Monday, April 13, 2009

Ruth's Granddaughter: The Babe Forgotten At "The House That George Built"

Following up on an idea we had a few weeks ago, here is NSI's first foray into feature story territory. Our goal is to present a compelling story to our readers about the new stadium, that hasn't yet been told. We certainly hope you enjoy it. For the record, we reached out to the Yankees by email and phone to give them the opportunity to tell their side of the story. We received no response.

For Linda Ruth Tosetti, the granddaughter of the great George Herman "Babe" Ruth, the nightmare began three years ago. It was a summer day in August 2006, and the Yankees had invited her and her husband to the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Yankee Stadium. Although it felt wrong that the ceremony was being held on the 58th anniversary of her grandfather's death, she politely obliged, recognizing that it was the right thing to do, being a direct descendant of the legendary Yankee. Unfortunately for Mrs. Tosetti, the day turned sour from the start. As Tosetti remembers it, shortly after the ceremony began, the Yankees announced, "on this anniversary of Babe Ruth's death let's say goodbye to the House That Ruth Built and hello to the House that George Steinbrenner Built."

Tosetti was shocked. "My husband Andy and I sat frozen, trying not to react with the hurt we felt that they would be that rude with us in the bleachers! It was so disrespectful to my grandfather. This was the day it became official that my grandfather's 'house' was coming down and the monuments were being moved. I am still trying to figure out why we were invited." It would be easy to assume that Tosetti's relationship with the Yankees would have deteriorated from there. Sadly, although she was the granddaughter of the greatest player in the history of the franchise, she never really had a relationship with the Yankees.

After Tosetti's mother, Dorothy died in 1989, her family lost contact with the Yankees until 2005. It wasn't for lack of trying - while the Yankees would always return the calls of Dorothy, the daughter of Babe Ruth, Tosetti's attempts at contact fell upon deaf ears. In 2005, long-time Yankees PR Director Rick Cerrone invited Tosetti to bring her sister to the stadium to see Monument Park for the first time. During this memorable trip that also involved a meet and greet with most of the players, Cerrone broke the news to Tosseti that the new Yankee Stadium was a done deal. "I was told then that a new stadium was being built, but that my grandfather's house and the monuments would stay," Tosetti remembers. In 2006, Cerrone's contract was not renewed by the team, and any rekindling of a relationship between Ruth's family and the Yankees faded into the background, until the Yankees were set to close the old stadium.

Linda Ruth Tosetti did make one final trip to "her grandfather's house," on the day before the final game at the old Yankee Stadium. Once again, the Yankees reached out to the ever-accessible Tosetti, this time inviting her to present an award to the current face of the Yankee franchise, Derek Jeter. Although the Yankees had ignored letters from Tosetti earlier in the season, requesting the opportunity to purchase All-Star Game and Old Timer's Day tickets, she agreed to come. "At first I was reluctant, but decided to do it to give Derek Jeter, who I admire an award, and for the fans that wanted me to go. I also wanted to say goodbye to my grandfather's house and wore black to mourn it's passing. I have heard nothing from the Yankees since then," Tosetti said by email. Tosetti also noted that she was invited by her grandfather's first team, the Boston Red Sox, when the All-Star Game was held at Fenway Park in 1999.

It would be easy to confuse Tosetti's frustration with an irrational sense of entitlement and selfishness. After all, how far down the lineage of the great Babe Ruth should the Yankees cater to their every request? Her cause, however, is apparent. Tosetti runs the website and she dedicates much of her time ensuring that her grandfather's legacy is properly honored. The ongoing cause for her website is to convince Major League Baseball to retire Babe Ruth's No. 3 throughout baseball. She doesn't want the number to be taken off of the field, she just wants it to be commemorated in every stadium, making sure that people throughout the ages will understand the Babe's importance to the game.

Destruction of the "House That Ruth Built" has commenced and Tosetti is currently spending time writing letters to the Steinbrenner family, trying to convince the Yankee franchise to erect a statue of Babe Ruth in the newly built Babe Ruth Plaza. Tosetti has done the heavy lifting - she already has an artist in place named Palmer Murphy, and a rendering of the proposed statue (see photograph below). Once again, Tosetti's requests to the Yankees have fallen on deaf ears.

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Tosetti is getting more frustrated by the day at the Yankees disinterest in the statue. "The Steinbrenners have my grandfather's house slated for the wrecking ball this month, they built the New Stadium on top of Babe Ruth Memorial Field in Macombs [Dam] Park and there is not even a statue for him in the new Yankee home," she said. She also fully expects there to be a statue in George Steinbrenner's honor at the "House that George Built."

The Yankees haven't only hit the ignore button on Tosetti. The team has not returned phone calls or emails requesting comment for this story. It appears that the franchise has no interest in adding Palmer Murphy's larger-than-life sculpture to the plaza that is described in the 2009 Yankees media guide as "honoring the man proverbially credited with building the original House that Ruth Built. Through a series of storyboards displayed on light posts, the Babe’s life
story is recounted throughout the plaza." According to Murphy, the cost of the bronze sculpture has been quoted by various foundries at $90,000 - a drop in the bucket compared to the $1.6 billion that the new Yankee Stadium cost to build.

Statues in honor of legendary sports figures are commonplace in sports. Fans attending Bulls games at the United Center in Chicago are greeted by a statue of Michael Jordan. At Beaver Stadium on the campus of The Pennsylvania State University, a bronze version of living legend Joe Paterno stands watch. On Friday evening, prior to the home opener against the Yankees, the Kansas City Royals dedicated a statue to the late manager of their 1985 World Series team, Dick Howser.

Tosetti hopes that placing a statue of Babe Ruth in Babe Ruth Plaza will bring the area to life, giving fans a reason to stop and remember the great Yankee. She has not yet been to the new Yankee Stadium and does not plan to unless the Yankees invite her for the dedication of a statue in Babe Ruth's honor. Friends of Tosetti's who have been to the new stadium have told her that Babe Ruth Plaza seems like an afterthought. She is told that Fans are herded through a large crosswalk, hurried through the stairs of Babe Ruth Plaza and directed towards entrances to the "Great Hall" by MTA employees with megaphones. The Yankees tout the storyboards about Babe Ruth on the light posts surrounding the stadium, but in the frenzy to get people through the doors, little time is allotted for fans to enjoy them.

Early returns from fans attending the exhibition games at the new Yankee Stadium have been mostly negative. Most eloquently, Alex Belth of Yankee blog Bronx Banter described the scene as a mall featuring a baseball field. The authors of "Yanks Fan, Sox Fan" noted that the new Yankee Stadium is all about exclusion. Andrew Fletcher of "Scott Proctor's Arm" pointed out that Monument Park is hidden away in center field, in the shadow of the obstruction also known as The Mohegan Sun Sports Bar. Benjamin Kabak of "River Ave. Blues" provided a striking comparison of the upper deck in the old Yankee Stadium against the Grandstand in the new Yankee Stadium, illustrating how much farther away fans are from the action on the field.

While Tosetti is unable to provide a firsthand account of the new stadium, she is not surprised by what she has heard from others. "I knew that the new stadium would be cold. You can not pre-build tradition & the echo of the golden days," and adds "I'm sorry that the fans were fooled by the Yankee propaganda. It got them excited and looking forward to all the great things that the Yankees promised. I was afraid that the new stadium was being done for the glory of the owners, not the fans."

Although she is aware that baseball is much more of a business today than it was back when her grandfather played, Tosetti is still upset by the complete disconnect between fans and players at the new Yankee Stadium. A players-only underground parking garage has forever changed the player-fan relationship. As Tosetti describes it, "Gone are the days where you could get a glimpse of your favorite player as they walked into the stadium, waiting after the game to hopefully get an autograph. They are far from the fans now. I tell the young players coming up, you must get back to the basics. Look a kid in the eye and say 'How Ya doing Slugger' and they will create a lifetime memory!"

She also fondly looks back on newspaper clippings from the time when her grandfather played (see below)

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As a youngster, she was told stories of fans running onto the field of play to secure an autograph from her grandfather, Babe Ruth. Even when multiple fans would follow, the Babe would continue to sign autographs during the game, according to Tosetti.

The business of modern baseball dictates that players are more investment than human being. With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, teams can ill-afford to have fans approaching their valuable commodities. Accordingly, the stadiums of today are more of a commerce center than a venue for watching the sport of baseball. After spending $1.6 billion dollars on a new Stadium, the Yankees have the responsibility as a revenue-generating business to cater to the most affluent people, who will provide a valuable return on all of their investments.

Even in the early 1940's, Babe Ruth understood the business side of baseball, but had a slightly different take. As quoted in the Hartford Courant from September 25, 1941, Ruth said "don't misunderstand me. I'm not trying to pretend that we - the players - have any altruistic mission in life. Frankly, as you may have guessed, we play baseball for a living - it's our job. And yet, I do believe that we accomplish more than just our own selfish purpose." Only time will tell if in building the new Yankee Stadium, the Steinbrenner family misunderstood what made the Yankee franchise great, and failed to "accomplish more than just their selfish purpose."

As thousands of fans get ready to stream into the new stadium for the regular season games, Tosetti remains skeptical about the long term success of the "House That George Built." "I think George wants to be remembered like my grandfather is. In my opinion, George built his own stadium to hold his fans. But I feel my grandfather never asked for this admiration, he earned it. It is not something you can buy from the fans or demand. It is there because the fans felt that love and respect Babe had for them and the time he took with each one. That is how Babe Ruth earned his place in history with baseball being his vehicle. When all the memorials are dust, Babe Ruth will always be remembered, especially in the hearts of all baseball fans."

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