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April 16, 2009

Big Apple Ballparks

New Yankee Stadium

by Jay Jaffe and Marc Normandin

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Though it won't host its first official game until April 16, the new Yankee Stadium has already incited plenty of controversy and less-than-rave reviews. If the original stadium (1923-1973) and its renovated descendant (1976-2008) could claim to be The House That Ruth Built, the new park is The House That Ruthlessness Built: a $1.3 billion monster with a sordid political and financial history, some outrageously priced tickets amid a ham-fistedly executed "relocation plan," and no shortage of aesthetic shortcomings.

For starters, the new park officially contains 4,561 fewer seats than the old one. The remaining seats are slightly wider and have more legroom, and there are a larger percentage of them at field level than before. They're also significantly pricier. According to Team Marketing Report's annual survey, the average ticket costs 76.3 percent more than last year, a whopping $72.97, and some premium seats run higher than $2,500!

Even beyond the price tag, the new stadium creates a social stratification which is anathema to anyone who believes that ballparks are some of our last great shared public spaces. A much higher percentage of seats than before are available only to season ticket holders; single-game buyers couldn't purchase tickets until they'd been picked over by season ticket and partial plan holders. Furthermore, less expensive seats have been significantly compromised relative to the old venue. Those in the upper deck are recessed some 30 feet further back. Foul balls? Fuggedaboutit, and that's without getting into how the shallower slope of the tier places the highest rows approximately in New Jersey. Meanwhile, the bleachers feature seats with views obstructed by the ominous-looking Mohegan Sun Sports Bar in center field. Don't even ask about the "moat" around the premium seats, or the $9 beer prices.

Aesthetically, the new stadium feels like a cross between the pre- and post-renovation models juiced on steroids and dropped into Times Square. To be fair, the exterior evokes a dramatic grandeur, and the wider concourses are a welcome feature, but like most of the new wave of "mallparks," patrons are bombarded with canned sound from all angles, not to mention plenty of flashing lights and advertising signage. The architectural firm that designed the new park, HOK Sport, incorporated distinctive elements from the old stadium, replicating the frieze that lined the roof of the original and the familiar asymmetry of the final outfield fence dimensions. However, the new Monument Park, which lurks in the shadow of the Mohegan monstrosity, is a barren bunker bearing little resemblance to the lush, colorful original. The flagpole, which reminded recent patrons of the original field's cavernous dimensions, is gone.

Even amid the various PR hits they've suffered, those prices will offset the anticipated dip from last year's 4.3 million attendance, not to mention any problems the team is having in selling the remainder of its premium seats and luxury boxes. Nevertheless, the team's spending has shown no sign of abating, with $441 million laid out in the winter free-agent market to snag Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. That figure was more than the next five highest-spending teams combined, not to mention more than the bottom 26 teams combined. Their Opening Day payroll came in at $ 201,449,189, about $7.6 million lower than last year, but still more than their two AL East rivals, the Red Sox and the Rays, combined. The PECOTA projected standings suggest they may have spent enough to outdistance their rivals this year, but they'll need to keep milking the cash cow at 161st Street and River Avenue to stay ahead of those two sharp organizations in the long run.-Jay Jaffe


While the distances of the new Yankee Stadium's fences have not changed significantly from the classic version, the heights of the fences are different. Whereas the previous ballpark had varying fence heights, ranging from 10 feet down to seven, with plenty of divergence in between, the new Yankee Stadium has a uniform height of eight feet. According to Greg Rybarczyk of Hit Tracker, adding a foot of height to a fence is equivalent to adding 0.84 feet of distance. This means that in some places you can tack on (or subtract) anywhere from 2.5 to 0.8 feet to the actual distance of the fences, if you're looking to compare their new digs to the old ones.

While in many places-such as down the right-field line, where it's 314 feet in both parks-these changes amount to a foot or three, there are other places where these changes could turn out to be significant. For example, halfway between the right-field line and dead center in the new stadium is 350 feet from home plate, whereas in the old park it was 359. In addition, the fence is now eight feet high instead of 9.4 feet, meaning the difference in distance is closer to being 11 feet shorter. There's a significant stretch of real estate in right and right center where this kind of difference could mean a lot for some hitters that are used to flying out to the warning track.

This won't mean much to the Yankees rotation, as all five starters are more ground ball-oriented anyway, but some of the hitters may be able to take advantage; specifically, the left-handed ones. According to the Hit Charts at MLB.com, Johnny Damon flew out to deep right a handful of times, and though it's hard to tell just by looking, in the right conditions a few more of those could have been home runs in the new stadium. Nick Swisher hit 19 home runs last season at US Cellular, with 10 of those heading to right field (and 18 of his 24 coming as a left-handed batter). The fences are closer to home in many spots along the right-field line than they were for Swisher in Chicago; it's possible we could see a few more homers from him, assuming he picks up playing time. Because there are three switch-hitters in the starting lineup at the team-wide level, along with three lefties, there should be an overall boost in production significant enough to notice thanks to this left-ward lean.-Marc Normandin


A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

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