So now that January is officially up and running and the planet continues to spin despite frayed nerves in every corner of the globe and any number of ways that it could grind to a halt in mid-orbit, February appears to be on schedule to succeed it, month-wise. This means that spring training beckons, which means that in a couple of months baseball will be played in two new stadiums (stadia?) in New York City.
Fine. Except that both of them are supposed to look old. Which I just don’t get. My hometown has squandered an amazing opportunity. It had a chance to make history. Instead, it looked back. And spent a couple of billion dollars to build a couple of retro ballparks — when it could have pushed the artistic envelope, and put a city which hasn’t built anything remotely gasp-makingly beautiful in seven or so decades back on the global architectural map.
Let’s forget about whether the two new ballparks needed to be built in the first place. (Okay, for the record: Yankee Stadium didn’t need to be replaced when it draws 4 million fans a year and the team can afford to buy every free agent on the globe; Shea was an obsolete shell. I’ll grant you that.) Let’s focus instead on what stadium architecture – what large-scale modern architecture of any kind — can mean to a city. Let’s talk about the Bird’s Nest in Beijing. The Sydney Opera House. The art museum in Bilbao.
Let’s talk about what the city could have gotten for its billions of bucks: at least one visionary, stunning, newsmaking, adventurous, mold-breaking stadium, designed by a cutting-edge architect. A stadium whose design provoked glee, wonder, debate, discussion. As any world-class city’s architecture should.
Now let’s talk about what the city got for its money: two incredibly expensive edifices designed to remind you of the hallowed past: An imitation of the old Yankee Stadium, which makes nominal sense, and an imitation of Ebbets Field, which – since the original Ebbets belonged to the Dodgers – makes no sense at all. (This isn’t even nostalgia. It’s ripped-off nostalgia!)
It’s bad enough that baseball is permanently wedded to its past, with its reverence for ossified statistics (“That ties him with Wee Willie Keeler for 47th on the all-time list for triples on a cloudy Tuesday!”) It’s much worse when that blind love of the good old days – which weren’t all that good — blinds it to progress.