Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Me and My Yankee Shadow
2004-12-27 08:43
by Alex Belth

By Alex Ciepley

It's often easy to figure why you're a fan of a team. I'm a Cubs fan because my father is a Cubs fan. I was raised on WGN and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And if there'd ever been any doubt of my eventual loyalties, my fate as a Lover of Lovable Losers was sealed during the heady days of Sandberg and Trout and Durham in 1984. People love their teams because of their family, or geography, or perhaps just as a whim. But no matter the reason, it's usually easy to find out.

Is a person's disdain for a team as easy to trace? The Yankees are often called an easy team to hate. But what's the real motivation behind this feeling? Red Sox fans, gluttons for punishment, may despise the Yankees for beating them year in and year out (at least until this year!). A modern day Mets fan may be down on the Yanks for stealing their teams' thunder, always one-upping them on the raggy back pages.

I hate the Yankees, too, though in ways both more abstract and more specific. I'm bugged by the way Jeter sticks his ass out on an outside pitch. I shudder at the way A-Rod make millions a year but still frosts his hair like a cheap escort. I can do without Bernie's record album or Giambi's deodorant commercials.

The Yankees also get my goat because they win. It's annoying to see the same team finish atop the division standings year after year. You know what I took enormous pleasure in this year as a Cubs fan? The Cubbies put together their first back-to-back winning seasons in my lifetime. Back-to-back winning seasons! The sense of privilege found in some segments of today's Yankee fandom makes me cringe. Enough already... finish in fourth for a while and then get back to me.

Of course, every team has players with irritating qualities (don't even get me started on last year's Cubs), and even the Yankees go through their dry spells. Years like... the '80s. Even though the Yankees won more games than any other team during that decade, they weren't a dominant team during my youth. The Yankee championships and personalities can't be the only reason I don't like the team.

At its core, I think the biggest reason I hate the Yankees is because they simply won't go away. Throughout my life, they've been the Ashlee to my Jessica Simpson, the John Hinckley to my Jodie Foster, the Gollum to my Frodo. I don't like living with them, but I just can't seem to live without them.

I grew up in Evansville, a small city in southern Indiana somewhere between rows of cornfields and the Ohio river. Indiana is famously a basketball state, but the south has its baseball roots as well. The Benes brothers, Andy and Alan, were childhood friends of my older brother. Scott Rolen hails from just north of my hometown.

There are plenty of Cubs fans in southern Indiana, even if Cardinals fans generally outnumber them. I never had a problem with the region's split loyalties; I felt you could make fun of the Cards fans much as you would a Kentuckian. Now, attacking Redbird fans (or Kentuckians, for that matter) might not make much sense given their relatively robust success in baseball history, but logic skills have never been a strong suit of us Hoosiers.

Cardinals versus Cubs, a rivalry I could deal with. Unfortunately, the Yankees had to have their place at the table, too.

You see, the spotlights and sirens and parades--if Indiana were a place for such things--would focus squarely on No Bullshit himself, Don Mattingly. Mattingly grew up and continues to live in Evansville. He's a local hero, even if his restaurant had to close and attempts to bring in a minor-league franchise met with a lukewarm reception. His presence has created a mini Yankee-fan haven in the middle of an otherwise completely pleasant Cardinal-Cub hullabaloo. One enemy was fine, but two? I was outflanked.

College-time came, and I fled my Mattingly-infested hometown for New Jersey. There wasn't much time for baseball at school, but I nonetheless couldn't escape my New York nemesis. All I had to do was visit the campus library.

There was a character at my school's library whose reputation preceded him. Did he actually work at the library, or did he just wander the corridors day after day? It didn't matter. All that counted was that this was perhaps the biggest Yankee devotee of them all. He was autistic--supposedly one of the inspirations for Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man--and spent his day inquiring of all passers-by, "You a Yankee fan, you a Yankee fan?" The wisest response was probably a quick "no", spit out before you could be overwhelmed with strange and wondrous Yankee factoids.

It's not that I encountered this guy all the time, or that he followed me around the aisles spouting Tony Kubek's stats in 1960 or providing me with a top-10 list of Yankee ERAs from the '70s (though I'm sure he could do both). He was simply a presence like so many ghosts at Yankee stadium, the "die-hard Yankee fan" that haunted the library and brought a slice of Bronx to campus.

I finally was able to shed the Yankees when I moved to Thailand, though even there most Thais could name one "base-a-bun" team, my dreaded "Yan-gees!" Still, this was a country of kick-boxers and soccer fans, and the ex-pats I hung around with were mostly English, Australian, or sportsaphobic Americans. Baseball itself, let alone the Yanks, was barely audible background noise in this country.

My year-plus of freedom, though, came at a price. It was 1998, and along with dodging the annoyance of witnessing the Yanks win a bazillion games, I also missed one of the most exciting Cubs seasons of my lifetime. Kerry Wood, 20 Ks! Sammy Sosa, 66 bombs! A wild-card berth! Such are the small pleasures of a Cubs fan.

Avoiding the Yanks seemed to go hand in hand with giving up baseball. Determined to confront my demons head-on, I moved to New York City.

My life is now All Yankees, All The Time. My fantasy leagues are filled with regular commentary on Bernie or Torre or Jorge. I have to give up my seat on the subway to old ladies, even if they're wearing a Yankees pin! The bodega around the corner serves awesome baklava, but I frown while the guys behind the counter fixate on the TV and their beloved Bombers.

The effects of facing my enemy have been mixed. I still can't stand the Yanks. Jeter's ass, A-Rod's hair... these types of things don't just go away. But I said my feelings were now mixed, and that's because I've grown to respect--nah, to like--quite a few Yankee fans during my time here. Writers like Jay Jaffe, Cliff Corcoran, Steven Goldman, and your host here, Big Al. Guys like my fantasy baseball cohorts. Even those little old ladies and bodega workers.

Hate the sin but love the sinner, right?

As I mentioned, the roots of fandom are usually easy to discern. I'd even venture that most of us don't choose the teams we follow. My father's family emigrated to a Polish slum in Chicago, so I end up a Cubs fan. (Anticipating years of pain, I certainly might've chosen otherwise if given the opportunity.) I can't blame the Yankee fans--the "die-hard"s--for being who they are, no matter how much I'd like to see Torre helm a 162-loss club next year.

But hey, you think you guys could lessen your stranglehold on the game for a bit? You don't have to go away forever. Just act like the Pirates or Devil Rays for a while, happy to have your small pocket of fandom, content with an autograph from this year's all star, Jack Wilson. Can't you stay out of the news, out of my hometown, out of my libraries? Can't you just let a poor Cubs fan catch a few years of rest?

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