What has happened to New York City as a baseball town? It's pretty easy to see. Corporate greed and plain arrogance are ruining the fan experience at the ballpark, while stubbornness and stupidity are killing the product on the field.
It was shocking — absolutely shocking — to see the swaths of empty seats at Yankee Stadium during Game Five of the division series against Baltimore and the two games of the ALCS against Detroit. Twitter offered plenty of excuses and Suzyn Waldman threw the same ones out there during the Yankees' radio broadcast.
Sure, Game Five was a Friday afternoon start with late notice because the Yankees lost Game Four. There were five games in five days (they do that all summer, folks). Bad traffic (throw out the fact thousands of people go to games on the subway). All the New York things.
But you sure didn't see any empty seats for midweek starts in, say, Washington or St. Louis or Oakland. And when people who had Game Four tickets in Detroit suddenly found out their game was moved from 7 p.m. Wednesday to 4 p.m., Thursday because of rain, there were no empties in Comerica Park. And standing room areas all over Comerica were packed.
There was nary a seat to be had in the old Yankee Stadium the last five years it stood, with averages over 50,000 and total attendance of more than 4 million. Postseason games from 1995 on were full houses that were cauldrons of noise. Now, we have wine and cheese crowds sitting in private clubs.
If you stood on the field at the old Yankee Stadium you saw an upper deck that hung right over you and scared the you-know-what out of opponents. It shook during the World Series (that's where I was for the ninth-inning home runs in 2001 against Arizona). Stand on the field now and you have a genteel, library feel.
Tigers outfielder Quinton Berry said last weekend his team was thrilled to get to the quiet Bronx and get out of Oakland, where the fans were crazy. Imagine that.
It's the Yankees' fault. Same with the Mets. They both built palatial stadiums to open in 2009 and figured they could soak fans and business clients. Of course, the economy tanked in 2008 and the Yankees' fabled “Legends” seats often sit empty right by the field. Same with the Mets' top offerings.
And get this: Yahoo! Sports revealed the Yankees were using the old “Seinfeld” Broadway seat-filler scheme during the ALCS — moving fans from the upper deck to fill seats down the third-base line and in the left-field corner that were conspicuously empty for the TBS cameras. That's an abject disgrace.
The Yankees' average regular season attendance this year of 43,733 was their lowest since 2003 — and down more than 2,700 per game from just two years ago. The Wall Street Journal reported average attendance for the playoff games was the lowest the team has had in the postseason since 1932.
The team's average ticket price of $51.55 is second only to the $53.38 charged by the Red Sox, but Fenway Park is beloved by locals and tourists while the new Yankee Stadium is majestic but hardly tugs at your heartstrings. According to the Journal, premium seats in the Bronx average an astonishing $305.11.
Teams like the Red Sox, White Sox and Cubs all spent last week announcing they were either holding the line or cutting ticket prices for next year. But in New York, they just try to wring more money out of the customers while the hard-core baseball fan is basically priced out.
The Mets have been mostly terrible all four years Citi Field has been open and the park is a ghost town at the end of seasons. The Wilpon family's involvement in the Madoff scandal hamstrung the organization and the baseball side employing the likes of Omar Minaya and Tony Bernazard ran both the big-league and minor-league sides into the ground.
The Yankees, meanwhile, continue to build a team that wins a lot of games — until October starts. I wrote it three weeks ago in Toronto and Yankee fans torched me when I said you won't win in the playoffs waiting for home runs. The Yankees scored exactly one run — one! — in the entire ALCS without the benefit of a longball.
GM Brian Cashman said Wednesday in Detroit he believes in the blueprint of a team working long counts and then bruising the ball. It's not working. That's not how the Yankees won from 1998 to 2000. Sure, they hit home runs but guys like Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez were adept at driving the ball all over the park and not just over the fence. They had role players too.
Now, you get Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson and the fans crushed them with boos against the Tigers. Overpriced ballplayers. Overpriced seats. Overpriced concessions and merchandise. It was very interesting to see that Yankees fans — finally — seem to be pushing back and saying enough is enough. To both ends of the equation.
Farrell to Sox?
After a summer full of denials, things heated up in the pursuit of Blue Jays manager John Farrell by the Red Sox. The Associated Press reported Friday night that the Red Sox have asked permission to approach Farrell directly about replacing Bobby Valentine, and red flags went up in Toronto on Thursday when Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos canceled his regularly scheduled radio appearance on The FAN 590.
ESPNBoston.com reported late Saturday that the deal was finalized, although there was no report on the results of compensation talks that would allow Farrell, the former Bisons pitcher/Cleveland farm director, to return to Boston. He is a favorite of Red Sox ownership after serving as Terry Francona's pitching coach from 2007 to '10.
How will the Farrell move impact the Bisons' new affiliation? The compensation would likely be in the form of solid prospects that could be in Buffalo at some time this year or 2014. But Farrell has close ties to Buffalo and it would have been an unusual situation to have the big-league manager have that much history with its Triple-A affiliate. On top of that, if Farrell goes to Boston there's a good chance he would take first-base coach and Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Torey Lovullo with him and cost the Bisons another possible connection.
Lovullo could be a candidate to get Farrell's job in Toronto, although Mike Wilner of the Blue Jays' radio network reported Friday on Sportsnet.ca that he expected Sandy Alomar Jr. to get the job if Farrell leaves. Alomar finished the year as the Tribe's interim manager and has agreed to stay on Francona's staff. But he already interviewed with the Blue Jays when they hired Farrell and is the brother of former Jays second baseman Roberto Alomar.
Morris tweaks Nats
Former Tigers ace Jack Morris, a star on the 1984 World Series champions, got a rousing ovation prior to throwing the ceremonial first pitch before Game Three of the ALCS. During a brief pregame meeting with the media, Morris extolled Justin Verlander's role as an unquestioned ace, and said he's no believer in pitch counts or innings limits.
He's also apparently no believer in Stephen Strasburg's September shutdown that cost the Nationals' ace a chance to pitch in the postseason.
“I think everybody in the Washington Nationals' front office should pay attention that guys should go deep into games,” said Morris, who then added, “I shouldn't say that, should I?”
Sure you should. Because you're right.
• Bryce Harper's incredible run as a teen-ager ended Tuesday when he turned 20. Now he's just a regular young player for the Nationals. Harper hit .270 with 22 homers, 59 RBIs, 18 stolen bases, scored 98 runs and had eight outfield assists. He fell two homers shy of the teen record set by Boston's Tony Conigliaro, and his .817 OPS is third behind only Conigliaro's (.883) and Hall of Famer Mel Ott's (.921).
• Tweet from Foley's, the wonderful baseball bar in midtown Manhattan, during the sixth inning of the Tigers' clinching game: “We have whiskey. #ALCS.”
• Bob Brenly was a popular broadcaster for the Diamondbacks from their 1998 expansion season and, of course, managed them to the World Series title in 2001. He's leaving the broadcast booth with the Cubs and returning to Arizona as a television analyst. The D'Backs' new play-by-play guy will be Steve Berthiaume, who is leaving his role as an ESPN “Baseball Tonight” host.
• FOX announcer Joe Buck took a police-escorted trolley car from Candlestick Park to AT&T Park last Sunday to do an NFL/MLB double-header in San Francisco. Asked about the stunt by SI.com writer and UB grad Richard Deitsch during the ride, Buck deadpanned, “I'm in the white Bronco being driven by Al Cowlings. This whole street car thing is a diversionary tactic. We'll be in Mexico by midnight.”