PHILADELPHIA — Yankee Stadium is closing for good after this season. You might have been reminded of that a time or 6,000 during the last few months.
Major League Baseball gave the storied ballpark in the Bronx a grand send-off during All-Star Game festivities. The Yankees themselves have spent the summer honoring the place, with more hosannas planned for the coming weeks. The best tribute would be a postseason in the place that is synonymous with October baseball, but that seems unlikely. The Yanks' run of 13 straight postseason berths appears dead.
About eight miles away, across the Triboro Bridge and down the Grand Central Parkway, another New York ballpark is getting set to close its doors. Shea Stadium's final season has been overshadowed by the season-long farewell party that has been thrown for the cool kid down the street.
While Yankee Stadium is often referred to as a baseball cathedral, Shea Stadium is often called a dump. Yankee Stadium is baseball's big stage. Shea Stadium is shaped like a toilet seat. Yankee Stadium is the House That Ruth Built, so dubbed by Philadelphia-born writer Fred Lieb. Shea Stadium is the house that some construction company built.
Despite its warts, the unsightly chop shops that used to be visible before new Citi Field began to rise beyond the center-field wall, and the annoying cacophony of jet engines from nearby LaGuardia Airport that interrupted at-bats, Shea does have some history. It hosted four World Series. In 1965, it contributed to the cause of Beatlemania in the United States. Shea Stadium opened in 1964. The Mets have played more games there than the Brooklyn Dodgers played in beloved Ebbets Field.
Love it or hate it, Shea Stadium leaves some memories. With the Phillies making their last trip there this weekend — barring a postseason meeting with the Mets — we take a look at a few.
Shea was the place where Tom Seaver and the Miracle Mets of 1969 lived, where Tommy Agee and Ron Swoboda made their famous catches, where Tug McGraw shouted "Ya Gotta Believe!" in 1973, and Willie Mays limped off to retirement.
It was the place Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, so full of promise, debuted in the 1980s, long before personal demons took a toll on their careers.
It was the scene of Mets World Series triumphs in 1969 and 1986. Who could forget 1986? The Boston Red Sox were one strike away from winning the World Series in Game 6. Tubs of iced-down champagne were wheeled into the visiting clubhouse and the lockers were covered with sheets of plastic. A message appeared on the scoreboard congratulating the Red Sox. Third-base umpire Harry Wendlestedt asked Wade Boggs if he could have his cap. (Boggs swears it's true). In the blink of an eye, Ray Knight singled in a run, Bob Stanley threw a game-tying wild pitch, and the ball went through Bill Buckner's legs, allowing the winning run to score. Two days later, the Mets won Game 7, adding a chapter to Boston's Curse of the Bambino.
Shea Stadium is the place where commissioner Bud Selig officially retired Jackie Robinson's No. 42 in 1997. It's where Atlanta's Chipper Jones has had his ears filled with boos since he was a rookie in 1995. "The longest walk in baseball," Jones recently said of the trek he has to make from home plate to the dugout after striking out. But Jones has had plenty of success at Shea — .308, 19 homers, 54 RBIs in 87 games — and deep down he likes the place and respects the fans. He named his son Shea.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner always hated when the Mets got more attention than his club and that happened frequently because the Mets consistently outdrew the Yankees in each of Shea's first 12 seasons. Steinbrenner never missed a chance to diss the Mets. In the 2000 Subway World Series, he didn't think the furniture in the visiting clubhouse was up to Yankee standards, so he had couches trucked over from the Bronx.
Entering this weekend's series, the Phillies had played 381 games at Shea, winning 197 and losing 183. One game ended in a tie.
The Phils helped christen Shea in a big way in 1964. Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game in the first game of a Fathers' Day doubleheader, and so much for superstition — he talked about it in the dugout between innings.
"Jim Bunning is way too practical a man to be bothered by a silly superstition," said Game 2 pitcher Rick Wise, who, amid the post-game hoopla, had trouble finding a ball and a catcher to warm him up. The next month, Johnny Callison hit a game-winning home run in the All-Star Game at Shea.
On the penultimate day of the 1965 season, Phillies lefthander Chris Short pitched 15 innings and struck out 18 Mets in a 0-0 game that was called after 18 innings. "Fifteen innings! Eighteen K's!
Shea is the place where umpire Joe West threw Phillies reliever Dennis Cook to the ground during a brawl in 1990. It is the place where, in 1968, umpire Ed Vargo threw Phils relief pitcher John Boozer out of the game while Boozer threw his warm-up pitches. Vargo warned Boozer not to go to his mouth. Boozer did. Good-bye.
A more painful good-bye happened three decades later when beloved Phillie Richie Ashburn died of a heart attack after broadcasting a Phillies-Mets game at Shea in 1997. The next night, the Phils beat the Mets by a fitting score, 1-0.
Larry Bowa had 114 hits and one snub as a Phillie in Shea Stadium. The 114 hits — second-most by a Phillie to Mike Schmidt's 116 — came as a player. The snub came when he was managing the club in August 2003. The players thought Larry had been a little to rough on them during a series in Montreal. Before heading to the airport for a flight to New York, they called a players-only meeting in which they decided not to let Bowa get to them. One player suggested ignoring the skipper. "Don't even shake his hand," another said. That last suggestion was rhetorical, but Pat Burrell took it as gospel. He homered in the second inning of the first game in New York, then blatantly snubbed Bowa as the skipper looked for a little fist bump. Bowa was furious. The next day, reserve Tyler Houston, perceived as a ring leader, was released.
The snub homer is one of 18 Burrell has hit in Shea. Dick Allen also had 18 as a Phillie. Mike Schmidt had 26, most by a Phillie. He played in the most games in Shea by a Phillie (138) and also had the most RBIs (74). Bunning's nine wins were the most by a Phillie in Shea. Steve Carlton made 27 starts at Shea, had a 3.93 ERA, but was a tough-luck 7-16.
Some of the freshest Shea-Phillies memories are from 2007, when Jimmy Rollins was booed after his "team to beat" prognostication. He was proven correct as the Mets completed an ugly collapse on the final day of the season with a 8-1 loss to Florida at Shea, while the Phils won the division with a 6-1 win over Washington.
A year later, the Phils are back in Shea this weekend, looking to chase the Mets down again, looking to take home one final memory from New York's stepchild of a ballpark.
Dallas Green managed both New York teams in both of New York's soon-to-be-replaced ballparks. He says it's time for run-down Shea Stadium to go, but before it does, the Phillies need to have a good weekend there.
"It better be the best last trip they ever have there," Green said.