In 1923, even before the first ticket had been sold, the baseball cathedral that opened as the home field for the New York Yankees came to be known as "The House That Ruth Built." Humongous and pricey, the stadium's nickname was a tribute to the person who had brought the fans to it. It wasn't called "The House That Ruppert Built" even though it was owner Jacob Ruppert's money that built it, and his acumen that made the Yankees from an also-ran to a perennial powerhouse. No, the stadium was nicknamed for the man who brought in the fans, making them cheer by playing the game with a majesty and splendor they had never seen before.
Next year, when the new Yankee Stadium opens, amongst the fanfare and hoopla of the opening festivities will come the ceremonial first ball thrown. Without question, that honor should go to Yogi Berra.
Some may say it should be George Steinbrenner, and yes, a case can be made for old George. Like Ruppert, he bought the Yankees at a low ebb in their history and turned them into contenders. Steinbrenner has repeatedly said that the Yankees have a history of class and quality—Yankee Pride—and has never stopped short of trying to live up to that pride, by getting the best players available, rewarding said players monetarily, and acknowledging those player's achievements once their careers are over. There's a reason players such as Goose Gossage and Reggie Jackson decided to enter the Hall of Fame wearing the Yankee logo—and that's because the Yankees have always tried to treat their heroes with respect. To do the right thing by them—retiring their numbers, having a special day in their name, and keeping them in the Yankee family.
And that tradition should continue with Yogi Berra, the greatest living Yankee, throwing out the first pitch in the new stadium. His resume needs no defense. Indeed, his ten World Series rings as a player and two more as a Yankee coach, his three MVPs, and, even more, his ambassadorship of the game make Berra the obvious choice. Simply put, he best represents what the Yankees stand for, both on and off the field.
Yogi is baseball. He's what's good about the game. While Steinbrenner did a lot of good for the Yankees, outside of New York he is not regarded with much love. To some, he's exactly what's wrong with the game with his perceived overspending hurting small market teams. But Yogi supercedes the Yankees and represents all that was, and is, good about the game of baseball. For almost 60 years, as player, coach, manager, and spokesmen for the game, Yogi Berra is the guy jumping into Don Larsen's arms or the man tagging Jackie Robinson at home plate. He is the iconic aw-shucks smile and the off-the-wall quote. He's everything the Yankees, and baseball, want to exemplify.
Even Steinbrenner himself, as ego-maniacal and controlling as he has been in the past, would probably agree that the right thing to do to introduce the new stadium is by having the greatest living player from his franchise throw out the first ball. This new stadium is not the stadium that Steinbrenner built. It's the stadium that Berra, DiMaggio, Mantle, Ford, Rizzutto, Jackson, Munson, Guidry, Jeter, Posada and Rivera built. Steinbrenner should know that and get the greatest one of them all out there to christen it.