Most Midwesterners hate the New York Yankees. Their existence is a contradition of Midwest values, beginning with their smug arrogance and wasteful spending. ESPN’s self-importance is at times as nauseating as its vast coverage of anything Yankees-Boston Red Sox during the baseball season.
But there’s no denying the Yankees, the most successful franchise in professional sports, also deserves the respect of all sports fans. And unlike a mid-May matchup between the Red Sox and Yankees that usually receives round-the-clock coverage from their large share of Syracuse graduates, ESPN hit the right touch Sunday in its Yankee Stadium sendoff.
The network used all of its platforms to showcase the 85-year-old broken treasure, which saw its last Yankee game Sunday night. ESPN Classic aired great games at Yankee Stadium through the day, including Game 5 of the 2001 World Series (a win against Arizona) and Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series (an extra-innings win against the Red Sox in the greatest postseason series in baseball history). ESPN2 aired tributes to Yankee Stadium, which included scenes from Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Papal visits, heavyweight title fights and the 1958 NFL Championship game.
ESPN2 broadcast at least one hour of pregame without commercial interruption to show the tribute to Yankee greats. Among the last images include Don Larsen putting dirt into a cup, Thurman Munson and Mickey Mantle’s sons walking to applause and a loud ovation for recent retirees Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez. You can’t help but get choked up when you see Yogi Berra at home plate or Julia Ruth Stevens (Babe Ruth’s daughter) throwing out the first pitch to Jorge Posada. Derek Jeter addressing the fans and Mariano Rivera walking into the game to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” wrapped up the night nicely.
Yankee Stadium is the Sistine Chapel of professional sports. Its life has ended, but its moments live on. ESPN struck the right chord in this sendoff, giving baseball’s greatest venue the due it richly deserves. And the viewers reaped the rewards.