The Selling of Old Yankee Stadium

July 21, 2009

The Selling of Old Yankee Stadium

When business is slow, best to break out some heavy artillery.

The first auction for pieces of the old Yankee Stadium, begun in May, ends this Sunday. Brandon Steiner, whose sports memorabilia company is handling the sale for the team, is pumping up the final week with the help of Yankee legend Reggie Jackson. Part ambassador, part customer, Jackson's been at Steiner's side for part of the past week, touting the value of the old stadium while taking some treasured mementos for himself. His charitable foundation will get some proceeds, though he's not getting any freebies.

"I wanted my locker, and I had to pay for it," he said good naturedly at a midtown restaurant, where he and Steiner talked about the Yankees, the stadium and the sale. He didn't divulge what he shelled out for the locker, but acknowledged it was quite a bit more than the $60,000 that Jason Giambi's went for.

In Pictures: Yankees For Sale
The Hall of Famer, who jacked three home runs to win the clinching Game Six of the 1977 World Series, isn't happy that the ballpark he made history in is being demolished. "I was hit pretty hard by it ... I can get sentimental," he says. But there's also money to be made. As a longtime collector of sports memorabilia, classic cars and art, Jackson has amassed a fortune worth "north of $20 million." He's already got the pinstriped jersey he wore during his three-homer bonanza, along with assorted bats, balls and World Series trophies.

And his efforts to talk up the value of Yankee Stadium can only help. Steiner wouldn't speculate on how much he expects to ultimately fetch for the ripped up ballpark. But he acknowledged that with the first $11.5 million in sales revenue committed to the city, plus more than $5 million in construction costs to get those valuable pieces out intact, he'd be happy to break even or turn a small profit in this economy. Ever the salesman, Steiner is touting the value of owning a piece of the storied structure even while acknowledging that the memorabilia market is down. He's held a few pieces back for a planned holiday auction later this year, though he's stopped short of dropping the opening bid prices for any items.

"This will be a 12- to 18-month business, and there are still smart buys out there," he says. Certainly, people are biting, even if the number of price-driving bids on many items has been lower than hoped. The numbers of bidders for many items remain in single digits. Among the better ones: The famous sign that hung from the runway between the Yankee clubhouse and dugout emblazoned with the Joe DiMaggio quote "I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee" is up to $1,260 on 34 bids. An autographed photo of DiMaggio, Charlie Keller and Tommy Henrich from the 1940s has received 17 bids. Current asking price: $500.

And what to make of the heavy remodeling job Yankee Stadium went through in the 1970s? As historic as the place is, it doesn't have the genuine originality of Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. Jackson and Steiner insist that isn't a big deal, thanks to six world championships that supplied the 2.0 version of the stadium with its own history.

"If the Yankees hadn't had their run in the '90s [four championships], plus our run [two championships], it could have been an issue," said Jackson. "But you've got six titles, my three homers, the Chambliss home run [which won the 1976 AL pennant], the Aaron Boone home run [2003 pennant winner] ..." He didn't have to go on.

Breaking things down into smaller, cheaper items has its advantage in this economy. The chunks of freeze-dried grass, measuring just a few square inches, are selling well at $80 a pop--4,000 units and counting at last check. Steiner is hoping to finalize a plan to break the famous "black" section of the stadium, that portion beyond the outfield wall between the bleachers that provided the dark background for hitters, into lots of bits and pieces as well. He has Jackson to thank for enhancing that section's value: It's where his third homer on that famous 1977 night landed, the exclamation point of a memorable performance that's been replayed thousands of times over the years.

Jackson may not be getting his stuff for free, but he figures he's already gotten plenty from the Yankee brand. While being an ex-baseball great can open plenty of doors in the business world, being an ex-Yankee great kicks them down. He credits his Yankee connection for the chance to do business with Goldman Sachs ( GS - news - people ) and SAC Capital Management, run by billionaire Steve Cohen. Talk about making the most of only five years spent in New York out of a 20-year career. It was a well-considered career move--Jackson turned down a few other teams that outbid the Bronx Bombers for his services back in '77.

"My agent, Gary Wichard, told me I needed to play in New York, that I needed to compete against the DiMaggios [etc.]," he said. It worked. Jackson figures the least he can do is lend a hand in selling off a stadium whose value he partially built. In this economy, Steiner and the Yankees will take the help.




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