After spending the better part of 16 years living on Long Island, I’ve come to think that it’s not so much the Yankees people hate as their fans.
Oh sure, it’s impossible not to direct scorn at Alex Rodriguez (it cannot be said enough: for sheer unintentional hilarity, there is nothing funnier than the sight of A-Rod on the fringe of a Yankees celebration or brawl, desperately looking for someone to hug or a couple bodies to pry apart). The cool corporateness of Derek Jeter long ago grew old, as did his penchant for the overly dramatic (seriously, he could have made that catch against the Sox in ’04 without crashing into the seats and bloodying up his legend) and the overwrought praise that means he is still overrated despite his MVP-caliber season (and by MVP-caliber, I mean he’s in the race to finish second behind Joe Mauer). And don’t get us going on Joe Girardi.
In addition, the Yankees’ off-season spending spree—conducted one winter after Brian Cashman preached financial restraint and patience with the Yankees’ prospects and in the middle of the worst economy in nearly 80 years—hasn’t exactly endeared them to the fans of the other 29 teams, many of whom are more steadfast than ever in believing baseball’s famously unbalanced playing field needs to be fixed with a salary cap.
But while those are all valid reasons to root, root, root for whomever the Yankees are playing, I’m more certain than ever, following the reaction to the Yankees clinching the division title, that loathing the Yankees is all about schadenfreude directed at their largely insufferable fan base.
To hear, see and read (via Facebook status updates) these fans celebrating the division title is to think they’d just been freed of the world’s greatest burden, that they were some kind of bastard product of a mad scientist who spliced together the DNA of fans of the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Browns and threw in a little bit of Los Angeles Clippers DNA just because he was feeling particularly sadistic.
But no, it’s just an overwhelming sense of entitlement that has most of these fans declaring, without any trace of irony, that a great drought is over now that the Yankees are AL East champs for the first time since 2005.
“We’ll get to the Yankees as they finally celebrated that elusive division title,” said Mike Francesa, the noted Yankees fan and always-tolerable WFAN afternoon drive host on his WNBC late-night show Sunday.
Even my wonderful wife, who is the sanest Yankees fan I’ve ever known, went to the game and walked in the door singing “We Are The Champions.” A little early, dear? Invest more than $200 million in a team and it should win the division (at least until the Mets up their payroll to $200 million), at the very least.
If you think this is bad, you should mention 1982 through 1994 to a Yankees fan. To hear their tales of those 13 consecutive playoff-less seasons is to think they walked across a desert carrying multiple appliances on their backs. Don Mattingly is their Sisyphus, destined to push a giant rock up a hill while wrecking his back in the process.
Look, the night Roger Clemens struck out 20 batters for the first time, I was listening to my Walkman as Claude Lemieux snuck the game-winner past Mike Liut to lift the Canadians past the Hartford Whalers in overtime of Game Seven of the Adams Division Finals. Don’t talk to me about suffering, OK?!
Yankees fans also have this annoying habit this season of trying to paint their favorite team as a scrappy, overcoming-the-odds bunch. Sure, the Yankees have produced a major league-best 49 comeback wins as well as 14 walk-off wins at the new House That Nobody Can Afford To Enter. But fans who root for teams with a $202 million payroll have absolutely no right to declare they’re cheering for some kind of plucky outfit. Come to think of it, NO professional team, outside of maybe the Major Lacrosse League, is a plucky outfit, regardless of payroll, but if you want to root for the plucky Twins this week, I won’t argue.
I can almost understand the goofy giddiness over the seemingly improved Yankees chemistry, seeing as how that clubhouse has been dominated by dour, no-fun-allowed personalities such as Jeter, Jorge Posada and Paul O’Neill. But let’s face it: A.J. Burnett’s celebratory pies in the face would be a lot more entertaining coming from a pitcher who didn’t fill much of the fandom with a giant sense of impending doom.
Speaking of that impending doom, and the Twins, if you’re hoping to derive pleasure from the misery of Yankees fans, you should be rooting like hell for the Tigers to hold off the Twins, because Justin Verlander in Game One against CC Sabathia and his miserable postseason resume is the one shot David has against Goliath. More on the Yankees’ still-shallow starting pitching next week, as well as the other historical trends that suggest the Yankees’ Biblical championship drought is going to extend at least another year. In the meantime, remember: It’s not the Yankees, it’s their fans.