REPORTING FROM ...
THE END OF OTHER ICONIC VENUES
"I got outbid for the penalty box? Sheesh."
Various iconic sports venues have closed in recent years: the last major baseball city to lose a long-standing stadium was St. Louis, after Game 6 of the 2005 NLCS. Maple Leaf Gardens closed back in 2002, six years after the end of The Montreal Forum. We tracked down some hardened reporters present at the end of each venue to give us their recollections on player involvement and the process as a whole.
Busch Memorial Stadium
"It was clear early on that players were being asked to sign a lot of stuff," recalls Derrick Goold, who covers the Cardinals for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "They were going to have an online auction for some high-end items, but they were also having an event called Fred Bird's (the mascot) Garage Sale at the Convention Center. It ended up being packed.
"It was a massive sale: they sold the flags that flew above the stadium, balls from the final game, seats, dirt from all over the stadium, posters, fixtures from within."
Jake Wagman and David Hunn, also of The Post Dispatch, recall an even odder sight: Courtney Shands, a local urologist, walked out with a urinal from Busch.
"For the next 30 years, people giving a specimen at our office can have a chuckle," Shands told them at the time.
As for actual players, veteran Larry Walker left one of the biggest impressions.
"They were asking players to sign so much that Walker had some fun with it," says Goold. "He went around signing everything. I mean, the guy was signing phones, chairs, the floor of the clubhouse. He threatened to sign something in the bathroom, but we weren't allowed in there."
And as for the actual last day? It looked a little bit like NASCAR. "Right after the NLCS, the next day a bunch of guys drove their trucks onto the field, out in center. They were doing donuts and kicking up dirt and turf. One of the guys was Jim Edmonds, which is great because he played out there for so long. Jason Marquis was out there too."
Maple Leaf Gardens
"Tie Domi tried to buy the penalty box," longtime Canadian journalist and occasional ESPN The Magazine contributor Gare Joyce recalls with a laugh. "He got outbid, though."
The auction after the closure of Maple Leaf Gardens in 2002 saw 900 people bid in person, with another 600 online. It raised $1.2 million for charity and lasted 16 hours; Leafs players went home pretty much empty-handed.
"Just one player got a winning bid in that auction," says Joyce. "He got a team photo."
Inside the press box, Joyce managed to nab one thing: the seating list for media. "That night I was sitting next to Red Fisher, the grandest of our coterie up there. He used to watch Rocket Richard play at Maple Leaf Gardens fifty years before. I gave that list to my youngest daughter; now I pray she didn't do anything to it."
"I was talking to Pat Burns after the closing of the Forum; he had actually just been fired by the Leafs," says Joyce. "He swore he was going to get the bench from the penalty box at the Forum auction. He ended up being completely outbid."
In general, the Forum breakdown bidding was far more intense than that for Maple Leaf Gardens. "I don't know if players got anything; the Canadiens tend to be pretty history-conscious. A lot of the Forum items were sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame."
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