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The Hate That Hate Produced

A reader took us to task the other day, complaining that "[our] comments about the Yanks are out of place. A lot of teams spend tons of money and don't succeed."

True, true. And from the abundance of websites, articles, television and radio commentaries –and even in spite of September 11– for the last few years it has been all the rage again to loathe the New York Yankees. Four series appearances in as many years, and the signing of marquee players like Raul Mondesi whenever the mood strikes keeps the Yankees in the center of the bullseye.

On top of all that, hating is fun. Shakespeare thrived on hate, as do soap operas and pro wrestling. The drama of sport thrives when there are heroes and villains.

But hate these Yankees? If only we could!

Hate them the way we hated Billy Martin's Yankees? Those arrogant, half-drunk, unshaven Yankees of the late 1970s? Back when throwing money around to buy a championship was still considered shocking, the Yankees of the Carter-era were loathsome. Pirates, mercenaries, scum. They couldn't stand one another, were helmed on-and-off and on-and-off by a drunken madman in Billy Martin, and run by Captain Queeg-like owner bent on buying championships. You couldn't take your eyes off them. With all that great baseball came some crazy personalities. From Thurman Munson's scowls, to Reggie Jackson's pompous displays, to heroics like the latter's three homer display, the '78 comeback, Bucky Dent's big smack, hey, it was fun to hate those jerks.

Now train your eye even further back to the clubs of the late 40s through the early 60s. The national rancor for that mythic dynasty was so great as to culminate in one of Broadway's dullest musicals. (The paradox of a Broadway musical about hating a New York baseball team never fails to amuse us.) Everyone hated the Yankees because they were so damned good. Hall-of-Famers sprinted out to the field every season, and it seemed that when one retired (DiMaggio), in came another (Mantle). But the prowess of those great teams wasn't all that inspired venom: their World Series appearances also frustrated. For the Yankees of the fifties benefited from facing great rivals in magnificent World Series showdowns. They won in amazing fashion, and lost similarly. Somehow, the hung-over trio of Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle andthere he is again Billy Martin, kept defeating the equally determined Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants or the Milwaukee Braves. Fifteen World Series appearances in eighteen years. Of those, nine were seven game nail-biters which included great performances by the underdog heroes of Jackie Robinson, Hark Aaron, Willie Mays, Bill Mazeroski, and others. The stuff of legendary admiration (in New York) and legendary frustration (everywhere else).

Although the current dynasty is an excellent team, they're hardly the stuff of legend. Part of this is the fault of the Yankees. This crew is a disciplined, economical machine, able to dispatch their opponents with the ease of a lethal injection. Thrill to the precision by which they perform, even as their players grow older and creakier. And admire the way these Yankees are, more than any other club, a bona-fide team. To beat the Yankees, you must defeat the whole, must render twenty-seven solid outs, more so than any other team in recent memory. One mistake, one pitch in the wrong corner of the zone can cost an entire game. Few of the players seem destined for the Hall of Fame, save Derek Jeter and Roger Clemens (whose enshrinement doesn't rest solely on his tenure with the Yankees). Joe Torre is a great manager, but he's no Casey Stengel. He's not even Billy Martin. And even George Steinbrenner has calmed down, reduced to tears every time they hand him the trophy. Loving (and hating) the recent edition of the Yankees is akin to saying your favorite Scorcese film is "Kundun".

So where's all the bile coming from? The problem is that the New York Yankees aren't the villains.

The villains are numbers.

For this is what we've come to in baseball. What we really hate is the payroll of the team, rather than the team itself. During the off season (and often times during the season) we've become the equivalent of stock brokers wallowing in the news of Wall Street. There really isn't anything Yankee-specific in the current hostility. Our spite would be there if the Orioles or the Diamondbacks had managed to win the last three titles on a "Titanic"-sized payroll. It's one thing to curse Reggie Jackson's arrogance or Billy Martin's constant firings, and quite another to point out that the new Yankee first baseman costs more than the half that of the Twins entire club.

Hate these Yankees? If only we could. They are, above all, a great team, a likeable team, one that would be venerated if it weren't for the money. And money is as boring to love as it is to hate.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Although I never saw Ted Williams play baseball, there is no one who I would have liked to have seen more. Two stories typify the type of ballplayer that Ted Williams was, and they both occurred within 24 hours of one another.

The first is, of course, Ted's decision to play in the final doubleheader of the 1941 season against the Philadelphia Athletics. He entered that last day batting .39955, which, according to the calculus of the major leagues, give him a .400 average for the season should he sit out. Not only was Ted playing away from home, but if he failed to get enough hits, his average would drop below that fabled line. As most fans know, Ted played both games, whacked six hits in eight tries, and ended the season at .406. That's a great story.

But the night before, that nerve-wracking sleepless evening before the big game, Ted spent his time the following way (from My Turn At Bat): "…Johnny Orlando, the clubhouse boy, always a guy who was there when I needed him, must have walked ten miles with me the night before, talking it over and just walking around. Johnny really didn't like to walk as much as I did, so I'd wait outside while he ducked into a bar for a quick one to keep his strength up. The way he tells it, he made two stops for Scotch, and I made two stops for ice cream walking the streets of Philadelphia."

You have to understand that breaking the .400 mark was the pivotal point of Ted's career. And yet, right square in the middle of the chapter highlighting this feat, he spends a good paragraph talking about wandering around with Johnny Orlando, the 'clubhouse boy'. Johnny's mentioned ten times in Ted's autobiography, and even has a full page picture with Ted in the center of the book.

I have to rely on the written word and interviews to form my opinions of Ted Williams. What I come away with is a guy who didn't like being criticized, who hated the Boston press, and who studied hitting like no one else and was truly the greatest hitter ever to play the game. To his many critics, he was arrogant. But like his defense, Ted Williams' humility is often overlooked. For Ted didn't go carousing with Toots Shor as many other famous ballplayers did. Instead, he spent his free time walking around at night with people he came to care about, like Johnny Orlando. From Mr. Cassie, a local San Diego janitor and father figure, to Rod Luscomb, a local athlete who pushed Ted to greater heights, to the Negro Leaguers he consistently championed, he was full of praise for the men and women who lived in the shadows. These were the people he cared about, and the people he played baseball for.

All-Star Woes

What a shame that nothing more was made of the possible strike against this year's All-Star Game. Let it be known that here at Mudville, we are in complete agreement with a player boycott of both the All-Star Game, and the post-season. Provided they still play baseball.

See, there's nothing on earth barring the players who belong to the New York Yankees to meet the players who play for the Minnesota Twins in a designated spot to play seven games in October with the words NEW YORK and MINNESOTA emblazoned across their chests. Granted, they can't legally call themselves the Twins or Yankees, but they could meet and play with the same intensity, even as the exact same teams. Same thing goes for the All-Star game.

Think about it—a bootleg Playoffs, World Series, All Star Game. All played in some neutral zone, perhaps a university football stadium. With the proceeds going to some great charity. Not to mention the fact that maybe the tickets could be priced in a range that the average fan could buy. The owners wouldn't show up, and neither would the crypt-keeper, Bud Selig.

The question is this: could this pipe dream become reality? Yes, we know that the baseball players are planning to strike, and understand that their needs are important to them. But if they're really concerned with the fan base, they wouldn't cancel the postseason. Not only would this endear the wealthies to a rapidly shrinking fan base, but it would be a slap in the face to the owners.

We Forgot How Much He Cares…

Thank God almighty, not enough people took the advice of USA Today's Paul White to vote for nothing but Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos to go to the All-Star Game. Oh joy of joys! To see the Expos' Lee Stevens at first instead of Colorado's Todd Helton!

Listen—Bud Selig won't give a hoot if the Twins or Expos fill the All-Star rosters or meet in the Series. As long as everyone's shelling out the dough he, and his cronies, are happier than the proverbial clams. If you want to believe that Selig's the tie-the-girl-to-the-tracks, curses-foiled-again! type, then more power to you. As for us, we'll stick to our letters and our withheld dollars to make some noise.

Interleague Play: It's Upsky, It's Downsky

Perhaps most of the game's problems come straight from the media. Consider the following:

A USA TODAY (online edition) Associated Press article, dated June 24, headlined "Interleague attendance up 16.2%" states: "Attendance was up 16.2% and an average of nearly 31,000 fans attended games during the first segment of interleague play. Intraleague games this season drew an average attendance of 26,604, but that number rose to 30,921 once the AL and NL faced off for 210 games over 15 days."

Next comes a Minneapolis Star-Tribune wire-services article, dated June 25: "Major League Baseball is drawing the smallest crowds for interleague play since it began in 1997, league officials said. Through the first 210 games between American League and National League teams this year, the average attendance has been 30,921, down 8.3 percent from last year's record average of 33,703."

Special thanks to the folks at USA Today for spinning it nicely for us!

Freebie And The Bean?

We're lamenting the lost art of intimidation in baseball, as body armor and the camaraderie of the Union boys keeps the beanball from being as effective as it once was. Even the Rocket—one of the throwbacks to the olden days—is immune as of late, walking the esteemed Mr. Bonds three times in four at-bats during a Giants/Yankees match. Yes, he smacked Barry on the edge of his prosthesis, but then he eased off the brute. What gives?

Pitchers, why not take to heart Don Drysdale's rule of free bases: don't intentionally walk 'em… hit 'em instead. For isn't this ticket to first base make it appear that the pitcher's scared? Not only is a thumped batter more fun than a free pass, but it's good strategy. For you better believe that batter'll be thinking about it the next time at bat.

Thank You Mr. Gardenhire:

Interestingly enough, the Twins' Ron Gardenhire is close to being thrown out of more games in his first year than in Tom Kelly's entire fifteen year career. Not only does this reflect Gardy's unflagging support of his team—not to mention the fact that he's ten times more interesting than the somnambulant Kelly—but so does the fact that he isn't badmouthing Joe Mays' search for arm help. We can't forget Kelly's needling Mark Redman while he was looking for help. Redman's already showing himself to be a decent pitcher with the Tigers with a 3.59 ERA and 112.2 IP, in spite of poor run support and the general malaise rooted in that club leaving him with a 3-8 won-lost record. Oh, couldn't the Twins use Redman's slow arm now. We wonder—with the injuries and the slumps, would Kelly have this team in first place with a five game lead?


For an interesting (though long-winded) view of all that is wrong and right in Major League Baseball, check out John Cassidy's article "Yankee Imperialist", in the July 8 New Yorker. Although the article has the NYer's typically soft criticism of anyone in its own backyard, its still an intriguing look at how "America's Team" (to Yankee fans only) has been able to remain so consistent. Although it's not specific to Baseball, Rich Cohen's article "The Boys of Winter" in the June Harper's, is an eloquent piece on the beauty of aging athletes. Last but never least, this August's Baseball Digest has not one, but two great articles on no-hitters: "Seven Most Improbable No-Hitters" by George Vass (please read this article if only to help us understand its bizarre last paragraph), and "All Stress, No Glory" by Steve Rosenbloom, about the role of catchers in the no-hit equation.

Other than that, it's been as dry as the Arizona countryside. As we've said before, we can't be everywhere at once, so please write to us to let us know your favorite scribes.

My Turn at Bat
By Ted Williams
John Underwood

© 2002 Loafer's Magazine. All Rights Reserved.