Last night I went to what I assume will be my final Yankee game of this season (proud to say I have not yet paid for tickets in the new shopping mall known as Yankee Statdium) and witnessed a boring 4-3 loss to the Tampa Rays. On the plus side the weather was nice and it was definitely great to hang out with my extremely busy brother for a night. Now I must preface the rest of the post that if you love the Yankees and/or Derek Jeter you will dismiss this as more “hating” by me or something close to verbal half-black on half-black crime, but what Yankee Stadium has become, and more specifically the Derek Jeter farewell industry, is disgusting. I think the Yankees, Jeter and sports memorabilia pimp Brandon Steiner have turned a storied franchise into a shameless cash engine.
Anyone who has been to the new Yankee Stadium has to have noticed the exponential explosion of gift shops and space allocated to gift shops. After the fifth inning I accompanied my brother to the gift shop for him to look for a trinket for his kids. I gladly joined him because baseball is extremely boring. What was shocking was that the store was jam packed. In the middle of a game the store was jam packed like a Black Friday sale was going on. That is when I realized that the new Yankee Stadium feels more like the Mall of America – a bunch of places to spend money, but instead of an amusement park in the center, an overpriced baseball team performs with accomplished mediocrity. Contrast this with the open and beautiful feel of Citi Field where the game is always visible as you walk around the stadium and feels like the most important thing going on, which is sad since the Mets suck so bad, but at least the stadium’s heart is in the right place.
At the center of the store, and by center I mean 60% of the store were dozens of shirts, hats, trinkets, used condoms and pubic hairs commemmorating Derek Jeter’s final season. And then in the next store area a few sections over was the Brandon Steiner store with all sorts of manufactured memorabilia commemmorating Jeter’s career. And all I could think was how shameless and hypocritical this whole charade was. For a sport that keeps claiming to be based on nostalgia and creating memories and respect for tradition and history it seems that now this stadium only serves to force feed you manufactured memories and memorabilia, which of course negates the organic development of real history and nostalgia.
People will always praise Jeter as one of the guys who plays the game the right way. However he was either a little jealous of all the fan fare Mariano Rivera got last year, or he saw dollar signs in his eyes like a cartoon villain, so he announced his retirement at the beginning of his final season. Plus there had to have been a Yankee-Steiner-Jeter agreement to cash in on the tens of millions of additional dollars of merchadise “commemmorating” the occasion. I always liked the way John Stockton, a first ballot NBA Hall of Famer, retired. He played his final season. Then he talked to his family and team management and announced his retirement. No whoring. No self-serving farewell tour. No millions of dollars in merchandising. And of course it is savvy business decision for Jeter (for a man with hundreds of millions of dollars already), but for a guy always hailed as a great ambassador of the game, it comes off as a shameless money grab.
Then there is the aforementioned explosion of intentionally generated memorabilia. The whole point was that items gained prestige over time from their unforeseen value and/or personal attachment. Now thanks to our culture and pimps like Brandon Steiner everything can become memorabilia. Time and experience should determine the value and meaning of game items. Someone might frame their ticket the last time they saw Mickey Mantle or Ted Williams, but now we have the Stadium and Steiner telling us that the 19 limited edition t-shirts, signed game jerseys that were never worn and 3 hat set with certificate of authenticity (yes this was offered on the big screen last night) are what we really need. People often said of comedy that you will love it less when it becomes a business to you and that is sort of true to a certain extent. Well, memorabilia loses most of its cache when you are instructing me what I need to experience sentimental feelings about an experience, instead of letting nostalgia occur naturally.
The there is Jeter the sports business icon. Like his idol and business partner Michael Jordan, Jeter has always struck me as cold. Jordan once famously said that “Republicans buy sneakers too” when he declined to endorse a candidate in North Carolina versus the bigoted Senator Jesse Helms. Jordan operated with two things in mind – winning and Jordan, Inc. But he was so gifted and successful that we all applauded his accomplishments and never expected him to be a decent human being, as long as he was not a criminal. I feel like the partnership of Jeter as Jordan brand’s #1 athlete endorsement is a perfect fit. Jeter has never uttered a charismatic word in his life, he is aloof and is not afraid to whore his image of “playing the game the right way guy” into tens of millions of dollars of shameless merchandising. But he won and that makes everything great, as long as you are not a criminal. So congrats to the Yankees and Jeter for turning a hallowed space of baseball into a cheap shopping mall. I just hope when Jeter gives his hook ups memorabilia bags that he doesn’t charge them since they are “Farewell to the Captain” gift bags. That concludes this week hate session.