Monday, September 22, 2008

Five Banks and a Ballpark

Let me take break from the long series of posts on the financial crisis—they will return—and take note of the other big event in New York City over the weekend; the last game ever to be played in Yankee Stadium (of course, before the start playing in the new Yankee Stadium next year.) Let me tell you a story. I was at a wedding in Atlanta a few weeks ago, and I was chatting with the grandfather of the bride, a sprightly 95, and still volunteering a few days a week at the hospital in which he has worked for about sixty years. I knew he was Yankee fan, because, in what was probably my only other conversation with him about 20 years ago, we were in a car, going somewhere (for Passover, I think.) We were on the Major Deegan, drove past the stadium, and we got talking. He grew up in the Bronx and he told me about scrounging up fifty cents, getting a seat in the bleachers, and wait and watch the Babe and Lou Gehrig blast out home runs.

Anyway, we got talking in Atlanta about the imminent destruction of Yankee Stadium, and he told me that he first saw the Yankees in 1922, at the Polo Grounds, that is, the year before Yankee Stadium opened, and that he has been a Yankee fan ever since, from the era of Ruth and Gehrig, through the DiMaggio and Mantle years, the downturn in the 1960s, and the times of Reggie, Donnie, and Derek, which have come to an end this year, with the Yankees out of Octovber baseball for the first time in fifteen years. Anyway, he told me, God willing, he will be around next April, still watching the Yankees. How many people out there, have lived through and remembered the entire 86-year life of Yankee Stadium? And I asked him if he remembered to talking to old time baseball fans in those years, and he said, sure, I remember people talking about the way baseball used to be played in the 1880s and 1890s. Cool.

What is the moral? The recklessness on Wall Street in recent years has often been praised as a bout of creative destruction; the strong surviving, the weak failing and falling, to have their carcasses picked over by the vultures and jackals. And I suppose part of this is inevitable. Certainly if you go back 86 years ago, very few of the current names of Wall Street were around then; Chase National and J.P Morgan, now J.PMorganChase is about as close as you get, and I suppose First National City Bank into Citicorp; other than that, very few names remain from the early 1920s. But if we learned anything over the past two weeks, creative destruction needs to be separated from overclever destruction, when the masters of the universe get overmastered. And the death of Yankee Stadium,the grandest of grand ball parks, which had it roots in the surging property values in the early 21st century, is certainly an example of a destruction that is too clever by half.

1 comment:

Rob Snyder said...

I'm no big baseball fan, but I am the grandson of one of the world's greatest baseball fans and I cherish memories of taking my son to Yankees games when he was small. What bothers me about the new stadium is the anticipated ticket prices: they are way too high. And to compound the insult, the stadium is being built with a municipal subsidy. The result is that New Yorkers are helping the Yankees build a new stadium where people of low and moderate incomes will not be able to afford the ticket price.

My grandfather, a lifelong fan of the Yankees, was a transit worker. I'd hate to see working people like him priced out of the new stadium. And I'd hate to see young fathers hesitate to take their sons to ball games because the tickets cost too much.