While I’ve long ceased following professional baseball, I nonetheless concede to deriving a fair measure of pleasure when the Mighty Yankees go down, as they did this past week. Is there some sort of abiding life lesson here? Perhaps hate is a far more powerful and enduring emotion than love—at least in the arena of irrational sports fanaticism.
Raised in a Bronx household with a rabid Yankee fan as its patriarch, I declared my independence from all that as a mere seven-year-old. I don’t quite know why I broke ranks at such a tender age, and why I started rooting for the Mets, but I did with a vengeance. And I quickly realized that it was one or the other—no namby-pamby straddling and allegiance to both New York teams was allowed. The very first games I attended were actually in the original House that Ruth Built—the one with the uncomfortable wooden seats painted blue and the view-obstructing, concrete poles holding the old stadium together. I recall being at a Bat Day giveaway against the expansion Seattle Pilots during their first and only season as a franchise. (The team moved to Milwaukee in 1970, but, very historically, supplied the colorful and immensely entertaining backdrop for pitcher Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, which is a great book by the way. Believe it or not, this tome of his was considered sacrilege for its time, steeped in controversy for violating the locker room’s longstanding omerta.)
I suspect it was my wide-eyed innocence that coaxed the very impressionable me to the Mets, a team in the midst of an ethereal glow. You know, the Miracle of 1969, which had nothing to do with the Blessed Mother appearing on a slice of burnt toast or any such thing. It was all about perennial losers winning the whole enchilada in crazy, unsettled times against the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles—amazing, amazing, amazing! David slays Goliath! And the fact that the Mets were televised a great deal more than the Yankees in those days of yore—on free TV, too, which was the only game in town—no doubt played a contributing and solidifying role in my declared allegiance. The battle lines were promptly drawn in the family, and with countless friends and neighbors as well—all fans of the corporate, highfalutin Yankees, despite the fact that they sucked lemons big time when I began my quarter of a century romance with their cross-town rivals.
But to get back to the love-versus-hate matter, and which of the two emotions emerge victorious in the end. I more or less lost interest in the game, and the team I loved with a passion since a boy, in the mid-1990s after a strike cancelled a World Series for the first time ever, and was still ongoing at the start of the next season. Along the way, ticket prices skyrocketed, and the players overtly, and rather dramatically and unapologetically, made greed and sheer disloyalty the hottest tickets in town. Then, of course, there were steroids, seventy-five home run seasons, and Barry Bonds breaking the great Hank Aaron’s record with both a literal head and ego the size of planet Jupiter.
I never consciously made the decision to turn in my fan card for all time. It occurred very gradually, with my fierce fan devotion waning with the passing years as the American pastime slowly but surely imploded. From my perspective, baseball once upon a time showcased a wholly unique ambiance with its slow and unfolding pace, strategy, and unpredictability. It was a game not held hostage by ticking clocks, flags, and annoying whistles—not to mention that there were many, many games on the schedule (162), with most of them played during the dog days of summertime, the best season of all for a kid.
But, ah, the question before us now is this: Why did my bowing out as an uber-fan not purge my simultaneous and heartfelt loathing for the Yankees? Granted, the wars were pretty bitter and intense back in the day between my beloved Mets and my father’s equally beloved Yankees. But that was ancient history. Or was it? I must confess that there’s still something about the Yankees, their fans, and that exasperating sense of entitlement that taps into that old hate. I may be a lapsed Met and former professional baseball fan—who’s gotten over the great love for his team and the sport—but hatred for the grisly opposition somehow endures.