So it happened. A miracle. In the 2009 World Series, I became a Yankee fan. May Dad forgive me.
My first memory of why I should hate the Yankees goes back to when I was kid in the 1950s. My dad had a simple political analysis as to why being a Yankee fan was not possible in our house.
He was a liberal FDR Democrat. Liberals, he taught me, cared about the little guy and always rooted for the underdog. Republicans, he believed, had most of the money and had most of the advantages and won most of the time (These were the Eisenhower years, after all, where the GOP controlled the Congress and the White House).
We lived in Jersey City, and there were two other New York teams available to root for besides the Yankees: the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants.
The Dodgers, my dad would say, were the blue-collar guys, affectionately called the “Bums.” They brought up Jackie Robinson and broke the race barrier. Normally they would be the liberals, the good guys, and worth rooting for.
But wait. They had one major deficiency.
They didn’t have No. 24. They didn’t have the Say Hey Kid, our hero. They didn’t have Willie Mays. The N.Y. Giants did. So we were Giants fans.
Another reason: The Giants, dad explained, were more middle class, more in the middle-of-the-road. Always be a liberal, he taught me, but it’s OK to be in the middle too so you can understand both sides. If you want to be a politician some day, he advised, that’s where the votes are.
So we were Giants fans.
And what about the Yankees? I would ask, knowing what his answer and explanation would be, but wanting dad to repeat it for the 106th time.
“The Yankees????” he would ask with consternation. “The Yankees????”
My father explained his hatred for the Yankees:
“You see, the Yankees win all the time — they have all that money — they even wear pinstripes on their uniforms, for goodness sake. Why, they walk, talk and look like [long pause, a look of disgust] … Republicans!!!!”
‘Nuff said. Now I understood.
Republicans! How could they get any lower than that? I asked.
So it was clear, I had to hate the Yankees — and did for a long time.
My father was right: They did win most of the time. In the 1950s, when I was just old enough to begin my love affair with the game of baseball, they would win the World Series in six out of 10 years in the 1950s and took five straight World Series from 1949 to 1953.
Then in 1962, I sat in the Yankee Stadium bleachers for one game of the World Series and watched the Yankees defeat my beloved Giants (now moved to San Francisco). The bleacher seats were far from home plate, but who cared? I was about 50 yards or so from my hero, Willie Mays, No. 24, and I spent most of the game staring at him and wishing, wishing, he’d turn around, wave at me, and say, “Say hey, Lanny.”
It seemed so unfair that the Yankees won all the time. They had The Babe and Lou Gehrig in the 1920s and 1930s, when they won eight World Series. Then they had Joe DiMaggio in the 1940s, when they won five World Series. Then they had Mickey Mantle in the 1950s and, toward the end of the decade, Roger Maris too, when, as I said, they won six World Series in 10 years.
And as for Mickey Mantle, that was one more reason to hate the Yankees: Some people actually had the chutzpah to say that Mickey Mantle was better than Willie Mays. Fuhgeddaboudit!!!
Then, finally, there seemed to be some economic and social justice in the world. The Yankees didn’t win a World Series for 17 years — from 1979 to 1995. But if it’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true. In the late 1990s, the Yankees started to be Yankees again. In the last five years of the 20th century, they won three World Series. And in one of those years, 1998, they won 114 regular-season games — an American League record.
Despite my family history — our DNA! — my young son, Josh, probably at the age of 7 or 8, announced that he was a Yankee fan.
“What??? How can you?” I asked him. “You can’t. You just can’t. It’s against family tradition. You will make your late grandpa cry in Heaven.”
“I like them,” Josh said, providing the definitive and, as I understood from the tone of his voice, the final answer.
“Well, I am still going to hate them,” I warned him.
He shrugged his shoulders. No effect there.
But then came the 2009 World Series. Moved by Josh’s excitement when the Yankees won the pennant and as the World Series began, I tried to give them another look. I truly did. Do it for Josh, I rationalized.
And — miracle! I almost find it hard to type these words — I found myself rooting for the Yankees against the Philadelphia Phils in this fall’s World Series.
As I look back, there were three reasons I can figure out for my evolving change of heart toward the Yankees:
First, they hadn’t won the Series for eight straight seasons — from 2001 to 2008 — and had lots of turmoil and chaos. Reminded me of the Democratic Party before Bill Clinton.
Second, the Phils had won the year before, and they were described as the “favorites” by a lot of sportswriters. Right there — that took away the Republican “feel” that I had for the Yankees; could it be that it was the Phils who now were the favorites, the real Republicans in this Series?
Finally, there were the players. I really learned to like the players and to read about them. The great Derek Jeter, “Godzilla” Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, C.C. Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Jorge Posada, and, most of all — there was the great Alex Rodriguez — A-Rod — who overcame a difficult personal crisis in the beginning of the 2009 season, when he admitted to having used steroids (rather than lying or maintaining silence like you-know-who).
Defying his critics and doomsayers, A-Rod more than vindicated himself as one of the great hitters in the history of baseball — with a postseason batting average of .365, six home runs, 18 RBI, 15 runs scored, and a .500 on-base percentage.
Had A-Rod become my new Willie Mays? Not a chance — no one would ever replace the Say Hey Kid in my heart. But still, I liked A-Rod.
So I am still not a loyal Yankees fan. I root, of course, for my home team — the Washington Nationals. But, its nice not to hate anymore, whether in politics or in sports. Its much nicer to like. And I like the Yankees — at least for now.
Ok, Josh- - you won. Sorry, Dad. You understand the power of a father’s love for a son better than anyone I know.
• Lanny J. Davis, a Washington lawyer and former special counsel to President Clinton, served as a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. He is the author of “Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics is Destroying America.” This piece is also published at http://pundits.thehill.com/
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