The longest surviving sports affiliation of my life is the New York Yankees, and I hate them. Fandom comes and goes, but loathing is forever.
I discovered the Yankees in 1977, the year I turned nine and was sucked into baseball by a spectacular Dodger team. It was Tommy Lasorda’s first year, and the Dodgers had names that still echo around Chavez Ravine: Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, Rick Monday, Dusty Baker, Tommy John. The Dodgers beat the defending champion Reds — the Reds — and rolled over the Phillies for the National League Championship. The only thing that stood between them and the World Series title was the Yankees.
The goddamned Yankees. The same team that earned national headlines earlier in the year because a lazy Reggie Jackson and a drunken Billy Martin almost got into a fistfight in the dugout during a game. The same team that had been swept the year before by the Reds. The Reds.
But this was the year of “Mr. October,” and with four swings in a row, Jackson put an end to the Dodgers’ season. Well, shit. There’s always next year...
When the exact same thing happened. Again Yankees/Dodgers, again Jackson’s bat, again four games to two. Again, Martin tangling with Jackson earlier in the season.
And it was galling. The goddamned Yankees.
And so I drifted away from baseball. Yeah, yeah, LA fan. So sue me. I was young. The Dodgers finally beat the Yankees in the World Series in 1981 — the year of Fernadomania — but it wasn’t the same. Between my teens and my thirties, I would have off-handedly claimed to be a Dodger fan, but the only thing in baseball that really got my blood pumping was a the glorious news of a Yankees loss. Revenge! Revenge for 1977! Screw those bastards.
But as my own kids grew up, they renewed my interest in the baseball, and in the Dodgers. We’ve been going to games over the last three seasons, and having a great time. Dodger Stadium! Dodger dogs! Vin Scully! It’s like I never left. We’re left-field bleacher people, and they let you into the outfield for fireworks on Friday nights. The grass is perfect.
The team isn’t what it was in 1977, but Davey Lopes is still on the field as the first-base coach, and Tommy Lasorda shows up on DodgerVision to tell us not to curse.
And the Yankees are still out there. The names are all different, but the team is the same. Will always be the same.
It’s not that they’re not good — they are. It’s not that they’re from New York, though it doesn’t help. It’s that they’re so totally and completely without class. They’re tacky and arrogant and smug. They’re un-American.
I mean that. The New York Yankees are profoundly un-American. They represent everything that the classic ideal of America is opposed to. To succeed because of your talent is beautiful, but to buy your way to the top is ugly. To want to win is healthy, but to expect to win is sick. The Yankee bat-boys are on steroids. I’m not even going to talk about the Designated Hitter rule.
These people sully the game of baseball.
From 1977: George Steinbrenner (a bully and a blow-hard, convicted of giving illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon, for christsake) to Billy Martin (a volatile drunk and raging asshole) to Reggie Jackson (A candy bar? Really?)
To today: Mariano Rivera (who disrespects Jackie Robinson every time he steps on the field) to Derek Jeter (a cheat who will fake being hit by a pitch to get on base) to Alex Rodriguez (Centaurs? Really?)
You could more easily assemble a decent collection of human using the parts you find in a cemetery. They even cheat on their parking tickets.
But what does all that have to do with baseball? Isn’t that how things are done today? Who cares if the sport’s dominant team is a bunch of arrogant, self-satisfied jerks?
I do. You should. Baseball is a uniquely American game, and to see so much of its history owned by an organization that for thirty years hasn’t respected its rules or traditions is awful, painful. Lou Gehrig weeps.
The reason I hate what Frank McCourt has done to the Dodgers is because it’s so base, so utterly classless, so self-centered and arrogant. So disrespectful of baseball. So Yankees. But without the winning.
And that’s really what it comes down to, isn’t it? The only reason anybody gives a damn about the Yankees is because they win. That’s the only thing there could possibly to be admire about them. It requires a ton of money and a sort of brazen ruthlessness and a total abandonment of anything that might elevate a city or a nation or a game, but they do win.
They must have learned that from Nixon.
[Photo courtesy of the person who ripped it off from the New York Times.]