Tag Archives: yankees

Jean Shepherd on New York Baseball Fans, 1963

On the way to work this morning, I listened to a Jean Shepherd radio show from April 1963 in which he discussed the attitude of New York baseball fans in general and Yankees fans in particular. The reason I listen to 50-year-old radio shows is because of how amazingly prescient Shep was, especially when discussing philosophy or commenting on media and show biz. He was no less insightful on the “lesser” topic of sports and fandom.

In this clip, you’ll hear Shep (a Chicago native and lifelong White Sox fan) talk about how nutty the WIN NOW! attitude of New York fans looks to outsiders. He relates the grumbles of a Yankee fan friend who couldn’t stand the thought of his team not winning a pennant in 1959. He also shares memories of a trip to Yankee Stadium with his old pal and fellow Chicagoan Shel Silverstein, when the two of them witnessed Mickey Mantle get booed for the audacity of not hitting a home run that afternoon. Shep provides a passable Shel Silverstein impression to boot.

Shep tops things off with some thoughts on the then-fledgling Mets, the real reason the Dodgers’ and Giants’ move to California was lamented by the press (their gravy train stopped running), and how the New York WIN NOW idea extends to all sports.

I find this fascinating because it is a contemporary account of what fan attitudes and fan experiences were like during the late 1950s and early 1960s. In our cemented memories, this era is rendered in Ken Burns-ian sepiatone nostalgia. But when Shep was speaking, the era was still The Present, and thus could be discussed in an unvarnished way.

When studying most aspects of history we accept that, in order to really understand a time, you have to get as close to contemporary accounts as humanly possible. When it comes to sports, however, we often let ourselves be swayed by myth-making. That makes this Shep clip even more rare, and valuable. I hope you enjoy it.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Mets Block Yankees, Crush City’s Dreams

DOWN-TRODDEN NEWARK, NJ–It was revealed on Monday night that the Mets, an alleged major league franchise, had blocked the Yankees’ efforts to temporarily relocate their triple-A franchise to Newark. Critics have already labeled it the greatest miscarriage of justice in the history of baseball.

Supporters of the move say the arrival of the team from Scranton-Wilkes Barre could have rejuvenated this benighted urban area and brought a brief glimmer of hope to the many forlorn widows and orphans of this fair metropolis fallen on hard times. Instead, their dreams are snuffed, as they are denied the only thing that could brighten a crime-ridden, drug-addled, gang-ruled hellhole: minor league baseball.

“I tried everything with those cold-hearted Mets,” said a Yankees official, who could not be identified as his face was too obscured by large, bitter tears. “I promised we wouldn’t make the move permanent. I promised we would okay any move they wanted to make with their own minor league teams. Wilpon was unmoved by my pleas. First he asked for my watch, which was a graduation gift from my mother. I gladly gave it over, thinking only of the poor children of Newark. Then he asked me to get on my knees and pay homage to The Dark Lord. That I simply could not do. So he threw me out on the curb. And he kept the watch.”

Newark has a grand tradition of Yankee minor league affiliates. However, the team has not had a farm team in the city since 1949. Some believe that the Mets may have traveled back in time and forced the legendary Newark Bears to go bankrupt, paving way for the regrettable National League expansion of 1962 that gave birth to their hellish form.

Critics of the Mets say that the Yankees never have and never would engage in such churlish, petty behavior. They also point out that the Yankees’ attitude toward their “crosstown rivals” has never been short of cordial, and they have never attempted to interfere with their operations. Unlike the Mets, the Yankees have always conducted themselves with the utmost class and grace. To have the Yankees’ ceaseless kindness to their lesser neighbors repaid in such fashion is the kind of brazen insult that, in times of yore, would have demanded a duel of honor. No jury would convict them of such a “crime,” and yet they will surely take the higher road, as they always have.

“They couldn’t have won all those championships without always being consummate gentlemen,” said some guy I met on line at Starbucks while writing this article. “Only good people win things.”

Fred Wilpon was unapologetic for his act of wanton cruelty. Speaking while seated in a gargoyle-topped throne, each leg of which sat on a freshly killed puppy, Wilpon told the assembled reporters (all of whom were forced to genuflect in his presence), “I hate children.” He then drank from a chalice that may or may not have contained human blood.

The Singularity of Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera is special.

On the surface, “special” seems a poor adjective to describe him, but it’s the only one that fits. I’m sure we’re all familiar with his greatness, but I don’t think people truly understand exactly how much of a singular figure he is, and how much he has influenced the way baseball is played–to its detriment, I think. That is not in any way a knock on Rivera. Rather, it’s a criticism of the rest of baseball, and their failure to recognize just how special he is.

For one thing, when he notched his record-breaking 602nd save, the praise and congrats came from everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. In contrast, Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit–or rather, the cloying media slurpage that followed it–prompted nearly as much eye-rolling as applause, particularly when Steiner Sports ads on YES for commemorative DJ3K memorabilia made it seem like Jeter’s feat was just one arm of a larger marketing campaign.

Rivera garnered no such cynical reactions, at least as far as I saw. I don’t believe I saw one negative, sarcastic, or even snarky comment online about Rivera, which may be a new internet record. He just seems like a genuinely good guy, in the purest sense: the kind of good guy who just is a good guy, who lets his goodness speak for itself, and who would never campaign with his buddies in the press to write columns about what a good guy he is. Some writers may have played up his faith as a reason for his success, but you can’t imagine Rivera, a quietly religious man, doing so beyond being grateful for the gifts he has been given.

That’s why even self professed “Yankee haters” (I prefer the term “Yankee agnostic”) feel compelled to tip their cap to him. He reflects the best aspects of Yankee Tradition and is untouched by the worst elements of it. YES aired memorabilia ads marking the record-breaking occasion that were not unlike Jeter’s, and yet in the public consciousness Rivera remained unsullied by his proximity to such crass commercialization.

After Rivera earned his save, Michael Kay–never one to let a moment like this breathe when he can yammer over it–proclaimed him “the Babe Ruth of his position.” This is not quite accurate, though probably not in the way some might think.

Continue reading The Singularity of Mariano Rivera

We Need to Talk, New York Times

New York Times, can you come in here please?

I found this in your contents yesterday. You mind telling me what this is?

Won’t say anything? Fine, I’ll tell you. It’s an article about people who’ve named their dogs Jeter. Does that even remotely seem like news to you? Even for the sports pages?

It does? Really? How, exactly?

Because it’s a trend? C’mon, Times. In this article, you say there are 33 dogs registered in New York City with the name Jeter. What percentage of dogs in all five boroughs do you think that is? And don’t gimme that ‘I don’t know’! I thought we discussed this when you published that article about people hiring bartenders for house parties. Just because a couple of people do something doesn’t make it a trend, or interesting. We’ve been through this!

Look, I know everyone’s trying to ride the Jeter bandwagon. MLB is selling the dirt from under his feet and letting fans fondle his balls, for crying out loud. I know it’s the week after Fourth of July and all your best reporters are still in the Hamptons. But this…this is just unacceptable.

I know you can do better than this, Times. I know you can! I wouldn’t have pushed you to take those advanced classes. You just need to apply yourself is all!

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

Jorge and Brian Have a Heart-to-Heart

Jorge, honey? Can I come in?
No.
C’mon, I know you’re upset about the new batting order…
I don’t wanna hit ninth!
Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do. That’s part of growing up.
I’m a good hitter!
Of course you are! You’re still a better hitter than 99 percent of all the people in the world. You’re just not as good as the rest of our lineup or bench, or a sizable portion of our minor league system.
It’s not fair!
No, it is fair. It’s the definition of fair. What’s not fair is making you bat in front of people who are still good at baseball. Do you want Robinson Cano to hit ninth? How about Mark Teixeira?
I don’t care, I don’t wanna hit ninth.
What are you going to do, quit?

Maybe I will.

Maybe you could do that. And maybe I could tell everyone what a baby you’re being and embarrass you in front of the entire NY press corps and all your classmates.
Why would you do that?!
Because I love you and want what’s best for you, sweetie! But if you won’t toughen up, I have to what’s best for the rest of the family. Now since you’re quitting, let me just get out my phone and call up Bill Madden. He’s gonna wanna hear all about this…
No, don’t do that! I’ll look like an asshole!
Remember what I always say: only you can make you look an asshole.
*sigh* Fine. I’ll hit ninth.
And?
And pinch hit.
That’s my little slugger. C’mere, gimme a hug.
HA HA, YOU GOT IN TROUBLE.
Hank, leave your big brother alone!

The Hate, I Hear It Calling My Name

Remember yesterday, when I was faced with a choice between encouraging hatred of the Yankees and I resisted, wanting to raise my child in a positive, live-and-let-live way? I felt good about my decision 24 hours ago. Today, not so much.

Why? Just take a peek at the back cover of the Daily News.

Oh, Yankees. Why, oh why must you make the hate so hard to resist? “The Little Team that Could”? Really? Just for that, each member of your team should have to stand in a line and get slapped by every Pirates and Royals fan in the country.

Teaching Tolerance for Those You Hate

On the way to school this morning, The Baby and I had a conversation about fandom, prompted by absolutely nothing she or I had said up to that point. She has been talking about baseball a lot lately, for some reason. I may have mentioned that the season was starting soon, and so she’s been asking me often exactly when it will begin. When I say “Next Friday,” she’ll let out an anguished groan, because any length of time longer than a minute is an eternity to a little kid. She also thinks, because I told her I write about the Mets, that I’m a “baseball recorder”.

So we’re walking to school. I believe the last thing I said was something along the lines of, “Ooh, look at that squirrel up on that telephone wire.” Then, this:

BABY: Do you like the Mets?

ME: Yes, I do.

BABY: Do you like the ‘Ankees?

I paused here for a while, wondering how to respond. Do I say something stupid and hateful? Or do I try to keep as much positivity in our shared lives for as long as I can? I opt for the latter.

ME: I like the Mets better. They’re my favorite team.

THE BABY: I don’t like the ‘Ankees.

I am genuinely perplexed, because honestly, I don’t think I’ve said one word about the Yankees in front of her–good, bad, or indifferent–her entire life. Her only interaction with That Team, as far as I know, has been driving past the stadium on our way upstate. I have not tried in any way to transfer any of my animus on to her. I have to assume this is a product of school. *shakes fist*

ME: Why don’t you like the Yankees?

THE BABY: They smell! They smell like ‘Ankee shirts!

At this point, I have to fight every impulse in my body to laugh. Because as much as I might say I “hate,” the Yankees, I really don’t. For one thing, I know too many Yankee fans who aren’t dicks to wish them too much ill. There’s really no one currently on the team who even bugs me–no, not even Jeter. There’s just a certain kind of Yankee fan who drives me nuts. And let’s be honest: there are douchebags a’plenty in every fanbase. If the Mets had the run of success that the Yankees have had in the last 15 years, they’d attract the same terrible types the Yankees do now, people who want to bask in reflected glory and are not fans of baseball or even sports, only winning.

More importantly, I don’t want to be one of those dads who creates a Hate Clone in his own twisted image to hurl tiny epithets at the object of his scorn. That’s even worse than trying to push kids into a sport or to skip grades, because at least a kid can gain something from those endeavors. But using your child as a vessel for all your hates and fears, that’s just monstrous. I’ve seen kids like these at stadiums, dressed head to toe in team gear, yelling horrible things they couldn’t possibly understand, like Children of the Damned in Zubaz.

If I encouraged this kind of thinking, I feared her growing up to make her own version of Buffalo ’66. Or even worse, becoming a version of one of those mutants from Filip Bondy’s Bleacher Creature columns in the Daily News of yore. I had to read tons of that column when researching my recaps of the 2000 season, and it dented my soul. The kind of hate that came out of these people’s mouths toward Mets fans was at thermonuclear, Alabama 1963 levels.

I did not want my daughter to grow up to be such a person. Sports should inspire love, not hate. So, I took the high road.

ME: That’s not nice. The Yankees don’t smell. Different people like different things. Some people like the Yankees, some people like the Mets. Some people don’t like baseball at all.

THE BABY: [with a resigned sigh] Yeah, I guess so.

And we walked on to school. I felt good for following the better angels of my nature, and I thought of the lyrics of one of my dad’s favorite parodic songs, Tom Lehrer’s “National Brotherhood Week”: Step up and shake the hand / Of someone you can’t stand / You can tolerate them if you try…

Scratchbomb’s Thoroughly Compromised 2011 MLB Preview: AL East

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

2010 record: 66-96

Biggest offseason acquisition: Vladimir Guerrero, still owner of the ugliest/most beautiful swing in baseball.

Biggest offseason loss: Kevin Millwood is pretty much it. I remember him from his Braves days, when he would consistently murder the Mets. That was a long time ago. I am old.

Can this mix of young talent and spare parts finally put the Orioles over the top?: Yes, right over the top and back to the bottom.

Best name on 40-man roster: Rick VandenHurk, ex-Marlin and current Dutchman. Sounds like a nickname for the “hero” in Space Mutiny.

The That Guy’s on This Team? Award: A tie between Guerrero and Derrek Lee. I imagine they each eyed the other first day of spring training and shared an unvoiced “So it’s come to this, has it?”

Spring standout: Zachary Britton, who’s only given up one run in 14 innings so far. The gulf between his performance and other potential starters is not small, to put it kindly.

Probable Opening Day starter: Jeremy Guthrie, who’s pitching to an ERA of 6 this spring. Sure, why not?

Biggest question for 2011: Do the Orioles have what it takes to finish in first in the AL East, non-Yankees/Red Sox/Rays division?

Strengths: Beloved ballpark, John Denver singalongs

Weaknesses: Civic dysfunction symbolic of the abandonment of the American city in the 21st century

Semi-serious assessment: The Rays have showed it’s possible to compete with New York and Boston, but there’s only so much room at the top. I like the low-key moves the Orioles made, and these plus their core of young talent means that they’re nowhere near as bad as their reputation. This is not a horrible team. Unfortunately, in the AL East, Not Horrible = 4th place at best.

Continue reading Scratchbomb’s Thoroughly Compromised 2011 MLB Preview: AL East

Unfair Generalizations and Prejudice, Now in Yankee Flavor!

Is it time for me to start feeling sorry for Yankee fans?

Once the Yankees fell behind in the ALCS 3-1, I began to savor the impending feast of schadenfreude. As you probably know, I’ve been chronicling the Mets’ 2000 season over at Amazin’ Avenue, and right now I’m up to the World Series. After describing the Roger Clemens-Mike Piazza bat incident in game two, let’s just say I wasn’t feeling too gracious toward the team in The Bronx. (When you’re writing angry tweets about 10-year-old Filip Bondy Bleacher Creature columns, it’s time to reevaluate your emotional priorities.)

However, the Rangers’ victory left me feeling a bit hollow. Even Alex Rodriguez striking out looking to clinch it was not as sweet as I thought it would be. Rooting against someone and seeing them fail might be cathartic, but it’s nowhere near as satisfying as rooting for a team and watching them win. The Yankees losing doesn’t make this year’s Mets suck any less.

At the end of the day, I felt bad for Yankee fans–not because their team lost, really, but because they’re not allowed to feel good about this season. Because if the Mets got as far as the Yankees did and were simply beaten by a better team, I’d shrug my shoulders and say, “Oh well, wait ’til next year!” Yankees fans do not have that option.

The standard line for the Yankees, throughout the Steinbrenner family’s ownership, has been this: Anything less than a championship is a failure. That attitude is repeated, unblinkingly, by the New York sports media. It’s supposed to be a tribute to their Commitment to Excellence, but in reality, it’s a sign of near insanity.

No team can win the World Series every year. Promoting such a belief among your fan base is irresponsible. You can derive joy from a season in which your team falls short of the ultimate goal. Making the playoffs is an enormous accomplishment, and what transpires in October is often a total crapshoot. Recognizing this is not a sign of weakness–it’s a sign of being tethered to reality.

There’s plenty of reasons why Yankee fans should have enjoyed this season immensely. Their team was fresh off a World Series championship. They battled the Rays for the division, which made for an unexpectedly lively playoff race. And to make things even sweeter for them, the Red Sox were ravaged by injuries and basically out of the hunt by August (though they did some damage late in the season).

The Yankees didn’t make too many mistakes, if any, in the postseason. They breezed past Minnesota effortlessly, then ran into a Texas team that was too good. You can quibble with some of Joe Girardi’s decisions, particularly regarding his bullpen, but if you look at what the two teams did statistically, it becomes clear that the Yankees were outplayed in every conceivable way.

And of course, it’s not like this is the end of the road. If the Yankees made no changes between now and next spring, they’d still be a prohibitive favorite to make the playoffs again. And that’s before the inevitable big ticket free agent acquisition like Cliff Lee or Carl Crawford.

I’m sure most Yankees fans, if given a choice, would like to think of their season, and how it ended, in these terms. But they can’t. They’re not allowed to, thanks to the rhetoric the team has repeated robotically for the last 15 years: Anything less than a championship is a failure. And if they ever wanted to defy the team’s Primary Directive and think otherwise, the New York tabloids and sports talk radio stations are more than happy to correct their thinking.

To be fair, I don’t think such a line of thinking would track if there wasn’t a segment of the fanbase that swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. If you listened to WFAN or 1050 ESPN over the weekend, you heard caller after caller not giving credit where credit was due (to the Rangers), but blaming the Yankees for a series that, despite going six games, was barely ever close.

yanksbust.jpgWitness the ridiculous headlines over the weekend following the Yankees’ loss. The Post called them a “$210 Milliion Bust,” which is insane, and labeled the defending world champions “chumps” (get it?), which is almost as crazy. It stems from this attitude that the Rangers couldn’t possibly have won the series–the Yankees could only lose it. Like in the 1950s, when the Communists took power in China, and people screamed about how “we” “lost” China, without considering the possibility that Mao won it. (And without considering that another country was not America’s to win or lose, but that’s a whole other issue.)

Keep in mind that the Post was one of many local papers with back pages after the Yankees’ win in game five that said the World Series was only two wins away. But no newspaper has ever met a surging bandwagon it can’t jump onto–or a fading one they can’t leap off of.

The ridiculousness was ramped up earlier today when Joel Sherman blasted in an article titled, “Yankees need Girardi to lighten up” (Backpage headline: COOL IT, JOE). In Sherman’s opinion, “Girardi strangely regressed in 2010, returning to the uptight, paranoid version familiar from his 2008 Yankees debut season.”

So Girardi was all wound up in 2008 and 2010, the years he didn’t manage the Yankees to a World Series, but he was all loosey-goosey in between? What was the difference this year? Did he give up his command of the cream pie brigade? Stop planting hotfoots in the dugout a la Roger McDowell? Cease his intake of Rex Ryan pills?

But here’s the real doozy. Why didn’t Girardi win? Duh, he’s too much of a nerd! God, you egghead nerds are so stupid!

Girardi is the kind of technically proficient manager that tends to scoff at Texas skipper Ron Washington’s lack of strategic sophistication. But mastering the Xs and Os of baseball does not give a manager the same tactical advantages coaches get in the NFL or NBA. What is missed by the technocrats is that Washington’s human bond with his players gets the Rangers to play passionately for him–which is the gift that gives from April through October.

I’m sure Girardi loves to manage. But you could not tell that watching him daily. Thus players end up, at best, respecting him rather than having a human connection that would foster something greater.

Knowledge is for queers! You want results? Start jumping up and down and yelling! Then your players will take your cue and start playing harder, because adults need to be motivated by their crazy manager to perform better!

In the first place, there’s very few managers who give any credence to sabermetrics of any kind–beyond Manny Acta and Fredi Gonzalez, I can’t think of any. Sports are still a bit too manly to allow managers to admit they can learn things from math. It seems like Sherman is conflating his dislike of Girardi with his hatred of the four-eyed brigade nerding up baseball. I wish he’d saved up his idiotic, ignorant Bill James bile for a different column, since painting Girardi in this light is, at best, inaccurate. But hate, being an irrational impulse, does not like to wait for appropriate times to express itself.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from reading coverage of the Mets, it’s that how you play isn’t quite as important as how you look while playing. That’s why Jeff Francoeur, terrible player who smiled a lot, remains more beloved than Carlos Beltran, great player whose stoic demeanor is interpreted as a sign of not caring. If only Girardi looked like he loved the game more! Then he could have formed a bond with the same group of players he led to a World Series ring the year before!

Also, notice that Sherman accuses Girardi of being “the kind of manager” who would mock Ron Washington, even though I don’t know of any instance where the Yankees skipper actually mocked Washington. Way to slip in a totally baseless accusation, Joel!

If the Mets had the kind of season the Yankees just had, with the same promise for the future, I’d be more than happy. It’s too bad Sherman and his ilk won’t let Yankee fans feel the same way.

The Hunt for Douche October

Bro, do you like the new Axe? I heard chicks dig it when you spray it on your junk, but it kinda hurts my pee-hole….OH SHIT, THERE’S A BALL COMIN RIGHT THIS WAY! I GOT IT! I GOT IT! YO LA GOT IT, BRO!

canohr.jpgHey, did you see that?! I snatched it right outta that outfielder’s glove! Serves ya right, you stupid fuckin world class athlete! Hey you, Chico, whatever your name is–this is you!

YankeesFanDouche.gifYou’re all like, “Duh, lookit me tryna catch a ball while someone grabs my glove!” What an asshole! Go back to Texas, so you can then go back to Mexico or wherever the fuck you’re from!

Bro, high five. Totally burned that guy. That’ll teach him to come to the cathedral of baseball and think he can win a game. Too many ghosts here, bro. That wasn’t me who grabbed the ball outta his hands, that was the spirit of Ruth and DiMaggio and Mantle. But the thing where I did the jerkoff motion right in his face, that was totally me.

Wait, the Rangers are up 2-1 now? Fuck, let’s get outta here, this shit blows…whoah, the Yanks are back on top? FUCK YEAH! LET’S-GO-YAN-KEES! NEVER GIVE UP! BURNETT, YOU ARE A BEAST!

Jeter, why’d you hit your triple to center field? Shoulda hit it out here to right. I got a car battery under the seat, totally woulda beaned that stupid outfielder. He’d be all like, “Duh, I can’t catch the ball cuz my skull was crushed by a Duralast!”

Whoah, did that fan keep Gardner from grabbing a foul ball by the third base stands. YOU GOTTA REVIEW THAT, UMPS! WHAT THE FUCK! THAT COULD BE SOME RED SOX FAN DOWN THERE! Just some more anti-Yankee media bias, bro. Unbelievable!

Hey, wait a minute, who hit that home run? Bengie Molina? Never heard of him. I’ve been a Yankee fan since 1998 and that name does not ring a bell. UMPS, MAKE SURE HE’S REAL AND NOT A SOPHISTICED HOLOGRAM! YEAH, YOU LEAVE THE MOUND NOW, BURNETT, YOU FUCKIN HUMP!

Alright, now Joba’s in. He’s gonna right right the ship…ARE YOU FUCKIN KIDDIN ME?! YOU FUCKIN SUCK, JOBA, YOU FAT PIECE OF SHIT!

Bro, I’m out. This team has got no heart. No guts. They don’t see it through to the end like the old Yankee teams did. You wanna come with? I’m probably gonna stop at that one Hess station on the way home and abuse the African guys who pump the gas.

At least it’s football season. Got tickets for Giants-Cowboys in a coupla weeks. You’ll never guess what I’m gonna yell at Tony Romo…

Yeah, that’s right. Who told you?! WHO TOLD YOU MY HILARIOUS TONY ROMO ZINGER?!

*crush*

Bro, I’m sorry I had to smash you in the face with a car battery. I was emotional. It was the ghosts. If he was in my shoes, Jim Leyritz woulda done the same thing.