Yankee Stadium Structural Defects Lead to Collapse
A sizable chunk of The House That Ruth Built came tumbling down Monday afternoon, forcing cancellation of the Angel-New York game in Yankee Stadium, reducing a three-game series to one game Wednesday in Shea Stadium and throwing the future of one of America’s most venerable stadiums in doubt.
Amazingly, no one was hurt. But you can bet the fan who was sitting in Seat 7 in Box A of Section 22 on the third-base side loge level for Sunday’s Yankee-Oakland game considers himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
“If someone was sitting there at the time that beam came down,” New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said, “that person would now be dead.”
Giuliani came to Yankee Stadium to survey the damage caused by the collapse of a 500-pound steel expansion joint, which fell through the roof of the upper deck about 50 feet onto the loge level, obliterating the seat it landed on.
Giuliani said the stadium--which will be 75 years old Saturday--will be closed while the city parks department, building department and engineers who designed the remodeled stadium conduct a thorough inspection and make whatever repairs are necessary.
An inspection Monday afternoon showed that the joint that fell, about a cubic foot in shape, was part of the original stadium construction in 1923 and is the only one of its kind in the stadium.
“But that was quick, cursory inspection,” Giuliani said. “It would not be sensible to let people in here. We can’t take the risk of something like that happening [while fans are in the stadium]. We need to certify this as a safe place for people to come.”
The city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority began rebuilding a replacement joint that will probably be installed today, and workers spent Monday night crawling through the stadium’s infrastructure looking for potential problems.
Meanwhile, arrangements for the Angels and Yankees to play in Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets, could not be made in time to play Tuesday. Lonn Trost, Yankee executive vice president, said there’s still a slim chance the teams could play Wednesday or Wednesday night in Yankee Stadium, but the game is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Shea, before the Mets play host to the Chicago Cubs there Wednesday night.
The Yankees played all of their 1974 and ’75 home games in Shea Stadium while Yankee Stadium was being remodeled. If inspectors deem the stadium unsafe, the Yankees could be back at Shea on a more permanent basis this season, beginning with this weekend’s series against Detroit.
“This one tops it all,” New York pitcher David Cone said, shaking his head, “Yankee Stadium crumbling.”
Monday’s mishap occurred shortly after 2 p.m. (EDT), and it appears that Angel muscle therapist Bill LeSuer, who was checking out Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park well before the scheduled 7:30 p.m. (EDT) game, was the only one to witness it.
“I heard a tremendous bang, saw a big puff of smoke and chunks of concrete coming down,” LeSuer said. “I looked around and said, ‘Is there anyone else here who saw that?’ I realized I was talking to myself. There was no one else here.”
Angel Manager Terry Collins was told earlier in the afternoon that there was a chance the game might be canceled, but he did not tell his players, fearing it might affect their preparations if the game was played.
But the incident had already created a stir in both clubhouses--"Imagine if that had happened on opening day with 55,000 people here,” Yankee bench coach Don Zimmer said as the Yankees began batting practice. “I’m sure several people would have been killed.”
At about 5:45 p.m., the Yankees announced the entire three-game series had been called off and that the Angels would return to California this morning.
“Look at this,” Collins said. “It’s April in New York, it’s 70 degrees, it’s a picture-perfect day, and the game is canceled.”
The Angels proceeded with their usual pregame workout, and while they were taking batting practice, Collins exchanged cellular phone calls with General Manager Bill Bavasi and discussions with player representative Tim Salmon about scheduling makeup games.
The Angels don’t return to New York until Aug. 25-27, and neither Salmon nor Cone, the Yankee player rep, relished the thought of playing three doubleheaders. “That would just maul our pitching staff,” Collins said.
Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, who has been lobbying for a new stadium, does not like the idea of the Yankees playing at Shea, but Major League Baseball officials and players union representatives apparently put enough pressure on Steinbrenner to agree to play at least one game against the Angels at Shea.
The other two games have not been rescheduled, but both the Angels and Yankees have off days on Aug. 24, so the teams will probably play five games within that four-day span from Aug. 24-27.
“There are a lot of hurdles to go through before we reschedule these games,” Bavasi said, alluding to rules that forbid teams from going more than 20 days in a row without a day off or flying from the West to East Coast without an off day.
“But we’re going to have to get past them. We have to protect our own interests and keep the integrity of the schedule. . . . But this is something that can be worked out.”
Players from both teams were glad they will at least get one game in here.
“At this point in the year you don’t want three days off, especially if you’re starting to get some rhythm going and your starting rotation is set,” Salmon said. “And you don’t want to play doubleheaders late in the year.”
The question now is: Where will the Yankees be playing the next time the Angels come to New York?
When the roof of the Philadelphia Spectrum blew off in a storm in 1968, the Flyers played their last month of the season on the road, and when the roof of the Hartford Civic Center collapsed in the New England blizzard of 1978, the Whalers moved to Springfield, Mass., for two years.
The Montreal Expos’ final 13 home games of 1991 were moved to the road after a 55-ton concrete beam fell 20 feet from the outside of Olympic Stadium onto a walkway.
And the Seattle Mariners had to play the final 28 games of the strike-shortened 1994 season on the road after four 15-pound acoustic tiles dropped 180 feet from the Kingdome ceiling onto two choice seats behind the plate.
“One little thing fell and that cost us the rest of the season,” said Yankee first baseman Tino Martinez, a Mariner in 1994. “I knew as soon as I heard this that we were in big trouble.”
Giuliani said initial inspections gave no indication as to why the joint broke.
“I’m just thankful it happened when no one was here,” the mayor said. “That definitely would have been life-threatening if someone was there. Everyone has the same objective in all of this: that no one gets hurt.”