Friday, September 30, 2011
God and Baseball
Friday, September 30, 2011
First, a housekeeping matter. I’ve been informed by one of my loyal readers that there’s been some trouble posting comments lately. Even I have been having difficulty replying to comments, so the existence of some kind of glitch didn’t take me by surprise. I should say here that I haven’t necessarily been expecting comments on the rather thin content of the blog over the past two weeks, but the absence of even one was a little surprising. So thanks, Billie Bob, for letting me know.
I’ve just ventured into the bowels of the blog-creation site and have attempted to make a couple of changes, so I think commenting might be possible now. If it still isn’t, please let me know at my email address, email@example.com. Also, please know that I appreciate everyone’s presence out there in the ether. Some (in fact most) of you are close friends and relatives, and it’s as good a way to stay in touch as any, even if it’s mostly one-way communication from this direction. I understood very early on in the walk that the thing keeping me going wasn’t really the project; it was the fact that I was sharing it with others. Thanks for reading. And thanks also to the random commenters, the ones who maybe pick up on the fact that I’ve sat on the tombstone of one of their relatives or visited their home town, or maybe just pissed them off with my opinions. I’m happy to have perhaps made your day, either because you like what you’ve read or have disliked it and had a chance to tell me so.
Tonight the baseball playoffs begin. As almost everyone knows I’m a fan of the New York Yankees, the greatest and most successful franchise in the history of Major League Baseball, by far, if statistics mean anything. Baseball is a game of statistics, but for many statistics do not mean all that much. Some people identify strongly and emotionally with their local team, and don’t care about success, except on the rare occasions when it does visit their teams. Boston Red Sox fans come to mind, and indeed who can ignore them in that regard? What an amazing collapse they had this month, confirming once again the basic Boston attitude, which extends well beyond baseball or even sports, that the city is simultaneously blessed and hated by God above all other cities. They inveterately commit the sin of pride coupled with the sin of pride in reverse--both sides of the same coin. I believe the attitude of Boston partisans is informed most strongly by its historical domination by the Irish, a group who can’t help feeling that their perpetual disfavor in the eyes of the Almighty makes them special, when in truth they just might not be as wonderfully unique as they think they are.
I grew up rooting for the Detroit Tigers, to whom God was largely indifferent, and we were taught that hating the Yankees was a badge of pride, too. I remember rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Yanks in the 1960 World Series, the first one where I was fully aware of what was going on. The thing that makes someone side with the other league against a team from their own is a special kind of prejudice, a variation on the familiar maxim that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Nothing new, certainly, in either sports or international diplomacy. But why do people hate the Yankees so much? Or do they? I’ve been to two games this season in Anaheim where the Yankees have played the Angels, and in truth there were many New York partisans in the stands. But there’s that root-for-the-underdog thing at work, too, and compared to the New York Yankees all other teams are indeed underdogs, going all the way only once every generation or so, or, in the case of the hapless Red Sox, once every century. The Red Sox take it as a personal comment from their merciless God; the Yankees, on the other hand, don't need to either invoke or involve the Deity in what they do.
While living in Connecticut I had occasion to see both the Yankees and Red Sox in action quite often—in fact, every game of both teams was carried on the local cable franchise. As the great success of the Tigers in 1984 and again in 1985 began to fade from memory, my love of baseball inevitably drove me toward one of the local teams. (The Mets were never an option, both because they were a National League team and also because their fans are mostly from Queens and eastern Long Island. You have to have lived out there to completely understand what I’m getting at, but think Joey Buttafuco and Billy Joel and you’ll begin to get the picture.) I gravitated toward the Yankees because the Red Sox just never seemed like a viable option. I figured, why set yourself up for heartbreak year after year?
The Yankees have been in existence, depending on how you figure it, either since 1903 or since 1913 (when they changed their name from the Highlanders to the Yankees). They played in Manhattan, at Hilltop Park and the Polo Grounds, until moving to the Bronx in 1923. Their playing hasn’t been too shabby. It took them until 1921 to win a pennant and get into the World Series, and since then they’ve won an additional 39 pennants and 27 World Series. No other team has half that many titles, including National League teams that have been around since the 1880s. To put it into perspective, think of it this way: since they began as a New York team, on average they’ve finished the season at the top of the American League more often than once every three years, and have won the series once every four years. And that includes their first 20 years, in which they did neither.
Call me crazy, but I don’t see anything wrong with a sports team winning year in and year out. As a Tigers fan I would have been delighted to be backing a team with such a high rate of success. It had been a mere accident of birth and my dad's occupation that brought me to the Detroit area in the first place. No one in my family was from that part of Michigan. The closest anyone came to that was my paternal grandfather, who emigrated from the Netherlands to Grand Rapids, on the other side of the state, and soon moved to Chicago, and my grandmother, who hailed from Reed City. Neither of those Michigan locales considers Detroit to be much more than a remote den of iniquity. Still, the need to match up one’s fandom to one’s heritage is strong, so I focused instead on my mother’s side of the family. It turns out that in the first half of the 1600s some of them came from Holland and France and England to Manhattan, and others settled in what is now Brooklyn, after being forced out of Boston for nonconformity with the Puritan religion. They were among the original Yankees. So there you have it. The New York Yankees were, for me, the logical choice.
In a few hours the Yankees will go up against the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series, the first round of the playoffs. Based on the way the Yankees have been playing so far this week, the outcome of the series is very far from a given for the Bronx Bombers. Some of that I attribute to the clumsy and questionable managing style of Joe Girardi, who’s been resting Derek Jeter and others far too much in my opinion, and using players from the expanded roster a bit too often—probably a throwback to Girardi's days as a catcher, where it was a given that someone at his position needed all the rest he could get starting around the middle of August. Take Jeter out of the lineup and you are doing more than resting your shortstop—you’re making your captain sit out a game--not a good strategy in my opinion. And I guarantee that Jeter doesn’t like it, though he’s too much of a team guy to bitch about it.
As for the way they played Tampa Bay earlier this week, if I were a Red Sox fan (unthinkable, except in the most abstract of ways), I’d swear the Yankees threw that series just to keep Boston out of the wild card. Or maybe it was just God, telling the Beantowners once again, “I hate you guys.”