No skipping over Cathedral memories
Among coaches, Mattingly treasures callup; Torre, October
Joe Torre managed the Yankees for 12 seasons and reached the postseason every time. Naturally, when he thinks of Yankee Stadium, he thinks of October baseball."I had never been there as a player, being in the National League," said Torre, now focused on a different postseason quest as manager of the National League West-leading Dodgers. "I never realized how significant, how awe-inspiring Yankee Stadium is until I wore the uniform in the postseason. To have the success we had, it's incredible in that stadium. "It's a cliché, but you can feel the heartbeat of the people in the stands. I have great memories." With Yankee Stadium's final days approaching, Torre said he's confident the New Yankee Stadium, built at a cost of $800 million, will come as close as possible to recreating the magic of the old one, which opened in 1923. "The new stadium, it's not exactly the same spot, but it's the same neighborhood," he said. "From my understanding, there really won't be anything missing. The outside will look like Yankee Stadium looked before the renovation and the inside will look the same as it does now. The dimensions are the same. I guess you really won't know if it has the same feel until it's open and you sit in the seats." Other Yankees alumni who have prominent dugout roles elsewhere in baseball these days had similar reactions to the final days of the House that Ruth Built: Nostalgia, mixed with anticipation. Don Mattingly, who played only for the Yankees, coached for them and is now Torre's third-base coach in Los Angeles, has the sense the tradition he knew so well will be kept alive. "A lot of guys are looking forward to the new park," he said. "They're keeping the history of the stadium, keeping the dimensions of the old stadium the same and the same look of the old Yankee Stadium. It looks like they're doing it right." For now, it's about the memories. Like many, Mattingly said his fondest memory of Yankee Stadium is his first one. It was the day he was first promoted to the Major Leagues.
"I drove over the George Washington Bridge and saw the stadium for the first time in the distance," he recalled. "Then I got there and walked through the tunnel, the horseshoe shape in left field, and looked at the field for the first time. For me, it was reaching a dream, getting called up to the Major Leagues. That excitement, that memory won't ever go away. [The closing] will be a little bit emotional for me, to know that the place [where] you played will be gone."Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who played for the Yankees from 1974-84 and managed them from 1986-88, was considering one last visit. "We're going to New York in a week and if I get real nostalgic, I can go spend a few hours at Yankee Stadium on Monday through Thursday," Piniella said. "How can you not remember the time you spent playing there, and your teammates, and the successes we had? It's been an integral part of my baseball life, and I've been proud of the fact I could wear the pinstripes." Don Zimmer, now with Tampa Bay, first saw Yankee Stadium as a member of an American Legion World Series team as a teenager. As a reward, the team attended the 1947 World Series between the Yankees and Dodgers. His next visit came as a member of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, who beat the Yankees for the franchise's first world championship. "My biggest thrill there came in 1955 when we finally beat the Yankees in the World Series, with Johnny Podres, he was the Most Valuable Player," said Zimmer. "It was really a great thing for me to watch the veteran players, like Pee Wee Reese and [Gil] Hodges, Jackie [Robinson] and Campy [Roy Campanella], to get the monkey off their backs because they couldn't beat the Yankees." Zimmer later would serve three stints wearing pinstripes on the coaching staffs for Billy Martin, Piniella and Torre. Zimmer played a key role in one of the most controversial moments in stadium history, the George Brett pine tar incident in 1983. "I'm not proud of it, but I said to Billy, 'I think the pine tar is too high on the bat,' " said Zimmer. "And Billy went out to check and all hell broke loose. I talked to Brett about that. I said, 'George, I'm not proud about suggesting that to Billy, but that's the way it happened.' " Another Yankee Stadium moment of more positive renown came from the left hand and flailing celebration of Dave Righetti, whose July 4 no-hitter 25 seasons ago was the first in the Cathedral since Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Righetti, who pitched for the Yankees from 1979-90, and is now the Giants' pitching coach, recalled his personal Yankee Stadium ritual, which shows the depth of appreciation for history all those who played there and coached there have for Yankee Stadium. "Every night before I went to the bullpen, at the very end of the dugout towards first base, there's a little plaque of Pete Sheehy, the clubhouse manager -- he was there when Babe Ruth was there," said Righetti. "He ended up passing away, and I was one of the pallbearers at his funeral. So I touched his plaque every night before I went out, from 1985 on." Like the others, Righetti looks forward to seeing the transition from the place they knew so well to the new Yankee Stadium. "It's good, because they're opening the one next door to it," Righetti said. "That's all good. I think any of us who have been there were worried that it might end up in Jersey or downtown or Manhattan or somewhere else. For it to get worked out to stay in the Bronx, I think it's terrific that they were able to pull that off."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters Carrie Muskat, Bill Chastain and Chris Haft contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.