On Hating the Yankees

Last night, my friend from grad school Paul, a midwesterner who lived and worked in New York before taking his MFA and also a Yankees fan, tweeted the following: "will quietly accept that my team is reviled... and winning." I responded with "that's because Haterade is so delicious," and I think there's some truth to that, but I also think that there's more to it.

But I have to start by saying that I don't hate the Yankees--I don't feel much of anything for them, honestly. I don't carry the same passion for baseball that I do for football, and maybe even for NBA basketball. I expect a large part of that is disillusionment. Corporate baseball, which has been the model for most of my adult life, seems bent on two goals--soaking cities for all the revenue they can get, and...okay, one goal. Football has this goal as well, but their league model is a bit more socialistic on the revenue-sharing and player salary sides, so there's not as much disparity in free agent signings between small and large market teams.

If you're a baseball fan, you probably recognize where this is going, at least in part. Yankees hate is based, for many, on the notion that the Yankees, by virtue of their position as the primary team in the nation's largest city and television market, can always buy the best players and so will always factor in the championship discussion, even in the years when they don't win it. And that hate, especially if you're a small market team or if your local ownership group refuses to spend even the money it makes from revenue sharing on quality players (like the Florida Marlins, for example), has a legitimate basis, because here's your local team, sucking up valuable tax dollars (and they never generate as much as they take in--sorry) who, if they're going to win it all, has to put together a magical season to do it, while the Yankees can simply flash a bankroll and get stars to show up.

The funny part, of course, is that this is the first time since 2000 that the Yankees have won it all using that method. Other teams have done it as well--the Red Sox are no slouch in the spending department--but it's the Yankees who are reviled for it.

It's the fact that the Yankees are always in the discussion that engenders the hate--there's no similar hate for the Giants, Jets, Knicks, Islanders, Rangers or Mets, in large part because they all scuffle, some for longer periods than others--but the Yankees never do. There's this feeling that the Yankees never have to pay the full price for making a bad decision because they can always buy someone else's good eye for talent.

If only they'd go through a down period for a couple of years, we think--and by down year, we don't mean barely missing the playoffs. We mean losing 95 games. We mean being down by 15 at the All-Star break. We mean having one selection to the All-Star team, and that person getting the nod because there has to be a Yankees player on the team. If only--and this is the important part, I think--there could be a period where the discussion wasn't about them.

Because sports fans love a redemption story. We're suckers for the melodrama that sports can provide that fiction can't. There's no magic in a Yankees championship run because they're expected to be there every year.

But there's one other factor at play here--the sports media. And that was really driven home to me in 2000, which is where Paul comes back into this story. We were grad students, office-mates, first-year MFAs in northwest Arkansas, both adjusting to a new place. In my case, I was living in the largest city I'd been in since I was an infant--and that's saying something since Fayetteville was 60,000 people at the time--while Paul had moved in from New York (I believe)--a bit of culture shock for both of us, though undoubtedly more for him. As the baseball season drew to a close, Paul got more and more excited about the prospect of a subway series, and when I watched Baseball Tonight or SportsCenter, the talk was very much the same--Mets-Yankees all the time, and oh how amazing a Subway Series would be, et cetera.

I remember the day Paul told me how excited he was about the Series that year, and I think I shocked him with my reply. I said that baseball season was over, that New York had won. Admittedly, I was giving him a bit of the needle, because I knew he was a huge Yankees fan, but I really did believe that, because I didn't care about the differences between Yankees and Mets fans. It didn't matter to me.

And here's the really awesome thing about it--it didn't matter to the rest of the country either. Sportscasters were dumbfounded by the fact that tv ratings everywhere outside of New York were some of the lowest ever. It didn't matter to us--New York had won. For news media, New York is the goal--it's where you get to the top of your profession--so from that perspective, it makes perfect sense to be excited about a Subway Series. For the rest of us, meh.

The funny thing is that eventually, the Yankees will scuffle again. They have three certain future Hall-of-Famers on their roster right now in Rivera, Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, but those players are aging and will fall off, and there's no guarantee that they will be replaced with equal talent. My advice? Rebuild for a couple of years. Let the sheen wear off some. Stay down long enough for the rest of the country to see your return as a comeback story. We're sports fans. We're suckers for that stuff.

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