Steven Heller | Essays

Take Me Out to the Old Yankee Stadium

The illuminated sign at the new Yankee Stadium
The seats of the old Yankee Stadium were hard, the floors sticky, and the way-finding signs confusing, but it was the perfect place to watch baseball, drink a cold one, and munch on deep-fried savories. The new Yankee stadium, however, like most retro stadiums, bears the burden of being faux, a recreation, like a Disney version of reality. It works and it doesn’t.

Gate 4 leads into the Coliseum-esque stadium 
The spanking new stone face and massive arches, suggesting the Roman Coliseum, makes this manufactured vintage-styled monumentality feel too fresh, too approximate. Over Gate 4 the Yankee Stadium inscription in large Roman capitals is too crisp, gold and shinny. The eagle medallions, reproductions of the original ones that hung on the 1923 stadium, on either side of these letters are too pristine. The New York design firm C&G Partners, responsible for creating all the graphics, developed an enviable and ambitious sign and display system — twelve murals, 3,000 signs throughout the stadium, a scale model of the stadium, and a locker that visitors can personalize — but unlike the original stadium, where the few permanent displays were more or less tacked on, there is, for me, a sense that this is all too perfect, too designed. You might say, the house that Ruth built was a ballpark, this is an exhibition hall.

Environmental graphic design is supposed to make user experiences more pleasurable. And this system does. But must it to be so corporate? The Yankee “brand” has long been a positive experience. And like Bombers’ classic pinstripe uniforms that have eschewed the tacky, late twentieth century players names emblazoned on the back above the number, the Yanks are ten times more sophisticated than all other teams. The new graphics are indeed quite elegant yet possibly at the expense of the grit that is baseball — at least in the way I want to experience the game.

Is it just me? What’s wrong with cleaning up and making better the visual attributes of Yankee stadium? I asked Keith Helmetag, the C & G partner designer who led the four person graphic design team, what motivated his signs, architectural design, museum and retail graphics. First off, he calls this three-year (and ongoing) design process “the project of a lifetime” and although he admits to not being a baseball fan when he began, he’s now steeped in the lore and traditions. He has become a devoted Yankee and began the project with the realization that baseball is more than a game, it’s a spectacle: “Today, there are more night games which add drama. A contemporary sound system amplifies the pitch. The presence of screens (from jumbo to telephone) creates close-up to wide angle vantage points that makes watching a contemporary game cinematic and visually layered,” he says. So the environmental graphic flourishes are designed to underscore the idea of legacy and heighten the sense of monumentalism. “Unlike any other franchise, the Yankees fit the uniform of legacy and monumentality naturally,” he adds. “At the Stadium, presentation of legacy can be direct and unfettered with explanation, because the fans know the history, stats and facts.” 

Above: signage and displays designed by C&G Partners
Branding often involves inventing legacies. So how faithful is this historical recreation? According to Helmetag the new Yankee Stadium lettering is based on 1923 archival photographs and architectural drawings that embrace the past, “but are expressed with contemporary lighting, materials and manner.” And about the air of authenticity, he adds “Most of the murals and exhibits were developed by using baseball “filters” — Most Valuable Players, World Championships, etc. Legendary past and current players immediately become intertwined. Old and new are always timelessly joined by a winning tradition.” But more to the point, Helmetag, who is still working on the museum portion of the stadium, says the signs, murals and exhibits are designed to “protect” the various Yankee brands — the interlocking NY, "hat & bat" and script as well as the dark blue, grey and white — while giving the fans a visceral documentary experience they did not have in the old stadium.
The new stadium graphics do a fine job of branding the team and all it represents. The signs and banners provide visual consistency throughout the environment as never before at the old stadium. The design scheme does not over-power, but serves the essential goals of informing and way-finding. What could be wrong with that? Yet as I sit in a much comfier seat than in the old park, the soles of my shoes free of sticky soft-drink residue, I have a nagging discomfort — something is wrong. There are too many offerings. I don’t want to feel like I’m attending a corporate conference center. I don’t want a high tech experience. Frankly, I don’t mind getting lost looking for my seat. I’m not as happy here. I miss the house that Ruth built and all its quirky design imperfections. If I were Steinbrenner I’d have gone all the way with the retro idea and brought it back to the days before the corporate brand was more important than the simple joy of watching baseball.

Posted in: Arts + Culture

Comments [32]

i like it

Steve, the Yankees are a corporate brand, and have been for years. Take it from Joe E. Lewis: "Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel." And that was in 1958!

I think C&G's work is perfectly suited to the team. If you want real heritage, you need to go to Fenway or, better still, Wrigley.
Michael Bierut

It's been said many times before, but the whole experience of going to a game in today's baseball stadiums is just. plain. miserable. (Excepting Wrigley and, to a lesser extent, Fenway.)

The problem is not graphic design or environmental design or architecture. It's noise. It's the constant barrage of ANYthing but baseball. It's the apparent sad fact that Major League Baseball seems to be taking its cues from professional wrestling. This over-amp'ing is happening in most professional sports, when it should only be happening in professional wrestling. Soon the fans themselves will need steroids just to be able to survive a day at the park.

Franchies seem to be worried that the game itself isn't interesting enough anymore, which is the saddest part of all of the changes in game-going today. But younger fans aren't ever going to get the chance to appreciate the game, unless their parents finally give up and start taking them to minor league games.

I'm nearly 40, and clearly today's ballpark experience isn't concerned with my taste. Fine -- purists are just conservatives with a more dignifed vocabulary. Today's day at the ballpark is probably designed for the 14-24 male demographic. Which begs the question, can enought of these kids really afford to fill this stadium? Once the attendance dollars disappaer, I hope the loudspeakers get sold off for parts.
Sam Potts

i think this post reflects all the things that i've felt as well when i sit in the new stadium. it's almost too perfect, too easy. there's no more lines for the bathroom or food and people just don't seem to be into it as much—it's all too comfy. as impressive as all the new graphics and features are, i miss the gritty, dirty, hulking stadium across the street and all the feelings of being in nyc that go with it.

The stadium was designed by the architect firm Populous (formerly HOK Sport) and the graphics simply comply to its form. Looks fine to me. I guess there's always something to fuss about when you're not falling asleep watching baseball. "Baseball" and "Margaret Thatcher Naked on a Cold Day" do serve their purpose, sure, but let's not elaborate on that here.
felix sockwell

It's sad. Reminds me of when they tore down the Boston Garden. Hot, humid, dirty, sticky, dead spots in the floor—it was perfect.

great article.

I think the name of the architecture firm--"Populous"--reflects clearly in the stadium's design. Cold, austere, impersonal, pompous, and trying way too hard. Better isn't always better. Sometimes it's just soulless and depressing.

And despite being from St. Louis, I actually kind of like the Yankees. But it's pretty sad when a New York Times sports writer writes a glowing column about the beauty of the Cardinal's ballpark as a way of pointing out all that's wrong with Yankee Stadium.

A good stadium should connect you to the emotion and elegance of this wonderful game--a game that's often a little dirty, a lot challenging, and at it's best, unabashedly dramatic. The design might hit all the "checkpoints" and it might do everything right, and from some angles, it might even look great but...that's not really the point. The architecture should serve the game, not the other way around.

Brad Gutting

Those photos bring to mind those awful Piranesi knocks drawings one often finds in hotels whose the interior design attempts to suggest an amalgamation of past eras that never really existed. Now I want to go to a game just to see if it’s really so uninviting in person.
James Puckett

Having been to the old stadium numerous times, and the new ballpark twice, I add the following:

There are (visual) shortcomings with the new digs, yes. I hate the illuminated lettering at the top, so bad it's done twice. However, the open air concessions behind the seating is a welcome addition. The former stadium's hallways were entirely enclosed and had no fresh air inside whatsoever. The real beauty to the new park is so much bigger than an aesthetic argument re: brand, banners, signage, etc.. The new park feels like and upgraded version of the old boogiedown: like they closed the old park and renovated it. The field dimensions and view of the Bronx skyline are the same. The jumbotron is impressive. Sure, I would have made some tweaks here or there, but when I went there for the first time I expected to be disappointed. Instead, I was amazed. The overall experience outweighed my design snobbery for a full 9 innings. It's a 3 hour drive for me, and I hope to catch a game this holiday weekend. I will still scrutinize the signage kerning while ordering my $11 Beck's draft. (another argument altogether!) I'll just do so with a bit more acceptance, knowing my kids and I are going to have a great day...
Doug Bartow

I get the feeling that people are alienated because it's too polished and new. I wonder how people reacted when the previous stadium was brand new. I think when the next Yankee Stadium comes along, people will miss this stadium just as Mr. Heller misses the previous one.

I think it's easy to criticize redesigns as being too perfect and corporate, but would anyone like it if it weren't? For example, didn't everyone absolute hate the old Times Square district in NYC, except for a few intellectuals and architects? What exactly is supposed to be a better alternative than this, considering what our Starbucks culture nowadays consider "good"? Would anyone be happy paying those ticket prices if it were anything less than perfect and corporate? Please.

I, more than anyone, love old spaces, weathered facades, and "imperfect" experiences. I like Alvar Aalto's MIT dormitory, Japanese pottery, and generally anything imperfect and designed to age gracefully. And I miss the old pre-Starbucks New York City. But there is no going back to those good old days.

Show me an example and I will believe that it's possible. Until then people should not criticize design, but rather criticize the culture that influences it.

There is no going back to good old times, as the comment above observes. The new stadium is a reflection of who we are, what we are able and we are not able to do.

If you think about it, the new stadium is a great lost opportunity, both as a city and as a brand. It may be a giant and efficient mall that will swallow all the old neighborhood Yankee related shopping and many other things, make more money for the franchise, but it shows how little we (not as a franchise but as a society) have achieved with this big project. China built its great stadium for the Olympics, other countries take projects like this to explore new ground, architecturally, graphically and otherwise.
This new stadium just does what we know and what we are, at a time when it'd be a good idea to be reinventing ourselves.

I wonder what a Frank Gehry ballpark would look like. Oh wait...

We need to move away from the hoaky, antiquated architecture of "modern" baseball stadiums and take a cue from the modern architecture of some recent soccer stadiums. By that, I mean no blasphemy to baseball's sense of tradition, and yes, I've been a baseball fan since I was six years old.

Great article! Not having been to the new stadium, I'm not sure what to think. I do remember when Yankee Stadium was "reopened" after extensive renovations in '76 and the monuments were banished from the playing field that many old-timers, including my dad, griped that "it's just not the same." For years now in Boston, there has been a running debate regarding Fenway. It looks like it is here to stay, at least in the short term, but there are many who have traveled to many of the new retro parks who say that it is time to retire the old Fenway. I've sat in those form-fitting right field grandstand seats, which offer a great view of the right fielder, the bleachers, some structural poles, and not much else, too many times. Yes it is great to preserve history, but I could use a little of that corporate Disney stuff if I ever get those seats again! That all said, there are still fabulous seats to watch a ballgame in Fenway, including all the new, pricey seats that Henry et all have brought us. I guess what I am saying is... I'm still on the fence!
David T

I agree that the new stadium is too corporate, which certainly takes away from the authentic baseball experience all true fans long for. But, the worst part about this new stadium is the fact that the Yankees are charging overwhelming amounts for tickets—at least a hundred dollars a seat for anywhere near the field. And that's fine for wealthy fans, but isn't baseball supposed to bring people together in a common interest instead of separating them in terms of wealth?
Sara Hamling

I hate pastiche. I almost hate nostalgia just as much. (Many Americans love both.)

Those are the two main reasons I dislike MLB. I'd like watching the sport without the branding/marketing of it as America's old-timey pastime, all Babe Ruth-y.

American baseball has always puzzled me. Just look at the NFL's Cardinals. No hokey pastiche going on there (big thanks to Pentagram).

I feel like the architects, designers, and Yankee ownership dropped the ball. They had a chance to contemporize the most famous baseball franchise for a newer HD generation.


When you look at old ballparks like Ebbets Field or Crosley in Cincinnati, you realize that they were only one generation away from a crowd encircling the diamond in some farmer's field. That people would STAND for 9 innings to watch a game of baseball and that the only reason they built ballparks in the first place was to stack people on top of each other to provide more views.

Todayt modern stadiums resort to replicating the comforts of a modern living room. Big Screens, Surround Sound, plush seating, various food options transporting you from your home in front of your team. You do not have to change. And for that i believe you get less of an experience.

This is our only nationally recognized religion, and when one goes to worship and witness it's glory, it's sacraments should be only beer and hotdogs and the pews should not be padded and comfortable.

Go Reds!

Roger Bova

All US Pro sports are just businesses competing with each other to win revenues. After realizing this for awhile as the consumer your allegiances to one team or the other typically begin to fade away. It really doesn't matter what the sport. With a cushy new stadium the Yankees are just taking a lead in this direction. I believe the teams that recognize this trend and rebuke it will eventually be the most beloved and therefore successful.


The whole thing is really cheesy.

This stadium, like all things, will one day be old and worn and beaten. It too will be a time capsule – just you wait. By then it'll probably have some history too.

If the architects had managed to give New Yankee Stadium a somewhat weathered, lived-in atmosphere, the same people who are calling the place "too fresh" now would be deriding its faux-ness. I doubt the place is much "shinier" or "crisper" than old Y.S. was in 1923.

Too many of the architectural critics who complain that new ballparks' otherwise attractive retro elements lack patina or authenticity are simply enemies of attractiveness as such, and if genuine notes of tradition accumulate on these parks, they won't like them. Like a handful of commenters above, they believe that eye-pleasing = meretricious. Since Camden Yards opened, their animus has been palpable toward MLB stadia, the single architectural style for which aesthetic standards since WWII have not sunk, but risen.
S. Hersey

The new Twins stadium in Minneapolis is doing it right: contemporary and urban, build right into the grid of downtown.

I'm really sick of all the haters out there today! How about finding a reason to be happy about being alive, being able to afford a ticket, being a fan of the greatest sports franchise ever!

The new ball park is an amazing place, it's perfect for baseball!


Yes, of course the old Yankee Stadium was once as new and crisp as the new one. Whether or not the new one will age as well as the old one is a different story.

The limestone facade will age more gracefully than the concrete one. Concrete tends to develop grime more than patina.

The aluminum grills and galvanized railings will age less gracefully, but they can be replaced with something better as they wear out, and hopefully they will be.

Just give it time. I like funk and patina as much as anyone, which is one of the reasons I preferred the original pre-1972 Stadium to the renovated one. The engineers removed a lot of the materials that aged well, putting in plastics and a lot more concrete than the original had.

A hundred years ago, some architects like Addison Mizener (the main architect of Palm Beach) and Theodate Pope Riddle (Philip Johnson's aunt and the founder / architect of the Westover School and Avon Old Farms) would artificially age their buildings with chains and cow dung. Ralph Lauren is still known to do things like that, but I would think that would make Heller complain about "faux" even more, no?

I wrote my own review of the Stadium here.
John Massengale

Steven Heller, this is a compelling read, and a great evaluation of the stadium from the perspectives of both designer and longtime fan. By all accounts, the new Yankee Stadium seems to be an entirely appropriate response to what MLB has become, regardless of whether one is an advocate or a critic of that response. The game today is entirely different than it was nearly a century ago, but as Michael Beirut wrote last year, “baseball is fueled by nostalgia.” And so the Disney-esque interpretation of new urbanism prevails: we crave the reference to the origins of America’s favorite pastime, but with a modern upgrade to its execution. The result is not a surprising one at all.

It sounds like many of the contributors here would find more of what they’re looking for by visiting minor league ballparks, where the game is truer to tradition – both on the field, and in the stands.
tracy kroop

I think Two Twelve did a great job with the Mets' new stadium signage over at CitiField. Their wayfinding/signage design is "baseball friendly" but yet still elegant.

I love it.

I can not say anything regarding the graphics since I have not been at the stadium yet. But seeing the building I must say Albert Speer couldn't have done a better job. Retro shmetro! Ever seen the new Bayern München soccer stadium in Munich? Check it out and see how beautiful the world can be!
Matthias Ernstberger

And with the previous comment we have at last invoked Godwin's Law, Architecture Division. Damn Yankees!
Michael Bierut

Went to my first and last Yankees game last summer at the old stadium and thought it was the most unspectacular baseball stadium outside the multi-purpose stadiums of the 60's & 70's.

It was already a commercial hog, few redeeming qualities to boot with a team that cost over $200 million to field.

I hate the Yankees, but I LOVED Yankee Stadium II. I was sooo disappointed in the new place. For 1.5 BILLION $$ it could have been allot nicer or better yet redone the REAL Yankee Stadium. I already made up my mind for 2010I'm going to Beantown or Baltimore to see my Twins!!!

I'm with the author, I miss the old worn, Yankee stadium. I think branding is unnecessary here, and trying to create an experience. The experience is the game, the brand is the team, and that is what keeps people coming back, over and over again. The mets with Citi field, are trying to do, what the Yankees had. They are trying to connect their history to that of the old dodgers and giants, and their stadium features little to nothing to "remind" you that you are at a Met game. I would say, the Citi field and Camden Yards, created a new place with a "historic" feel, much better than the new Yankee stadium has. I would also add the the two, have a more timeless style to them, the new Yankee stadium, is one that I get the feeling will look very dated in say ten years.
Mr. S.

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