About ten minutes after hearing the announcement of George Steinbrenner's death, I penned some rough notes that I knew would have to wait before being zapped into upload. It was too early to hit the negative button, what with all the effusive media hype that had only just begun.
For the past half dozen years, at least, I could not bear to hear this man's name mentioned because of its connection to the destruction and final demolition of Yankee Stadium. I didn't think I could put the right words in place and I hoped that some mighty soul would come along, right quick, and waste no time crashing the media's hypocritical love fest. Just who the hell are these people kidding, anyway?
So, I sent out a half-whispered query, as if to the wind: "Matt Taibbi, are you paying attention?" And, sure enough, good, old Matt was, indeed, paying attention to all that phony, sentimental claptrap being focused on "The Boss," that was filling up the airwaves.
In The Steinbrenner Slobituary," Taibbi describes the adulation that has taken over New York City's main sports radio station, WFAN, as it engages in a "round-the-clock Steinbrenner grovel-a-thon." Of course, these sports talk show hosts are always in desperate need to keep some featured story going, so it's understandable that the Steinbrenner death is splendid grist for their mill.
Taibbi calls the "mania for elegiac slobbering" a disgusting aspect of public life in this country. What surprised me were the saccharine calls from what sounded like ordinary guys eagerly repeating the cloying platitudes about Steinbrenner being put into the ether by ingratiating media types. Why on earth would these simple sounding callers identify with this vainglorious man, who never hid his contempt for the likes of them and whose ruthless methods transformed the nature of the game, which consequently led to tripling the costs of the average shlub's ticket and food prices. Taibbi writes:
Steinbrenner was in every conceivable way the prototypical office tyrant and the fact that he's being uninterruptedly worshipped after his death by a nation of cubicle slaves tells you almost everything you need to know about the modern American psyche. In no other country do people genuinely love their bosses the way Americans do. They'll go home after 12 hard hours of capricious superiors peeing in their faces, and the very first thing they'll do is call up some talk radio show and denounce the graduated income tax that gives them a break at their bosses' expense.
Taibbi claims that people's heads are so turned around that the terror of being thought of as poor and subordinate "has people reflexively worshipping their bosses, to the point where George Steinbrenner -- a workplace Caligula so stupid and self-centered that he could not be convinced George Constanza wasn't named after him -- is somehow thought of as cute and lovable."
Perhaps it had been taken for granted that Yankee Stadium was safely and officially land marked, and could no more be razed than the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building or the Woolworth Building or City Hall. But it was not land marked and, perhaps, even if it had been, the fear of Steinbrenner's powerful reach might have made even a Jackie Kennedy hesitate to protest.
The reality of the Stadium's disappearance was especially hard on us Bronxites who ride the No. 4 elevated subway on a regular basis. For me, it was an instinctive habit to look up momentarily from whatever I was reading for a glimpse of the Stadium, as the train pulled into the 161st Street station. For the past several years, however, I could not bring myself to look up at the site, since I did not want to see the daily or weekly stages of alteration. The House that Ruth built disappeared level by level, and is now replaced by the House that George built.
One talk show host will not refer to the new structure as "Yankee Stadium," but as "That Place Across the Street." Others refer to George's building as the Yankee Shopping Mall or the Yankee Food Court. I simply call it the New Edifice.
Late last season, I attended my first (and probably only) game in the New Edifice, since I felt I should see the interior of the place. Big deal! I was struck by the fact that you never have to sit in your assigned seat to view the game. Since the whole point of the place seems to be to keep the attendees roaming around, buying and eating, and roaming some more, there are dozens of picknicky type spots, with benches and eating counters, and big-screen TVs blasting the game on the field. The place seems to be designed to keep the wallet carriers engaged in everything except the ball game.
I wonder how those corporate executive suites are faring in the New Edifice, since they are the reason for which Yankee Stadium was destroyed in the first place. Last year, it was gratifying to hear about all those high-priced seats that embarrassingly stayed empty all season long. Hopefully, Taibbi's wish of last year will come true, that the Yankee management will "choke on their own greed."
And as for Steinbrenner? Taibbi suggests that we should have thrown a parade "the minute the guy drew his last breath." He asks, "Whatever happened to Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead?"
The long-dead Brooklyn Dodgers still haunt New York