Confession of a Reformed Yankee Fan

I can still recall my baptism into the church.  It was a pleasant spring evening in 1993, maybe the first of the year when the daylight lingered long after dinner and when Pennsylvanians could comfortably open up their houses to breathe the intoxicating blossomy sweetness.  My brother and I were reenacting another epic battle between our heroes in a half-shell and the feeble Foot Clan when my dad, for reasons that neither one of us, to this day, can elucidate, handed me the major league standings from the morning’s paper.  He was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a sports fan; in his subtle way he may have been trying to bring about a lesson in geography or calculating percentages.  But I heard some irresistible sprite whispering to me through that grainy newsprint, beckoning me to visit its mysterious, enchanted world.

Like Scotty Smalls I had a vague understanding of the rules of the game, but I didn’t know left field from right or Yogi Berra from Yogi Bear.  Fortunately my dad encouraged my newfound interest, and was at least able to fill me in on such basics.  Many of the other kids in the neighborhood were Phillies fans, but I saw that they were firmly in first place in the NL East and I did not want to jump on any bandwagon.  So I started calling myself a Yankee fan, even though I initially envisioned them in the navy blue uniforms of the only other “yankees” I knew – the Union army in the Civil War.

But I began learning the catechism almost every night with Phil Rizzuto and Bobby Murcer on WPIX, so by summer’s slow metamorphosis into fall I could recite not only the lineup of Boggs, Williams, Mattingly, Tartabull, O’Neill, Stanley, James, Gallego, and Kelly, but also the ancient superhuman chronicles of the Called Shot, the Iron Horse, the 56-game hitting streak, the M&M Boys.  For my birthday I got an authentic cap with the regal interlocking NY – an outward symbol of my membership in the flock, and a tangible reward from the gods for my devoutness.

My next few birthdays, and Christmases, would bring more apparel and memorabilia and books about my beloved Bombers.  If I was riding in the car, or if a game was still undecided by my bedtime, I tuned in to John Sterling and Michael Kay.  If Cub Scouts or a family outing prevented my getting to a radio, I pouted and moped and made sure to check the outcome as soon as possible.  Sometimes, like Jerry Seinfeld, I set the VCR to tape a game (this was how I got to experience Doc Gooden’s no-hitter after my elementary school band concert).  I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that I cried when Griffey slid across the plate in ’95.  I was over the moon when Charlie Hayes caught Mark Lemke’s popup in ’96.  I was as die-hard a Yankee fan as a young boy could possibly be.

My dad took me (and occasionally my mom and brother) up to The Stadium quite a few times.  I was awed by the presence of Joe D and Whitey and Reggie on Old-Timers Day; I was stunned when he found us tickets to the sold-out Don Mattingly Day game, at which Donnie Baseball’s number 23 was to be retired out in Monument Park.  Mattingly was my utmost idol – a quiet star who worked hard, led by example, and never made himself bigger than the game.  I had, in the blessed naivete of youth, written a heart-felt letter to him asking if there was any way he could get me tickets to the game.  I was not surprised when the big day came and went without any response, but several months after the ceremony a big yellow envelope arrived from Evansville, Indiana, and inside it was an autographed photo of the Hit Man in his homerun trot.

The amazing 1998 season was unlike anything that fans of other teams have ever experienced.  Even when the Yanks were trailing in the late innings, or trailing 2 games to 1 in the ALCS, I knew they would win.  It was like a Sherlock Holmes story – enjoyable not to see whether he would solve the case, but merely how.

The first sour chord that struck my ears was the trade of David Wells for Roger Clemens before spring training in ’99.  The Rocket Man’s passport may have said Toronto, but to me he would always be a Red Sock and, ergo, a douchebag as well.  The ebullient Wells, on the other hand, was one of my favorite Yankees – with a Bleacher Creature’s reverence of the pinstripe tradition (and a beer gut to match).  He had resurrected the Babe, and become the second Yankee to throw a perfect game (joining Don Larsen, who had attended the same high school; incredibly David Cone would also join the club in ’99 with Larsen in attendance).  I could not help rooting for Boomer as he bounced around the league, but could not bring myself to cheer for Clemens even as he won the clinching Series game in ’99 or made history in ’03.

Even at the time, the emotional 2001 Series felt like the end of an era.  Maybe it was because I had, in the brief year since the 2000 Subway Series, acquired a driver’s license and an affinity for Marlboro reds.  Maybe it was the tattered World Trade Center flag flying over The Stadium.  With two unforgettable, but ultimately futile, farewell salvos, Mystique and Aura disappeared.  Instead there came a dizzying parade of wanton, irrational, Steinbrennerian mercenaries – Rondell White, Jeff Weaver, Raul Mondesi, Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano….  None of these guys seemed to belong in the pinstripes the way Scott Brosius or Tino Martinez had.  It was no longer fun to be a Yankee fan – not because they were no longer winning championships, but because they no longer had an identity.  The efficient, fastidious, meticulous Yankees were suddenly snatching up free agents like Augustus Gloop gobbled Wonka Bars.

It has been said that sports fans cheer for the uniforms, not the players.  This is true – to a point.  Through 2003 and 2004, I continued to follow the fates of Joe Torre’s motley horde, more out of habit and loyalty than any real sense of attachment.  I continued to defend them against the haters, but when I found time to actually watch a game, my heart and mind usually preferred the fiery Phillies.  I knew that good fans, real fans, do not switch teams just because of some slight disagreements with the front office philosophy.  (Royals fans, I know, are not feeling a whole lot of sympathy.)  Part of baseball’s specialness, for most of us, is the way that our allegiances are developed in the innocence of pre-pubescence and therefore exempt from critical examination.  The typical American soccer fan, on the other hand, weighs each club’s pros and cons like those of a political candidate.  He (or she) can carefully consider “What will my wearing a Manchester United (or Chelsea or Juventus) jersey say about me?”  This is sad but also advantageous, in a way, for as my ideology developed I found myself deploring the clean-cut conservatism, aristocratic excess, and Randian exceptionalism that the legendary pinstripes also came to represent.  (There have, as yet, been no reports of any bat boys getting molested.)

Even so, all these grievances, these “intolerable acts,” were only seeds, the likes of which normally never germinate.  But then came the utterly classless dismissal of the classy Torre.  Finally these images seared my retinas like Paul’s on the road to Damascus, and they had a similar effect on me.  In 2008 I was stationed at an Air Force base in the desolate sands of New Mexico.  I tried to arrange one last trip to the Bronx and the old “home office of baseball,” but the logistics were too many.  My last pilgrimage there turned out to be a forgettable afternoon in 2005, before its death sentence had been proclaimed.  I was not yet a father, but I imagined I would return one day with a wide-eyed son in a #2 Jeter jersey.  Now the holy House That Ruth Built has returned its ashes to ashes and dust to dust.  The gathering ghosts have all been banished to Valhalla, never to return again.  So the almighty New York Yankees are just another team now, just another team with a (taxpayer-subsidized) $1.5 billion playhouse literally stolen from underprivileged kids – a sick twisted Orwellian pig, a convincing but pompous impostor of a right and just lion, usurping and then befouling its soul.

I never understood the point of self-flagellation until 2009.  But then I went to see the Yanks a couple times at the Trop here in St. Pete, like a curious ex-lover just checking in, with my wife and little boy both wearing Evan Longoria shirts.  When the Rays bent them over, as they did in the opener, I found I could still cheer for my old homeboys Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, and Rivera while allowing a small, smug smile at the score.  But when the Yanks were in command, like in the season finale, I would bask in the taunts and jeers of the sizable throng with the NY/Jersey accents and muse that I had once been one of their kind.  My horror was similar to that of the 19th-century fundamentalists who refused to believe that their great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfathers were all poop-throwing monkeys.  Unfortunately I could not deny the truth of my transformation.  When the portentous World Series matchup materialized I rooted hard for the Phillies, that down-to-earth girl next door who had been there all along, and to whom I owed a great deal of making up for my lewd affair with the flashy, seductive runway model.  When the Yankee uniforms won that Series I was disappointed, but purified.  Atonement had been paid, closure attained.

Maybe the loss I feel is not that of a baseball dynasty or a ballpark, but of innocence and comfortable simplicity.  Perhaps I’ve been betrayed not by Yankee Global Enterprises LLC, but by the world, which turned out to be a much more psychotic and arduous place than I ever could have imagined.  But I really don’t think so; that would make me cling tighter to those precious few things with the power to carry me back to that halcyon state.  No, the source of my dismay is clear and plain.  The Yankees organization, in recent years, has fundamentally altered both its own nature and the experience of being a fan.

And so, all ye righteous proletariat, I hereby renounce my affiliation with the tyrannical crown.  I prithee do not judge me; do not send me to the guillotine.  For I am but a man without a country, allegiant only to the church itself wherever its beautiful shape appears.  Fair citizens of the Empire/Universe – stop dropping an entire paycheck for a night at Bear Stearns Hard Rock Stadium to have the Trost Troopers, and Prince Hal and Prince Hank, anally rape your mothers while pouring sugar in your gas tanks!  Messrs. Steinbrenner, Cashman, Giuliani, et al, congratulations.  After decades of failing, you have finally succeeded in ruining the New York Yankees.  You may have dazzling rings on your fingers, but your hearts are curdled and green.  You make me wish that I believed in Hell.  Yankees suck.

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6 Responses to “Confession of a Reformed Yankee Fan”

  1. IRONPIGPEN Says:

    Holy smokes.

    That was a real work.

    Yankees ticket prices are ridiculous, in my opinion.

    Actually, ALL of the Majors are a little bit much when put up against a AAA game at Coca-Cola Park.

    I think all four major sports are getting to be a bit much, to be quite frank.

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