Originally published in the October 17, 1977, edition of The Baltimore Sun, this column appears here with permission from the author’s estate.
I admit it. I’m a Yankee fan, always have been. It wasn’t my fault, really… you see, my grandfather…
Well, enough apologies. The fact is I’m glad the Yankees are back and if you had any sense, you would be too.
Just as we owe a debt of gratitude to David Frost for giving the nation three nights of undiluted purging hate on the eye last spring, we all owe George Steinbrenner thanks as well.
Yankee hating began in earnest in the ‘20s and continued unabated for 40 years. Generations of Americans grew up with this rock-solid emotional fact. The dollar might slide, America might lose a war, Chuck ‘n’ Bill might speak a grammatical sentence. But the Yankees were the best team in baseball and the Yankees were always there to hate.
A bleak 10 years, roughly coinciding with America’s involvement in Vietnam, began with the spring of 1965. The Yankees were out of contention. The nation as a whole descended into malaise. In fact, the dollar took a dive and America lost a war. The nation’s mood became so depressed and surly that even the newsmagazines noticed.
In baseball, things were not better. Total no-counts were winning pennants. Somebody said the Orioles even won pennants. Interest in baseball slipped to an all-time low. Things go so bad, even Bowie Kuhn noticed. Sociologists speculated, think tanks produced reports, theories abounded. Baseball was a radio game, football a television game. Life in America had sped past baseball’s measured pace. Nonsense.
The problem was simply a lack of Yankees as we knew them—bad, rich, arrogant and talented. Sure, there were other teams winning pennants, even two or three in a row. But were they good enough to hate?
Take the Orioles, as Jerry Hoffeberger is wont to beg. Earl Weaver is not a nice man, especially when he’s been drinking oysters. He also ruins promising rookies has a winning record as a manager. So much for his strong points. But can the average American hate Earl Weaver? No, the average American would not forget a game against an expansion team in the middle of a tight pennant race. This is not to hate. This is to pity.
Nobody pities the Yankees. True champions require no pity. In fact, they can play better with 40,000 lunatic fans screaming their hate across some unfamiliar American League field.
I remember one game this year wherein some Memorial Stadium bleacherite barely missed Reggie Jackson with a firecracker. Reggie responded at the plate with 3-for-4 night, including a line drive home run that barely missed the offending fan.
So what if Reggie hates Thurman Munson? Both had great years. So what if Billy Martin hates George Steinbrenner? Both came up with a winner against a series of bad breaks and the combined wills of 170 million Americans (I exclude infants and some residents of New York City). So what if the Yankees walk into a restaurant and ask for 25 tables for one? Why should they themselves not enjoy the national pastime, which is, after all, Yankee hating?
I need not point out to the true fan that interest in baseball this year reached an all-time high. For the first time in two decades, more people followed baseball than football in America. Attendance was up in almost every major league city, even quasi-major-league cities where they draw 4,000 fans to see their team fight for the pennant.
So, enjoy the series, Baltimore. Crack open a Boh and think what might have been. Give yourself over to the satisfying orgy of October sour grapes. The Yankees are back—richer, haughtier, and badder than ever. I’m glad. I admit it. And things can only get better. I have it on good authority that Steinbrenner’s got a few million left. And he’s bidding for Eddie Murray and Ken Singleton.