Mike Burke was president of New York’s American League entry in 1969. When its National League counterpart clinched its first division title, he sent this telegram to M. Donald Grant:
Congratulations on being number one. Am rooting for you to hang in there and take all the marbles. As a New Yorker I am ecstatic, as a baseball person I am extremely pleased, and as a Yankee I consider suicide the easy option.
I feel no joy for anyone right now and I feel no sympathy for anyone right now. I am tempted to quote perhaps my favorite fictional character of all time, Toby Ziegler of The West Wing, at this moment:
There’s literally no one in the world that I don’t hate right now.
Except TWW creator Aaron Sorkin, a Yankees fan, made Toby a Yankees fan, too, and honestly, I’ve used up my hate for the 2009 baseball season. I feel no joy for anyone and I feel no sympathy for anyone, but I’m not filled with all that much bile for any of the participants from the World Series just completed, acolytes included. I’m tired of the hate angle. Besides, there’s something to like at last: the Yankees and Phillies are done playing.
The best team won; by the time it was over, there was barely a second-best team. Still, there’s not a single feelgood story among the winners of this World Series, not in that poor guy finally got the win he deserves sense. Those who won before could have lived off those titles for a century to come. Those who didn’t could have stuffed money down their void.
But they did win, so way to go.
The Yankees fans? Well, no, I don’t feel good for them, not a single one of them. I say that without contempt, no matter how contemptuous it sounds, no matter that like Ronan Tynan and the Jewish community, I have had and do have Yankees fan friends. One who is unfortunately in the past tense was named Harold, a big Yankees fan dating back to the days of Ruth. He died ten years ago this month. We went to his wake and saw his family had laid out his caps and pennants from 1996, 1998 and 1999. That’s nice, I honestly thought…the last baseball game he ever saw, Game Four of the ’99 World Series, ended with his team winning a championship. Then, within a few minutes of that uncharacteristically generous contemplation, his wife, his daughter, my wife and I — each of us a Mets fan — all agreed: we loved Harold but we couldn’t stand who he rooted for.
You never heard a solemn occasion ramp up into Yankees Suck territory so fast.
I could feel good for Angels fans I never met in 2002, White Sox fans I’d never meet in 2005, maybe (and, granted, it’s a stretch) a nontoxic Phillies fan I’d hope to never meet in 2008. Those people had gone without. The Yankee wait was minuscule by comparison and they whiled away their downtime by reminding themselves and everybody else how much they had already won. They don’t need my or our happiness today. They’re doing fine on their own.
All respect to the late Mike Burke, I couldn’t care less that New York has another championship. That part of New York, psychically speaking, has nothing to do with me or my concerns. I’m immune to its appeal to the point of not understanding it at all.
At the end of June, I was on a D train bound for the Bronx. Three Mets fans who had been given four excellent tickets to that night’s Yankees game were thoughtful enough to invite me along for a first look at the new Yankee Stadium. I accepted their offer with enthusiasm because they’re great folks and a ballpark I haven’t yet seen is a ballpark I want to see at least once…and with dread because of whose ballpark it was. What I couldn’t get past as I rode the D was all my fellow passengers, all of them (save for the tourists) New Yorkers, made a different fundamental choice than I did at some point in their lives. They could have been like me, like most everybody with whom I choose to commune. They could have theoretically chosen to be Mets fans.
But they didn’t. Perhaps they couldn’t; I’m not sure fandom is chosen as much as it chooses you. Anyway, however they happened upon it, they became Yankees fans. They looked different to me as a result, and not just because of their caps and jerseys. They were intrinsically unattractive as human beings. They were craven. They were opportunists. They were indecent. I didn’t investigate each of them on a case-by-case basis to confirm or deny my biases, but I felt comfortable arriving at my blanket generalization, just as I felt uncomfortable arriving at 161st Street and wandering behind enemy lines.
We could debate the whole concept of “enemy” as it relates to sports and dredge up all the familiar statistics (we only play them six times a year) and ancient arguments (before Interleague play, there was no rivalry) and soggy chestnuts (in 1986, so-and-so the Yankees fan rooted for the Mets against the Red Sox). But there’s us and there’s them. Watching them celebrate Wednesday night was something taking place on another continent, no matter its relative geographic proximity to us.
Nevertheless, others made a different choice from mine. I chose the Mets. They chose what they chose. As the legendary columnist Herb Caen wrote in his hometown San Francisco Chronicle, “Isn’t it nice that people who prefer Los Angeles to San Francisco live there?”
As for sympathy, I’ve none whatsoever for the vanquished National League Champion Phillies. I don’t feel one iota of bad for them. If they had won, I’d withhold joy in their direction, too. I wouldn’t feel good for Manuel, for Rollins, for Victorino, so there’s no misguided pity on their account either. They’re sated. Their fans (who are generally miserable souls but at least have as an excuse for not liking us the reasonable alibi of being from somewhere else) are sated. Even Pedro Martinez seemed a distant figure to me in this Series. He was sucked right back into the Yankee narrative as if his four seasons as a Met never occurred. I had hoped he would pitch well. That he didn’t didn’t particularly bother me. Good riddance to the Phillies. Let Cole Hamels flag down the first bus that takes them to winter.
I’m not happy for the Yankees. I’m not compassionate toward the Phillies. I’m just relieved they’re both done playing and that the 2009 baseball season has been put to bed. My most fervent hope shifts to the 2010 Mets now. I hope Jeff Wilpon and Omar Minaya and whoever else has a say in anything watched the Yankee euphoria and seared the impression onto their brains. I hope they call a meeting this morning to watch the tape over and over again and make it job one for their team…our team to be in that position ASAP.
Not that I project it will be all that soon, but what does that have to do with hope?