Are old-time parks going the way of Jurassic Park?

August 11, 1993|By George Vecsey | George Vecsey,New York Times News Service

BOSTON -- One of the saddest things I have heard this summer is a congressional proposal for the Department of Interior to purchase four historic ballparks when they are no longer needed for major-league baseball.

This proposed National Historic Ball Park Act is a gloomy reminder that one day, instead of the Red Sox and the Yankees going at each other in Fenway Park, you might have a park ranger umpiring a softball game for tourists.

This is why I'd have been a fool not to have been here last night as the two old rivals battled in the taut division race. For the time being, Mattingly and Vaughn were jousting where Henrich and Doerr once played. Living history.

The old joint off Kenmore Square has never looked better -- the looming wall in left field, the distant bullpens in right field, the institutional green paint setting off the lush bright green of the grass, the stadium rumbling when the organ blares.

Fenway Park is the only ballpark I know that actually pulsates with life.

Even Yankee Stadium, that magnificent cathedral in the Bronx that the Yankees are plotting to vacate, has an immovable stolidity to it. Fenway Park quivers. It is alive.

We must all take a look around at these old ballparks. As Joni Mitchell once wrote about the last trees in paradise: "[They] put 'em in a tree museum/And they charge the people/A dollar and a half just to see 'em."

Now Rep. David E. Bonior, D-Mich., has written a bill that would turn Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field and Tiger Stadium into baseball museums. He means well, but I do not look forward to a guided tour of Fenway with Ranger Rick.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Ranger Rick might say, "that is the pitching mound where on May 17, 1947, a sea gull dropped a three-pound smelt, frightening Ellis Kinder of the St. Louis Browns."

St. Louis Browns? somebody would ask. "That's what it says in hTC my manual," Ranger Rick would reply.

Maybe some old codger in the tour group could help Ranger Rick by pointing out the spot where Bucky Dent's home run lofted over the wall in left field in 1978, or home plate, where Carlton Fisk did his little dance in 1975.

This joint has so much history, but these old ballparks are dinosaurs.

I don't know what killed the dinosaurs, but I do know what is killing the old ball parks.

Everybody makes jokes about Peter Ueberroth not liking or understanding baseball when he was commissioner in the mid-80s, but during his businesslike regime, major-league baseball came up with a policy that baseball is most appealing when it is played on grass in actual "ballparks" -- not these circular metroplex horrors with the artificial turf.

Occasionally, the good guys win.

They opened a real ballpark in Baltimore last year, including the requisite luxury boxes, the lack of which is dooming the old parks.

These air-conditioned, tax-supported sanctuaries are where doofuses feed their faces with shrimp and get bombed on white wine and watch situation comedies on a 27-inch color tube, while somebody is dropping a squeeze bunt down the third-base line.

One woman did a strip in a luxury box in Texas the other night. Big deal. Good, honest Brazilian soccer fans do that on the 50-meter line.

Nowadays, you've got to have luxury boxes or the important people won't come. The owners have given away so much money to atrocious players that they must reap the money back from the shrimp-ingesters.

Luxury boxes are an excuse for skipping town. Somebody named John C. Lawn, who is vice president and chief of operations of the Yankees, recently wrote a letter to this newspaper claiming that the 1994 World Cup of soccer is not being held in New York City because Yankee Stadium has no luxury boxes.

This is partly true, which is as good as it gets with the Yankees. The soccer bosses from Switzerland do like their luxury boxes. I mean, you're going to make Henry Kissinger sit with the people?

But there is another reason the World Cup was placed in nine other states, including Giants Stadium in New Jersey: Yankee Stadium is a ballpark. Built with a deep center field and the stands converge at home plate, it is not suited for a rectangular soccer field.

Yankee Stadium is a ballpark. Fenway Park is a ballpark.

Fortunately, last night, instead of Ranger Rick, we had Sherm Feller intoning Greenwell and Hatcher, Boggs and Tartabull, in a real ballpark.

Only a fool would miss the chance to be here.

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