because they should. They must! The cathedral of baseball has a date with bulldozers at the end of this season before the new Yankee Stadium (ugh) opens in 2009.
That means next week's All-Star game sets up as a kind of Final Viewing, and, like any good funeral, grievers will be trying to slide a wristwatch or a set of cufflinks off the corpse on the way by. This might turn into a pickpocket convention: armrests, pieces of façade, maybe even turnstiles will go missing. Even normally upright citizen Derek Jeter says he's going to steal something before this season ends. "When it's gone," Jeter says, "they're going to come after me."
So here's the question: What will it be?
Where do you start in a place that has more history than Barbara Walters' closet? This is the joint that saw three popes serve Mass, heard the "Win one for the Gipper!" speech, watched the first sudden death NFL game ever played.
Will Jeter take the Babe Ruth monument? The bronze Gehrig bat rumored to be on top of the flagpole? The sign on George Steinbrenner's desk: "Lead, follow or get the hell out the way!"? Bob Sheppard's mike? Eddie Layton's Hammond? Mel Allen's hat? "Me, I'd steal some dirt," says Mariano Rivera. "Just from around the mound, where I work. I don't steal, but that would be nice. I'd display it somewhere special in the house."
Not bad, but how about the dirt at second base, where Sam Huff decleated running backs, where Pelé roamed for the Cosmos, where the boxing ring was set up for more than 30 championship bouts, from Louis over Schmeling to Ali over Norton?
Or maybe dirt from around third? Where Graig Nettles magical glove made the Dodgers disappear? Where John Philip Sousa conducted the Seventh Regiment Band? Where A-Rod kept an office on his way to what may become the greatest home-run hitting career in baseball history?
Hideki Matsui would be quite pleased just to take the left side of the batter's box, thank you. "It's the amazing history of the players who stood on that side of the plate," he said through an interpreter. "I don't have a backyard right now, but if I did, I'd dig out the dirt and haul it back in a truck."
Jeter says the thing he's taking is "bigger than a breadbox." The mind swims. Thurman Munson's empty locker? The old, rusty scale trainers have been weighing Yankees on since 1950? The "I thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee" Joe DiMaggio sign?
Not near enough for some guys. "I'd take the whole clubhouse," says Joba Chamberlain. "Piece by piece. Hopefully, they won't notice they're missing a roof and later, a bench. I'd add onto my house."
There's plenty of stuff you wouldn't want, of course: Jason Giambi's thong, the 138-foot tall bat out front or Brian McNamee's needle-and-cotton-puff box. And plenty of stuff you'd love to have but is long gone: Wally Pipp's aspirin bottle, Billy Martin's four pink slips, Bernie Williams' purple sunglasses, the ones he wore while playing "Purple Rain" on his guitar before games.
It's a tough choice, taking this one last thing, because so many of Yankee Stadium's firsts were so big. This is where fans first saw numbers on baseball players' backs, where Giants' fans started the first-ever "DEE-fense!" chant, where the World Series was first televised and brought into American homes.
Wait a minute, why not steal home itself? Where Don Larsen smoked the only perfecto in Series history, where Yogi Berra found out, "You can observe a lot just by watching," and where Gehrig gave his luckiest (luckiest) man (man) on the face (face) of the earth (earth) speech 69 years ago last week?
Or maybe we should just simplify. "I'd take Alex Rodriguez's wallet," says Yankees fan Dave Villegas, an Ithaca College student. "I'd spend $4 million after the game because he'd cancel the card. I'd buy property—a nice Manhattan apartment—and probably a Shelby Cobra. And I'd still have his ID. I'd show that at bars." Sorry, pal, A-Rod's wallet is already spoken for—by C-Rod.
Personally, I think it's crucial that Jeter take something. Because here's what's going to happen: He's going to play in the opener of that new Yankee Stadium next year, with its 50 soulless luxury boxes and its 416 "party suites" and all the quiet they'll bring, and he's going to see a Hard Rock Cafe and a pair of electronic hands on the new high-def scoreboard telling fans to "CLAP!!!" And he'll go home after that game, weep softly, and hug what he stole very, very tightly.
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