Since arriving in the middle of October, my authentic Shea Stadium outfield wall brick and I have had a running dialogue. Not necessarily the most scintillating of conversations. It can be like talking to a fraction of a brick wall.
My brick calls me Mack, as in “Hey Mack…” He hasn't bothered to learn my name but he reminds me at every turn that he's a union brick, Brick Local 1. Brags that Donn Clendenon once tattooed him with a double that was smacked off a Milt Pappas pitch, “and I didn't flinch, Mack. Never missed a game.” Still wears a dab of mortar from when he was original laid — which he says with a straight face, what with his being a brick and all. Asks if the shelf where he sits is in fair territory, that he used to be in fair territory before they changed the dimensions of Shea on him. I have to explain that there's no fair or foul territory in my living room, that he's not in a ballpark anymore.
This gets my brick riled up because as he never tires of pointing out, “I ain't a ballpark brick, Mack. I'm a stadium brick. I built Shea Stadium. We're a multipurpose stadium, ya got that?” Then he asks when the hell football season starts and is that expletive Richard Todd gonna be benched or what?
He's a brick that's been sitting behind a reconfigured outfield fence since around 1980. He's missed a few memos. He's missing more than that lately.
“Listen, Mack,” he said the other day. “It's all well 'n' good that my shop steward got me transferred me up here to the whaddaya call Diamond Chew Suites.”
“Diamond View,” I corrected him, gently.
“Yeah, whatever. Thing is, it's cushy as hell, but I'm bored with it. It's a no-show job and I'm a friggin' stadium brick. Now ya wanna get me back on the wall where I belong? Kickoff's gotta be comin' soon.”
I had to break it to him that there's no more football at Shea Stadium.
“Then battin' practice, Mack. Battin' practice. Ya wanna see where Henry Aaron himself got me in BP one night?”
There's not going to be any batting practice anymore. There's no more baseball at Shea Stadium.
“Mack, you gone soft in the head? No baseball at Shea Stadium? We can't host Jehovah's Witnesses and Jethro Tull every night. Listen, Mack, the Jets were just a few Sundays every fall — to tell ya the truth, I thought they were playin' awfully quiet lately. But the Mets? Where the hell are the Mets? They didn't move to California or nothin', did they?”
No, I told the brick. The Mets are still in New York. They're almost right where they've been since 1964. It's just that you're not.
“Mack, you ain't talkin' sense. I'm a stadium brick, a Shea Stadium brick. They could move back the fence, they could cover me up, they could make a horrible racket with that “clap your hands” bit every two minutes, but they can't have a stadium without us bricks. Say, come to think of it, where are all the other bricks?”
I was dreading this, but the brick deserved to know the truth about what happened to Shea Stadium. So I told him. I told him about Citi Field.
Citi Field, I said. The new World Class Home of the New York Mets.
“Never heard of it, Mack. Never heard of it.”
You didn't notice the construction behind you these last couple of years?
“I just thought it was more of that DiamondPigeon crap they're always blastin'. I never listen to any of that. How does anybody think straight anymore?”
DiamondVision, I said. It was called DiamondVision. And I don't know how anybody thought straight, but it wasn't that. It was a new ballpark.
“What do we need that for? We got a stadium. We got Shea Stadium.”
Not anymore, we don't, I said.
My brick wasn't having it. “Look, Mack, you're a nice guy and all, but you don't know the way things work around here. I'm gonna talk to my shop steward.”
You don't have a shop steward anymore, I told him.
“Well, I'm gonna get in touch with somebody at the home office.”
What home office? I asked
“Listen, Mack, I got friends. I ain't just some dumb brick. Thomas Crimmins put me on this job.”
The construction company that built Shea?
“You got it, Mack. Crimmins. And Carlin.”
P.J. Carlin, the other company that was involved in the building?
“Yeah, and not only that, Mack, I got a cousin who's got an in with Praeger-Kavanaugh-Waterbury.”
The architects who designed Shea?
“You bet your ass, Mack. My cousin's a brick at their headquarters. I know people.”
I had to tell my brick that I wasn't sure if any of those companies was still in business.
“Lemme tell ya somethin', Mack. I got seniority. I been on the job since '63. I got layed before Christmas. If necessary, I'll take this to Mr. Shea.”
You're not going to find Mr. Shea, I told my brick.
“Mack, what are you talkin' about? Mr. Shea is a big man around here. This is Shea Stadium we're talkin' about.”
I wasn't getting through to the brick by dancing around the issue, so I had to explain the whole thing, not just what Citi Field was but that there wasn't a Shea Stadium anymore.
“Mack, yer talkin' crazy. Shea Stadium is…it's Shea Stadium! It's huge! It's multipurpose! It's exactly what ya need in this day and age.”
I had to elaborate that in this day and age, it's been judged that you don't need something huge, that you don't need something multipurpose, that you don't need Shea Stadium.
“Seriously, Mack. Get Mr. Shea on the phone. I don't have time for this pussyfootin' around. I got BP. I gotta brace for Dave Kingman. He's a mope, but he can hit, boy.”
So, once again, I took it very slowly. I went through the list of ballparks…stadiums that had been knocked down in the last twenty years, how this was what they call a trend in the industry, how the Mets decided they wanted to be a part of this trend, how they spent many years and lots of money putting together a deal that would build a new ballpark in the parking lot…at which point my brick started laughing.
“The parkin' lot? That's a hot one, Mack! Where's everybody gonna park their cars?”
I kind of skirted that issue and explained that it was very important to the Mets ownership to have a new ballpark since almost everybody else in baseball had one and that they didn't want Shea Stadium anymore.
“Listen, Mack, you got a future on Johnny Carson maybe, but seriously, I gotta get back to work. There's a game tonight.”
There's no game tonight.
“There's always a game tonight. Get me back to the wall. You want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.”
There's no wall.
“So where the hell am I?”
You're in my living room, I said. When they started taking Shea apart, I made a point of asking for a brick from the outfield wall. I gave the Mets some money and they sent me you.
“This guy,” he said as if to somebody else. “What a card. Ya wanted a brick? Ya buildin' yer own 'ballpark'?”
No, I said. I just wanted something from Shea Stadium.
“Hey Mack, why don't ya just do like everybody else and go to the game and buy a scorecard? Gotta be cheaper than sendin' away for a brick.”
I went to the game, I said. I went to lots of games. There aren't any more games to go to at Shea Stadium.
“Oh, right. They're buildin'…what's it called?”
“Well, why don't ya be a pal an' go get me Mr. Citi on the blower, an' I'll ask if I can be in your and his imaginary ballpark.”
There's no Mr. Citi, I said.
No, I said, there isn't.
“Well, I know there's a Mr. Shea. Mr. Shea saw to it that New York got the Mets. Mr. Shea saw to it that there'd be Shea Stadium. If there ain't no Mr. Citi, who's namin' a 'ballpark' after him?”
They don't name ballparks for people anymore, I said. They name them for companies.
“Is it a baseball company?”
No, Citi is not a baseball company. It's a bank.
“I see. A bank. Gotta be a pretty big bank that it's got a stadium inside it.”
It doesn't work quite that way, I said, but yes, Citi is a pretty big bank. More or less.
“Whaddaya mean, 'more or less,' Mack? Speak English.”
I tried to explain as best as I understood it the whole Citigroup situation, how they agreed to pay $400 million over twenty years to call the ballpark Citi Field. Then, after my brick stopped laughing hysterically, I went into their various woes, how they had to eliminate personnel, how the government is bailing them out with $20 billion in cash and by assuming more than $300 billion in toxic assets, though I have to confess I barely understood what I was talking about.
“Mack, that's a lotta samolians. Too much for me to wrap my brick brain around.”
Me too, I said. Me too.
“And when you say 'the government,' that means taxpayers, I'll bet.”
Yeah, I said.
“Whoa, Mack! That's gotta make this Citi a pretty unpopular character right now.”
Probably, I said.
“So if I'm hearin' you right, this Citi's got a lotta problems.”
Yeah, I said. I guess they do.
“Then how is it they still got a 'ballpark' in the parkin' lot like you say?”
Well, I told my brick, it's complicated.
“Accordin' to you, Mack, I got nowhere to go. Gimme the skinny.”
The complicated part, I said, is that the Mets and Citi signed this deal for the ballpark name on the assumption that Citi will be around a long time…
“And they're gonna put a bank on the field?”
Not exactly, I said. It's more of a marketing thing. Companies like their names on ballparks and arenas.
“Don't they have 'em on banks no more?”
The idea, I said, is people who come to the ballparks will be more aware of the banks because they'll go to the ballpark or watch the games and hear the name.
“Ain't that what they got names on banks for?”
It's complicated, I said.
“Sounds like a company that ain't got its books in order ain't gonna be able to pay no $400 million for no 'ballpark'.”
You'd think not, I said, but it's complicated.
“Mack, I'm a brick, and I get that you can't be buyin' no fancy brickyard when ya got Uncle Sam to be yer business partner.”
Well, I continued, they're a big company, and it's a long-term deal, and marketing expenses are different from the various financial obligations that have entangled Citi. But my brick wasn't having any of it.
“Mack, lemme ask you a question. Why would the Mets want this name in the parkin' lot or on the stadium or whatever you say it's gonna be if they're a buncha moochers with everybody else's money?”
Again mentioning the complication factor, I said Citi has been around a long time and the idea is it will still be around a long time, that this current problem, as deep and serious as it is, isn't necessarily fatal to their brand or their business.
“Mack, I lost track of all the billions you say they're in the hole for, but I'd think — and mind you, I'm just a stupid brick from a stadium that you tell me ain't open for BP tonight — that's not the best sign.”
You could be right, I told my brick. But the Mets have a contract…
“A contract? Is it a union contract?”
No, I said. Not a union contract.
“Well,” my brick said. “I'm a union brick, Brick Local 1, and I know ya don't mess with the union. But otherwise, I'd think yer muckety-mucks have ways of gettin' outta contracts. The Mets trade players under contract all the time, don't they?”
Yes, I said. They do. But this may be more complicated.
“Mack, yer talkin' gibberish. Ya keep sayin' it's complicated, but I keep hearin' Citi's got no scratch, needed a big-time handout and now they want their name plastered all over this thing that between you 'n' me I still say yer pullin' my leg over. If I say that yer tellin' me the truth, that there is a new stadium or 'ballpark' or whatever, you gotta be tellin' me that it's not gonna be called Citi Field if Citi is the kinda operation you been describin'.”
It's complicated, I reiterated.
“Yeah, complicated. Very complicated. Ya know what wasn't complicated, Mack? It wasn't complicated that Mr. Shea got us a ballclub and got us this stadium and Hizzoner Mayor Wagner said we gotta do somethin' for this great man who made sure we'd have National League baseball. So they named the stadium for him. They named it Shea Stadium. That's what ya do, see? Ya build a stadium, ya name the stadium for somebody who deserves it and ya play in the stadium. That's what I say. But I'm just a dumb brick.”
No, I said. You're a very smart brick.
“Yeah, smart brick. If I'm so smart, where's my wall? Where's my outfield? Is this fair territory? When's BP? If I'm supposed to believe you, I'm out of a job and there's gonna be a Citi Field in the parkin' lot.”
Well, the name could change because Citi's name could change. It's been known to happen.
“But you said it's a big company. Why would a big company change its name?”
Sometimes these things happen. Some other company might take over Citi. And if they change the name, then the name on the ballpark would change. It happens a lot, actually.
“Somebody's gonna want a piece of this outfit that can't keep its books straight, that's got Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer on the hook for 300 very, very large, and that company's gonna get to have its name on the new stadium?”
It's complicated, but yeah, something like that.
“This guy…” my brick said of me. “Yer a scream, Mack. Ya almost had me goin' there. The Mets are gonna play in another place, in the parkin' lot, named for a company that can't pay its bills or keep its workers employed, because the company's gonna pay them for the honor even though it's essentially on the dole. But then the company might not exist — which is what you say Shea Stadium does not anymore, even though I know for a fact they played a whole schedule there every year for a very long time and it was perfectly all right, or at least perfectly all right enough so somebody didn't have to slip somebody 300 billion big ones for some new joint.”
“Ya keep tellin' me these stories, Mack, and I might stick around. Hey, I ever tell ya about the time Clendenon clanked a double off me?”