Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Friday, October 26, 2001
Hating the Yanks can still be national pastime

By Jim Caple
Page 2

Given that even Paul ("All You Need Is Glove") McCartney is now openly rooting for the Bronx Bombers, these are difficult days for fans who despise the Yankees, which is usually just about everyone beyond the last subway stop.

NY Fans
What's happening in New York is a real feel-good story ... but remember they're still the Yankees.
On the one hand, New York is recovering from the deadly terrorist attacks, with the entire world embracing the city in a show of sympathy, support and solidarity. Those Yankee Stadium regulars who crudely jeer and shower opponents with garbage suddenly seem to embody the city's remarkable strength, defiance, resiliency and spirit. The team's play provides a source of joy and release for many New Yorkers, so much so that their postseason run has become an almost noble endeavor. As manager Joe Torre said after beating the Mariners, "We had more than a responsibility to baseball fans. We had one to the city, to represent them and bring a smile to their faces."

On the other hand, they are still the Yankees.

This is the team that has won the World Series so often and so regularly that its annual schedule includes the mandatory date pitchers and catchers must report to the ticker-tape parade. This is the team that hogs so much autumn prime time that it's as if their 24-hour channel is already on the air. This is the team so arrogant and so proprietary of its postseason success that it charges other teams a royalty for playing any games in the month of October.

They have won three World Series in a row, losing only one game in that span. They have won four of the past five World Series and are attempting to win five of six. They have won 26 World Series since 1923, or one in three. They are the richest and most successful team in professional American sports, earning the animosity of generations of fans.

  You are not compelled to root for the Yankees, no matter how much of your heart is with New Yorkers. They are the Yankees, after all, the team that beats up on everyone every summer, not New York, the city we want to smother in a group hug. 
  

The Yankees damn near killed off interest in baseball during their reign in the 1950s and early '60s, and they threaten to do so again unless someone stops them and makes the World Series interesting again.

As it is, their annual march through the postseason has become so routine that it's to the point where we almost welcome the arrival of those much-hyped Fox shows, just so that we won't have to see the Yankees again (what with all the dugout close-ups though, I'm not sure whether the star of that new show, "24," is Kiefer Sutherland or Torre).

And yet when you see the players wearing FDNY caps during batting practice or firefighters in the stands or police officers singing "God Bless America" or Hizzonor himself, Sir Rudy Giuliani, sitting in the front row -- well, rooting against the Yankees at this time, as Seattle catcher Tom Lampkin says, "almost seems unpatriotic."

We all know where Lampkin is coming from. But rooting for a team is still about baseball, not patriotism, no matter how many flag-waving fans Fox cameras show each game.

Rudy Giuliani
Mayor Rudy Giuliani, right, has spent about as much time with Joe Torre lately as Derek Jeter usually does.
You are not compelled to root for the Yankees, no matter how much of your heart is with New Yorkers. They are the Yankees, after all, the team that beats up on everyone every summer, not New York, the city we want to smother in a group hug. In fact, there is not a single starter on the Yankees postseason roster who lists New York City as his residence, and only Bernie Williams lists a residence in the state of New York.

I asked Derek Jeter last week whether he found it surprising to have the Yankees suddenly be the warm and fuzzy story of the postseason. He disagreed. He said Chicago fans cheered the Yankees their first game after Sept. 11, then went right back to booing them.

"I think people in the past hated New Yorkers, or said New Yorkers had some huge attitude," he said. "When you see how New York has come together, I think that impression has changed a little. But I don't think the attitude toward the Yankees is going to change. I think you either love us or you hate us."

And that's the way it should be. As the president has instructed us again and again, we need to return to our normal lives. And for most of the country, healthy normal well-rounded lives include hating the Yankees.

The last thing a team with 26 world championships and the most money in baseball deserves, needs or desires is sympathy.

So don't feel ashamed if you find yourself pulling for Randy Johnson to strike out Jeter. Don't feel like you're being disloyal to the country when you yell at Paul O'Neill to shut his yap and sit down when he bitches about a called third strike from Curt Schilling. Don't be afraid to openly root for the Diamondbacks (who, after all, probably will endure a depressing fire sale next season, while the Yankees will be back as usual to haunt us again).

We can cheer the New York spirit. We can admire Torre and applaud his thoughtful, uplifting words. We can proudly salute the dedicated and brave recovery workers who make their way to the stadium for a couple hours needed entertainment. We can stand with our hands on our hearts and sing "New York, New York" so loud they can hear us back in the 212 area code.

But we can still draw the line at rooting for George Steinbrenner's continued success.

After all, in addition to being the game's most insufferable owner, he lives in Tampa.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.