Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Good Night, Yankees

Summer, 1994. Back home in Ridgefield, CT, from my first year in college. Eighteen years old. Every night I'd hang out with my little crew at what Ridgefielders know as either "the old high school," "parks 'n' rec," or, lately, the Ridgefield Playhouse. Outside, on the basketball courts. We'd play till we dropped. Then we discovered that if we took down the net at the tennis courts, we could play hockey--funny, since most of us didn't play or even like hockey. After the nightly trip to the Amoco gas station for beverages, Chan, Gumby, and I would stay up all night watching Mr. Belvedere, Three's Company, and especially Small Wonder--coming up with our own dialogue for the family with the robot daughter. One night I videotaped everything. I titled the tape "FunSummer '94: Jocks 'n' Freaks." I taped outdoor basketball all night, imploring my pals to "play for the camera," then a session in the Amoco parking lot with the pot-smokers--it was always fun to get their twisted point of view. We even interviewed the Dunkin Donuts guy at 3 AM, as everybody slowly sank away into the hot night.

As the Red Sox fan in the group, life was pretty sweet in hindsight: I'd yet to have to deal with Yankee dominance. Their last trip to the playoffs had been when I was in first grade, 1981--a split-season in which the Yanks, giving me an early lesson in Yankee dumb luck, were allowed into the playoffs simply because they'd been in first place at the end of what became known as "the first half." Happy birthday, you're the newly-invented "first half champions." I'd learned the phrase "Yankees stink" at age three, and by six I was learning what that meant. Fortunately, they would lose that World Series.

After that, despite that I had to go through a classic Red Sox heartbreak experience as an eleven year old, I did get to see my team win its division three times between '82 and FunSummer '94. While the Yankees--who for much of that time were the embarrassingly horrible Yankees--did not win once. I was still constantly ridiculed--after all, they still had 22 championships since our last one, and I was surrounded by Yankee fans. (Who, when their team failed, could conveniently become Mets fans.) But thinking back, it was a charmed life. I had no Yankee championship in my memory-bank (the last one came when I had just turned three), and I was witnessing the longest postseason drought for the New York Yankees since their first World Series appearance in 1921.

But FunSummer '94 would be the end of the drought. Nobody made the playoffs that year because of the strike, but in '95, the Yanks finally did. Granted, that was a happy season, as the Red Sox pulled away with the division, easily beating the Yanks. But, much like they were the first-ever A.L. East "first half champs" the last time they'd made the postseason, they would become the first A.L. "wild card." The next year, with the help of a kid reaching over the fence, and despite my inventing new gods to pray to so I wouldn't have to experience my worst nightmare, they actually won the World Series.

And every damn year since--for over a decade--I've had to sweat through their playoff series, half the time against teams who turn into drooling babies at the site of Yankee Stadium. Their current championship drought, now eight years, has been fun. Real fuckin' fun. But we've still had to go through Octobers knowing that at any moment somebody could steal a cheap home run, pull a miracle play out of their ass, or fall prey to the phony "ghosts" and "mystique"--which, if you haven't heard, DO travel. Yes, Michael Kay is continuing the Yankee bullshit tradition by saying, Hey, ghosts can travel. (Wait, why would they want these current choker ghosts to follow them to the new stadium?) Anyway...

It's over! For the first time since FunSummer '94, there will be baseball playoffs with no Yankees. I had to turn thirty-three before I could see it happen again. The Yanks' passing of the Twins and their staying ahead of the Jays was a blessing in disguise. That meant a Red Sox win could directly end the streak. And the Yanks stayed alive just long enough so that their fans got that glimmer of hope--the "ghosts' last hurrah!" Don't they know the non-existent ghosts are clearly rooting against them at this point?

So, as we go to the playoffs, and the Yankees stay home--the first time both of those things have happened since 1990--I wanted to give people an idea of what baseball life was like for those a generation older than me, and how that affected them and their offspring.

From the time my dad was seven years old to the time he was twenty-two, there were 17 baseball seasons. Do you know how many times the Yankees won the American League in those 17 years? Fifteen. Nine of those times, they went on to win the World Series. His own team won zero pennants over that stretch. And that went for fans of every team in the league--though Indians and White Sox fans could say their team won a whopping once out of those 17 seasons.

This stretch came a few short years after another in which the Yanks won seven out of eight A.L. crowns, winning the World Series after all but one of those pennants. Which came after the period in the '20s, when they won six out of eight pennants.

And right before I started having memories, people slightly older than me saw the Yanks go to the playoffs every year but one between 1976 and 1981.

So do you see why there might be a building hatred of this organization? You don't have to be a Red Sox fan--between 1936 and 1965, only twice did an AL team other than the Yanks win the World Series. That's a minimum 30 year drought for every other team in the league--except the two who could say they won once in three decades. Basically, every fan from every generation has had to see a Yankee dynasty at some point.

Now, I was going to point all this out when the Yanks were eliminated anyway--but then I got an odd comment from a spammer, which I told you a little about--the one who tried to give "just the facts" by saying the Red Sox have "by far the second-highest payroll this season," when they actually have the fourth. And it gave me the perfect conclusion to this post.

The person claimed to be a Rays fan, and starting blabbing about how he hates the Red Sox and Yankees, and how they're the same--you know, crap we've heard before from the younger crowd, mainly jealous, Yankee sympathizers who've watched Fox oversaturate American TV with the teams that "sell," and acting like we're as bad as they are--like a Klan-sympathizer watching black artists sweep the Grammys and ignoring history by saying, "they're just as bad as white people now." Or people who can't stand to see the "loser" win because it messes with their nice, orderly lives.

He predictably started mocking the Red Sox side by saying, "Hey, I hate you just as much, but here's how much you suck." (Good timing, eh?) "The Yankees are always sooooo great and have done this and this and this"--he was giving me numbers and figures about just how great the Yanks have been this last decade, as if he was the first to discover it. Or as if he was young enough to have been just learning of it now. This guy screamed 'Yankee fan in disguise.' But if he really was just a young Rays fan, I invite him to go back and look at his facts and figures from the past decade, and add it to the facts I've given above from before we were born. Look at how much the Yanks have accomplished throughout history, and ask yourself why you're mocking the underdog, if you claim to be such a champion of their cause. Why aren't you uniting with my team against the team that has seen such an overwhelming amount of success? No matter how crappy they get, they're going to have more championships than all the other teams for decades to come. They can always point to that. (And as we know, if they don't have that, they'll invent something and rub that in your face, and when that fails, they'll just burn the word "class" into your yard.)

They haven't met their ultimate goal in eight years--an eternity for them, which Sox fans could do standing on our heads (or should I say "crowns")--and I'm gonna cherish it and appreciate it and relish in their misery on behalf of everybody before me who also had to watch them win the World Series year after year after year...but it doesn't make the 26 championships go away. And the Sox' recent two shouldn't make you put us in their category, Mr. Underdog Man. We're talking about generations of people with a solid, Yankee-hating foundation that will be spilled down family trees through this century and into the next one. I guess the big thing the Fox-generation dislikes about the Red Sox is...their fans exist? Go to your parks? Go to our fuckin' park then. Or go to your own for god's sake. We are big enough fans to travel to see the team. Are you? If your team went 86 years without a title would you not loudly cheer for them in any way you could? Is this a crime? And as far as the team goes, again, a bunch of fun-lovin' guys who most importantly have stepped up to beat the Yankees, the team your family and ancestors despise. I still don't get how any American League, non-Yankee fan could've watched the 2004 ALCS and do anything but get down on his or her knees and thank all that is holy in the universe. But that's just me.

The difference between Sox and Yanks is a canyon. The scoreboard tells them when to cheer, for one. But their delusions are the big difference. A Red Sox fan admits it when they lose. Yankee fans will find a win in a loss. No award given to them? They'll invent one and give it to themselves. The one that made me nearly barf up the insides of my feet came during Sunday night's Yankee Stadium farewell party. They asked a Yankee fan what his favorite Yankee Stadium moment was, and he said it was in the 2001 World Series--the way the Yanks "defended their home turf, lifting the spirit of America." As if it was a war, and his team saved the world from evil. In a series, may I remind them, they fucking lost anyway!

To assume everyone likes your team is the most egotistical thing you can do. When I talk about how I don't understand Red Sox-hating, I'm not implying people should turn into Red Sox fans! You should root for your own team--but I'm doing what American League fans have done for decades--root against the Yankees no matter who they're playing. Don't we all have that in common? Hate who you want, but consider the history.

We were flipping around shortly after the Red Sox celebration started sputtering out, and we saw Scent of a Woman was just ending. I watched the climactic scene for the hundredth time and it got me thinking about that Yankee Stadium farewell. So, from Lt. Colonel Slade:

I don't know who went to this place, William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan, William Tell--whoever. Their spirit is dead--if they ever had one--it's gone. You're building a rat ship here. A vessel for sea-goin' snitches. And if you think you're preparing these minnows for manhood you better think again. Because I say you are killing the very spirit this institution proclaims it instills! What a sham. What kind of a show are you guys puttin' on here today?

[Update: click here for the video.]

And yes, Matty, I know some people rooted for the Yanks in '01, and the Soundgarden thing and all that (old argument that possibly even Matty himself forgot), but I'm just saying, to ASSUME that America all rooted for the Yankees....because....planes hit DC and NY and a field in Pennsylvania and somehow that means the...Nationals, no, Pirates, no, Mets, no...Yankees! must be rooted for by all to stop bin Laden even though Arizona is in "America,", like, not right.
Like, if I'm feeling blue--the thing that lifts me up is the Yankees losing in heartbreaking fashion. So what's wrong with that? Okay, on to the non-me comments....
Yes, even back in the old days my team loyalty could transcend leagues and I was joyous when the Dodgers, Braves, Pirates and Cardinals won the Series. It meant I didn't have to listen to what a genius Casey was and how "invincible" his great players were.
Great job as usual, Jere.
I still don't get how any American League, non-Yankee fan could've watched the 2004 ALCS and do anything but get down on his or her knees and thank all that is holy in the universe. But that's just me.

It's not just you, sir. We will all be paying homage to the baseball gods of 2004 until the end of time.

Great post, Jere. I am a few years older than you (41) and I remember the 1976-81 run... ick. It would have been worse but for the fact that the Yankees beat the Dodgers twice, and I hate the Dodgers almost as much as I hate the Yankees.

Your dad must be a strong and brave man to have put up with the Fifteen of Seventeen stretch back in the day. (Bonus points for getting the somewhat unsubtle Star Trek reference.)

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