When the Yankees flirted with New Jersey

In a weird coincidence on Tuesday, I found myself reading early in No Minor Accomplishment, Bob Golon’s account of baseball’s revival in New Jersey beginning in 1994, about the Yankees’ flirtation with moving to the Meadowlands. On the day George Steinbrenner died, it was interesting that I’d reach this passage:

… Meanwhile, the once-mighty Yankees fell upon some hard times at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Questionable player deals and numerous managerial changes taxed the patience of even the most dedicated Yankees fans, and empty seats became a common sight at Yankee Stadium. The front office attributed the lack of attendance to the Bronx neighborhood itself. People didn’t feel safe coming to the Bronx, claimed Yankees executives, and even those who did were being turned off by the constant traffic delays due to the outdated highways leading to and from Yankee Stadium. The Yankees told anyone who would listen that they were in need of a new ballpark and would consider alternative locations in the New York City area if a deal could be struck.
New Jersey governor Kean, with the backing of the Sports and Exposition Authority and state business and labor leaders, placed a $185 million stadium bond issue on the ballot in 1987. If the bond issue passed, the state would have the funding to build a 45,000-seat baseball stadium in Lyndhurst, adjacent to the Meadowlands complex. A commitment for a team to relocate to the new stadium had to be in place prior to construction, and many thought that the Yankees would be that team. The bond issue’s supporters claimed that major-league baseball would create thousands of jobs in Bergen County and be a positive stimulus to the New Jersey economy. The opponents of the bond issue thought it was a risky proposition. Attendance at games could not be guaranteed, and a realistic cost assessment of a new ballpark was in the neighborhood of $400 million. A “north-south” theme also developed within New Jersey, with many residents in the southern part of the state complaining that all of the major Sports and Exposition Authority projects benefited only northern New Jersey. Opposition to the plan increased, and despite the political backing, the voters defeated the bond issue by a two-to-one margin. The Yankees never officially committed to New Jersey, and whether they would have moved or not is simply conjecture. One New Jersey official very close to the negotiations with the Yankees was Robert Mulcahy, currently the athletic director of Rutgers University who was the longtime president and CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. Mulcahy recalled that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had genuine interest in the Meadowlands site. “We had very serious conversations that included layouts of what the stadium might be. George made some helicopter flights over the sites that we had either adjacent to or on the Meadowlands, frankly his attraction was to the Meadowlands because he felt it was the symbol of success. So, how close it ever got? You know, it’s hard to know when people would pull a trigger on something like that, but I can say that we had some very serious discussions about it.” Unfortunately, Mulcahy and New Jersey never got the opportunity to present a firm plan of financing to the Yankees once the bond issue was defeated. The idea of building a major-league baseball stadium in New Jersey died along with the referendum.
Though, I’m sure they would’ve still been called the New York Yankees. But even then, when I thought that having a Major League team in New Jersey was probably the coolest thing that could happen, I wasn’t sure I wanted it to be the Yankees, and not because I’m a Mets fan. I just couldn’t see that team leaving its historic site in the Bronx, abandoning the House That Ruth Built and George Renovated.
Plus, I knew most Yankee fans — pretty much all of those not living in New Jersey — would be angry. And while some might blame the team and take it out on the organization by no longer attending games, I had the feeling that most of them would blame New Jersey for stealing the Yankees.

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