© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium is fewer than two weeks away, but it will by no means be the last of the tributes that will be paid to the old Bronx yard on 161st Street and River Avenue in this, its 85th and final season.
In addition to ceremonies at the final regular season game scheduled to be played on Sept. 21 against the Orioles, a gala celebration is being considered in November as the final event before the scene shifts across the street to the new Yankee Stadium, Hal Steinbrenner told MLB.com in an interview in his Legends Field office.
"There's going to be things at the actual game, but we're also looking to have a closing ceremony in November," said the 39-year-old youngest son of George Steinbrenner, the team's patriarch and principal owner since 1973. "We're strongly considering it and it will be a very nice event.
"We're working on it right now. We're talking to people and some big names in terms of what they want to do. And it may be music, it may be a comedian, it may be an emcee. There will certainly be a lot of videos and things like that. And, of course, bringing back the old Yankees. That's something we've always done."
Last year, Hal and his older brother, Hank, 50, took over the day-to-day operations of the franchise. Hank is strictly in charge of overseeing baseball operations, while Hal is in charge of overseeing finances, the new stadium construction, and other Yankees holdings, such as the YES Network, in which they own a one-third stake.
"My job, my responsibility to the family, to the partners, to the banks and bondholders is to consider the financial aspect of it," he said. "But make no mistake, this season is no different than any other. We all felt going into this year, and we all feel now that we have a championship-caliber team and we are excited about it."
But the possible November closing ceremony was by no means the only snippet of news in the wide-ranging 90-minute interview conducted at an oval conference table set against a bay window that offered a sweeping vista across the team's Spring Training ballpark from high above the third base line.
The younger Steinbrenner said that through the pilot financing for the new stadium, the Yankees expect to pay a minimum of $50 million a year over 40 years to fund the cost of the construction of the new stadium. In addition, the Yankees will pay all of the maintenance and operation costs.
"The upkeep is going to be a huge number, "It's a big undertaking. The pilot payments (payments in lieu of taxes) will be a huge chunk of change. The point is people need to know that the cost of construction is being made through our pilot payments."
To waylay any misconception, Steinbrenner said that going to the new ballpark will be affordable for the typical fan. He expects approximately 35 percent of the 53,000 seats to be priced at $25 or less, 50 percent at $45 or less and 80 percent at $100 or less.
"I see in the papers all the time about the 180 Legends Seats that are so expensive," he said. "But they don't talk about the fact that half of the seats in the stadium are $45 or less; that the entire top level is $20-$25 seats, and the bleacher seats are $12. We wanted to make sure that the average family can afford to go there and that's the way it's going to be."
As per rules in the Basic Agreement, the Yankees, like any other team opening a new stadium, are allowed a credit against revenue sharing each season to pay down debt on construction costs. The Yankees, who pay rent at the current stadium and have no operational costs, are currently the highest payee into the revenue-sharing system, having contributed approximately $100 million alone last season, Steinbrenner said.
"Boston and us are over half of the entire pool and if you throw the Mets into this, it's over two-thirds of the entire pool," Steinbrenner said. "You've got three to five teams paying the vast majority of it. There are 11 payers and 19 payees.
"My concern with revenue sharing from day one was that it would not be used in the way it was supposed to be used. The teams were supposed to take every cent they got and reinvest it in their payroll or their farm system. That's always been my problem with it. But now it's at least getting better."
The future of general manager Brian Cashman, who is in the final year of his contract, won't be determined until the annual postseason organization meetings at the Tampa complex, Steinbrenner said.
"I was with Brian at the Draft and we haven't discussed that yet," he said. "We both know that now is not the time. I can't speak for Hank -- maybe he's had some discussions with him about that, but I certainly have not. We're just trying to get everyone healthy and win the pennant, win the World Series and that's kind of what we are focusing in on right now and Brian understands that.
"Brian's been a good general manager, and again, it's something that we are going to analyze when the time is right, which will be at the end of the year. Now is just not the time."
His nearly 78-year-old father, the chairman of board, is still very much involved in the operations of the ballclub.
"He comes in just about every day, probably four days a week. Sometimes he comes in later than others, but he's in here all the time," Steinbrenner said. "We'll try to get him up there for the All-Star Game. Certainly, he's slowed down, that's no surprise, but I guess he's earned it. It's just his age. It's been an interesting year or two. He's really started to do what he has said for many years that he was going to do, which has been leaving it to the family."
And as far as the future is concerned, Steinbrenner said that the Yankees are not for sale and that he and his brother are in it for "the long haul."
"That's why I am up [in New York] just about every week," he said.
There's no question, though, that with the closing of the old stadium and the opening of the new one, the Yankees are beginning to look at a different dynamic. Though the costs will be high, the potential to generate more money from a host of areas in the new stadium could make the club more financially viable.
Despite the team's success in recent years -- 13 consecutive trips to the playoffs, four World Series titles and six American League pennants since 1996 -- huge revenue sharing payments have resulted in the team failing to turn a profit, Steinbrenner said. Much of this occurred because his dad insisted upon pouring revenue back into the team.
"Maybe I'm not the most sentimental person in the world when it comes to things like that, but I'm more excited about moving into the new one than I am sad about leaving the old one. I guess that's just me."
-- Hal Steinbrenner|
on Yankee Stadium
"It's frustrating," Steinbrenner said. "People don't realize that for the last 10 years, even when we were winning all these championships, we were not making a profit. People were thinking that we were stockpiling money left and right and that's not the way it is. We won in '96 and lost money. In '98 we came close to breaking even; we made a little bit in some sense. There are things that we are trying to do that will at least get the team back to an even baseline. We have been successful, though, in utilizing the Yankee brand to initiate other businesses like the YES Network."
In addition, the cost of building the new stadium is not yet certain.
The New York City Industrial Development Agency initially issued about $950 million in bonds secured by the Yankees' pilot payments. Additional completion bonds were contemplated in the initial offering, and due to certain governmental requests, a delay caused by litigation and design changes intended to enhance the project, the Yankees are considering seeking those added completion bonds at a still to be determined cost.
The project, though, is on time and on budget, Steinbrenner said.
"Additional bonds were always contemplated," he said. "We haven't asked for a number yet and when we do, there's going to be hearings and all questions will be asked and answered. But there were a lot of upgrades that we did, there were things that we knew that weren't involved in the original bonds. Video boards, the cost for those weren't even included."
How this will all translate to the product on the field is also still to be determined.
"It's going to be a balancing of a good mix between veterans and young kids," he said. "We realize that this is New York and our fans demand a great team and we are going to have to consistently field a great team with marquee players. That's why last winter we did the Alex Rodriguez deal [$275 million through 2017] because now he's going to be here for a decade. And it's not just that. We're going to have to figure out other ways to generate more revenue."
Thus, this past offseason, Steinbrenner was determined to hold on to young talent, rather than trade it to the Twins for Johan Santana. The left-hander was eventually swapped to the Mets, who signed him to a six-year, $137.5 million contract. But it doesn't preclude the hierarchy from looking for a veteran pitcher before the July 31 trade deadline to replace the ailing Chin-Ming Wang, who will be out for at least six weeks with a foot injury.
Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia has been floated as a possibility.
"I can't comment on that. He's a player on another team," Steinbrenner said. "In any deal, it depends on what young players, depends on what any team wants regarding what they are trading. We are going to look at every single deal and strongly consider it. It's just a matter of whether we do it or not. But I'm not against some deal now just because I was against Santana. It had nothing to do with him or his ability."
Steinbrenner, it might be noted, was only nine years old when the Yankees of Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson and Ron Guidry won their second of back-to-back World Series over the Dodgers in 1978.
The current stadium, which rose out of the renovated rubble of the original edifice and reopened in 1976 -- it last hosted an All-Star Game the following year -- has always been his playground.
Steinbrenner, though, said he's less nostalgic about the old yard closing and more exhilarated about the new one opening.
"Maybe I'm not the most sentimental person in the world when it comes to things like that, but I'm more excited about moving into the new one than I am sad about leaving the old one," he said. "I guess that's just me. Everyone takes something like this in a different way, but having gone over this on a daily basis and walking through it every week or two, I'm just excited. It's going to be phenomenal, just phenomenal, compared to any other stadium in the country. So I'm excited. I've got more excitement than anything."
And about that final All-Star Game on July 15?
"I think it means a lot to the franchise, but I think it means more to the fans and to the building and the facility," he said. "I just think that it is a great honor for New York and for the Bronx, for all our fans and for the old lady herself. It's just appropriate."