The Rise And Fall Of The Staten Island Yankees

In 1999, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani made a deal with the New York Yankees and the Mets. That deal was to bring Minor League Baseball teams to the city. The Mets would have a new ballpark built in Brooklyn, while the Yankees would have their stadium on Staten Island. These teams were named the Brooklyn Cyclones, and the Staten Island Yankees, Single-A short-season affiliates for their respective MLB club. Both teams became instant successes in their boroughs. But the story of the Staten Island Yankees later became rather dark. The team dealt with many obstacles through the course of team history, leading to the New York Yankees leaving them in the dust, forcing them to fold. So what caused the rise and the fall of the Staten Island Yankees?

The Rise Of Staten Island

When the Staten Island Yankees arrived in the “forgotten borough” in 1999 from Oneonta, NY. Island residents were excited. Staten Island finally had a team to call their own. The “Baby Bombers” began to play at the new College Of Staten Island baseball complex, located in the Willowbrook section of the Island. The CSI ballpark only had a capacity of 4,500, but fans showed up and the team was an instant success. The Yankees won the New York-Penn League championship in 2000 as well. Staten Islanders were even more excited for 2001 when the brand new Richmond County Bank Ballpark would open in St. George.

Staten Island embraced the team even more in 2001. In the debut season of Richmond County Bank Ballpark, the team ranked second in league attendance with 188,127 fans. The one team that was ahead of them? The Brooklyn Cyclones. Their inaugural season took place in 2001 and they totaled a whopping 289,381 fans.

The 2001 season also saw the beginning of the intense rivalry between Staten Island and Brooklyn. Fans for both teams invaded each other’s stadiums, and the intensity was felt throughout the crowd and on the field, including the bench-clearing brawl in 2003. The Staten Island fans became notorious for being hardcore fans who heckled the opposing teams, mostly the rival Hudson Valley Renegades, New Jersey Cardinals, Aberdeen IronBirds, and the Cyclones. Current Yankee players at the time such as Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez rehabbed for Staten Island in 2001 as well. It was a great start for the new stadium and for the Yankees.

Championship Years

The Yankees have crowned champions yet again in 2002. Young stars at the time such as Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang debuted for Staten Island. The team ranked fourth in attendance in 2002. Staten Island did not qualify for the playoffs in 2003 and 2004, but they ranked in the top six for attendance. The Yankees went back to back with championships in 2005 and 2006, and the team remained atop the McNamara division for the next few years.

Also in 2006, the team’s majority owners, the Getzler family, solid their 51% share in the team to the New York Yankees. The Yankees brought in Mandalay Properties to run team operations. The Staten Island Yankees also won the league championship in 2009 and 2011, and their attendance remained near the top of the league. The team was also sold to Nostalgic Partners LLC in 2012. But from 2012-2020, the team dealt with various issues, leading to the downfall and later folding of the Staten Island Yankees.

Downfall

What exactly happened to the Staten Island Yankees? The team was a hit on Staten Island, but what happened? Well, there were many issues. The main cause was the then proposed construction of the New York Wheel and Empire Outlets back in 2012. The construction would directly affect the Yankees due to the outlets being built on the first base side parking lot, while the wheel was being built on the left-field side lot. The construction began on both of these projects in 2015, and the impact on the Yankees was immediate. Parking became a bit of an issue, but some remains of the lots were still there at the time. But in 2016, the lots became a full-on construction zone.

Fans had no way of parking unless parking on the streets which had hardly anything, and the very small lots for commuters which often hardly had any open spots. Public transit was an option, but the Ballpark Station for the Staten Island Railway was shut down six years prior. The ballpark station let fans off right next to the stadium on gamedays. Fans would have to walk quite a bit from the St. George Ferry Terminal, alongside the busy and unsafe Richmond Terrace next to construction sites.

In 2016 due to these inconveniences, the team attendance dropped by 33,682 fans. The Yankees drew 85,513 fans in 2016, the lowest amount in team history. This number dropped even more in 2017, to 71,401. The team’s attendance bumped up a tad in 2018 to 72,894, most likely caused by the infamous “Staten Island Pizza Rats” promotion, in which the Yankees switched names to the Pizza Rats on Saturday games. The team also had special uniforms and hats for these games.

Final Season

The construction on the outlets and the wheel was stalled many times. Wheel construction stopped in 2018, leaving an abandoned construction site next to the stadium. The outlets which were supposed to open in 2017, were delayed various times. It opened finally in 2019, the team’s final season. Staten Island’s attendance dwindled to 66,520. The team averaged 1,848 fans per game, but weekday games were often attended by 1,000 or fewer fans. The stadium was empty a lot, mostly in part to the parking situation which was never resolved, and loss of interest from fans on Staten Island. The Yankees did nothing to address this either. Other teams were putting together fun promotions to bring fans to the ballpark, while the Yankees did nothing. Fans were turned off and there were hardly any reasons to come back.

The 2020 season never happened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing all MiLB teams including Staten Island to lose money. On November 6th, 2020, the New York Yankees pulled the plug on Staten Island. Their final home game was a heartbreaking loss to the rival Cyclones on September 1st, 2019 by a score of 5-4. Fans had no clue of what was to come in the coming year.

The End Of The Staten Island Yankees

Back in March of 2020, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced he wanted to make changes to the minor league system. One way of doing this was by eliminating a team from each affiliate. On November 6th, 2020, the Yankees made their moves. They acquired the Hudson Valley Renegades and the Somerset Patriots, dropping Trenton, Charleston, and Staten Island. The writing was pretty much on the wall for the Staten Island Yankees, the end was near.

The New York Yankees released a statement on November 7th.


This made it official, the Staten Island Yankees would no longer be affiliated with the New York Yankees. Fans who remained were heartbroken and sad. Many fans were angry with the Yankees and the MLB for doing this to the team that represented Staten Island. But why would the Yankees do this? Well, this Twitter thread describes a few reasons.


The New York Yankees had enough with Staten Island and the lack of parking and stadium disrepair led to disinterest from fans. It appeared that as the attendance dwindled, the ownership did not do anything to repair the stadium. The walls had inadequate padding, so instead of replacing it the team taped and painted the walls. The field conditions became poor as well, leading to a season-ending injury for a Yankees prospect in 2019.

Staten Island Files Lawsuit

On December 3rd, 2020, the Staten Island Yankees filed a suit against the Yankees and ceased operations.


Basically, the New York Yankees broke a promise. That promise was supposed to keep a Yankee affiliate on Staten Island, but the New York Yankees violated the promise. When this was found out by fans, it angered them. Baseball fans, in general, became shocked by the news, and the Staten Island fans were even angrier that their team was taken away. It was a somber and dark ending to one of the best things Staten Island has ever seen.

Concluding Thoughts

I have lived on Staten Island my whole life. Going to Staten Island Yankee games were the highlights of my summer. Some of the most fun times I have ever had in my life were at that ballpark, with my family and friends. I was also an employee during the 2019 season. Seeing other teams like Brooklyn and Aberdeen continue on without Staten Island hurts my heart. My fellow Islanders are hurt as well. But in the end, after 21 years in operation, it did not work out.

The City construction, decreasing attendance, and the New York Yankees breaking a promise all killed the Staten Island Yankees. It is a heartbreaking end to what once was something Staten Island took great pride in, and something Staten Island loved. To the Staten Island Yankees organization, thank you for everything you did for me and everyone on the Island. You will never be forgotten.

 

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Ethan

Great Article!

Tim

They should talk to the Atlantic League about a franchise.

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