The Hate That Hate Produced
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
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): "
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
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.
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 ita 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!
ListenBud 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
Special thanks to the folks at USA Today for spinning it nicely
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 Rocketone of the throwbacks to the olden daysis
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 teamnot
to mention the fact that he's ten times more interesting than the somnambulant
Kellybut 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 wonderwith 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.
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your favorite scribes.