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Ed Betz/AP

For Yankees and Mets, Stadium Closings Mean Big Bucks

September 23, 2008 07:58 AM
by Denis Cummings
With Yankee Stadium officially closed and Shea Stadium next, the Yankees and Mets are the latest to show that selling off pieces of old stadiums to fans can be a boon.

‘They’ll Sell Anything and Everything’

When 86-year-old Yankee Stadium hosted its final baseball game Sunday night, 1,600 extra security guards and undercover officers were on hand to stop fans from stealing pieces of the stadium as souvenirs. On Sept. 28, the Mets will take similar precautions when they play their final regular-season game at Shea Stadium.

Stadium memorabilia has become big business over the past two decades, beginning with the close of Chicago’s Comiskey Park. The White Sox made more than a million dollars for charity by selling off souvenirs, inspiring other teams to do the same.

Both the Yankees and Mets have hired third-party companies to raze the stadiums for souvenirs and auction them off to fans. As owners of both stadiums, the City of New York will receive the bulk of the revenue, with the teams receiving a share that they will donate to charity.

To maximize profits, the teams issued warnings to fans and players that they cannot remove souvenirs from the stadium. The extra security was needed due to attempts by fans during the season to steal pieces of the stadium. On opening day, both teams had fans attempt to steal souvenirs, including two Mets fans who tried to kick a seat to pieces and sneak it out of the stadium.

Despite the warnings and increased security, some fans at Yankee Stadium still tried to sneak out with souvenirs and the NYPD confirmed that 18 were arrested. “One fan went onto the field after the game, blended in with the grounds crew—and nearly escaped with third base, a hunk of grass and some dirt,” reports the New York Post.

The fans weren’t the only ones looking for a keepsake. Before the game, Yankees legend Don Larsen filled a plastic cup with dirt from the pitcher’s mound, and players from both the Yankees and Orioles did the same after the game. If the players wanted larger souvenirs—like foul poles, flag poles, bases and lockers—they would have to pay like anybody else, the New York Times reported.

There is a long history of fans trying to make off with pieces of the stadium during its final game. Looting used to be common at such games, but even after teams began policing the act, fans have attempted to leave with one last memory of the stadium. In 2003, one particularly passionate Phillies fan left the final game at Veterans Stadium with a stadium toilet seat around her neck—and was promptly arrested.

Background: History of stadium souvenirs

Teams have not always been so careful about protecting the stadiums they’re leaving. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, final games were often marked by looting. “The day after the Giants closed up shop at the Polo Grounds, the Daily News ran a photo of a fan tearing through the crowd with home plate tucked under his arm, fullback-style,” writes Neil deMause in the Village Voice.

Though the stadium itself was not closing, the final Washington Senators game in 1971 ended in forfeit when fans rushed onto the field for souvenirs. “[A fan] grabbed first base and ran off with it,” wrote the Washington Post’s Shirley Povich. “Some unbelievers, undaunted by the warning of forfeit, cheered, and from out of the stands poured hundreds, maybe a couple of thousand fans. They took over the infield, the outfield, grabbed off every base as a souvenir, tried to get the numbers and lights from the scoreboard or anything else removable, and by their numbers left police and the four umpires helpless to intervene.”

The White Sox are credited as being the first team to auction off many of the stadium’s souvenirs. The organization made $1.1 million selling off Comiskey Park memorabilia when it closed in 1990, and the Bruins and Celtics did the same when Boston Garden closed in 1995. It has since become rare when a team does not immediately auction off souvenirs.

The city of Detroit allowed Tiger Stadium to sit unused after the Tigers moved out in 2000. There were reports of fans sneaking in or paying off a security guard to pick through the stadium. In 2007, Detroit finally auctioned off memorabilia in preparation for knocking down much of the stadium.

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