In his new book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," ESPN.com senior writer Jim Caple explains why we hate the Yankees and -- sigh -- why we also desperately need them. As Boston and New York meet for their first spring game Monday, the following excerpt (pulled from Chapters 6 and 7) describes the differences and the rivalry between Yankees fans and Red Sox fans. Copyright (c) 2005 by Jim Caple. Excerpted by permission of Plume/Penguin Group. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
No one enjoys filing an income tax return but at least the IRS isn't constantly phoning you at home to brag about how much money they took during the 1998 tax year. Yankees fans, however, are under the impression that no newspapers ever print the American League standings. You have as good a chance of hearing a humble Yankees fan as you do hearing a woman's voice calling into a sports talk radio show.
They are as persistent as a telemarketer working on straight commission. No matter the setting, no matter the occasion, if you sit next to Yankees fans, they'll brag about the team until your ears start bleeding.
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Yeah, yeah, I know. The Yankees won 125 games in 1998, including a four-game sweep of the Padres in the World Series, which they've won a total of 26 times. And yeah, I know, Babe Ruth still holds the American League record for most career home runs and Mickey Mantle holds the record for most home runs by a switch-hitter. And yeah, I know, there are 17 players wearing a Yankees cap in the Hall of Fame. Now, will you shut up, Father, and listen to my confession?
Heaven forbid you bring up the 2004 postseason or say something else derogatory about the Yankees. If you don't genuflect before the Yankees altar and ask permission to kiss their World Series ring, their fans want John Ashcroft to tap your phone.
Believe me, I know -- I get a lot of hate mail from Yankees fans because of my columns. I don't pay much attention to it, at least not until it builds up every month or so and I have to hire a crew to move the piles blocking my car in the garage.
What I find most interesting in the hate mail is that the vast majority of Yankees fans simply cannot fathom the possibility that anyone could hate their team unless he or she also roots for the Red Sox. It's simply beyond their capacity to imagine that there are people all over the world who hate the Yankees for their own very legitimate reasons, and not just because they live in Boston.
The thing is, though, people hate the Yankees everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Brazilian researchers recently discovered an Indian tribe in so remote a part of the Amazon that these natives had never been exposed to western society. Although I cannot absolutely, positively vouch for this, I believe the only words they were able to understand were "Jeter sucks."
Yankees fans not only think their team is the greatest in the history of sports, they consider themselves to be the most knowledgeable, the most loyal and the most supportive fans in the history of the game. They refuse to acknowledge that fans in other cities love baseball and the local team as much as they do.
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Are Yankees fans the most supportive in baseball? Sure, they've drawn staggering crowds the past couple seasons but let's look back a little further. From 1987-1994, the Minnesota Twins outdrew the Yankees, this despite the fact that New York City's population is roughly five times that of the Twin Cities. Granted, that was during a span when the Twins won two world championships and New York failed to even reach the postseason (sigh, weren't those the salad days?), but fan support for the Yankees has been lacking even when the team won championships. The Yankees went to the World Series three times from 1962-1965 and yet were outdrawn during that span by the expansion Mets, who averaged 113 losses and finished in last place each season, a combined 195½ games out of first place.
If you want the most supportive fans in baseball, go to St. Louis, where the Cardinals have outdrawn the Yankees over the past quarter century even though St. Louis' population barely matches the number of New York City's homeless.
True, Yankee Stadium's bleacher bums ARE devoted and knowledgeable baseball fans. Their roll-call ritual in the first inning (chanting the name of each player until he acknowledges them with a wave of the glove) is one of baseball's best traditions next to Cubs fans passing out under the El tracks. They can be clever enough that even the opposing players who are recipients of this abuse have to smile in appreciation. But the fans also can be so crude that Suge Knight would flee for the safety of the family section.
|Unlike the Inuit, who supposedly have 50 words to describe snow, Yankees fans have a more limited language. They rely on one word, "Sucks," to convey a wide range of ideas, emotions and preferences through inflection, expression and the surrounding words in the sentence. At first the language can seem confusing but by practicing a few helpful phrases you soon will be able to communicate like a native.|
|"You suck!"||"Excuse me."|
|"This sucks!"||"How many days have those hot dogs been sitting on the grill?"|
|"Ted Williams sucks!"||"Does your hotel have air-conditioning?"|
|"Piazza sucks!"||"Heads up! Duck!"|
|"Jose Reyes sucks!"||"Is there a pharmacy nearby where I can buy a dandruff shampoo? I can't seem to get this ticker-tape out of my hair."|
|"Shea Stadium sucks!"||"Where may I throw away my garbage?"|
|"Steinbrenner sucks!"||"Steinbrenner sucks!"|
"One time during batting practice, some kid who was nine or 11 years old was yelling at Pedro Munoz to throw him a ball," relief pitcher Eddie Guardado says. "He wasn't asking him, he was telling him. 'Pedro, throw me a ball.' I was new to the majors so I said, 'Why don't you throw him a ball?' And he said, 'No. They're jerks so I never throw them the ball.'
"Finally, he gets tired of hearing the kid and throws him a baseball. And the kid catches the ball and yells back, 'F--- you!' and then gives him the finger."
It's just their way of saying thank you.
The World's Greatest Fans aren't as brutal as they used to be, but it's not because Yankees fans have become more genteel. It's just that the Yankees, in a rare display of wisdom, have banned beer sales in the bleachers, beefed up security and set up so many surveillance cameras that even the Department of Homeland Security probably thinks it's a little intrusive. Even so, they threw so much garbage on the field during Game 6 of the 2004 championship series that major league security stationed riot police at the edge of the field, giving new meaning to the term "guarding the lines."
The one saving grace is that for all their arrogance -- the self-satisfied smirk is as much a Yankees tradition as the interlocking NY logo -- New York fans can never truly enjoy their victories.
Sure, there is an undeniable pleasure in rooting for a winning team and in being able to look down on other fans with equal measures of superiority and disdain. But that's also the Ruthian drawback in rooting for the Yankees (along with high ticket prices, overpriced concessions and crude neighbors). The true pleasure in sports comes not from simply winning, but from watching a team overcome adversity to win in the end. The joy of sports is never the final destination, it's the journey. It's experiencing the highs and lows, and appreciating those highs all the more because of the awful lows.
The World's Greatest Fans can't know that. The Yankees have been so successful, they are so rich and so stocked with talent, that anything less than a World Series victory is a complete disappointment. And by the same token, if they win, there is no real sense of accomplishment. As George Costanza says on the old Seinfeld episode when Jeter and Bernie point out to him that they won the World Series: "It took you six games."
It's too easy being a Yankees fan. Anyone can root for a team that wins all the time. The test of a real fan is whether you have the character to stick with your team through thick and thin. Anyone can be loyal to a team when it wins a World Series but the question is whether you still love them when your parents hang up on the one phone call you're allowed from jail after being arrested for slashing the tires of the opposing shortstop's car again.
* * * * *
Which brings us to the Red Sox fans ...
Red Sox fans have always hated the Yankees. It's not enough to wear a Red Sox jersey or cap, devout fans must wear the ubiquitous "Yankees Suck!" and "Jeter Swallows" T-shirts. There is even a collection of unofficial Yankee Hater baseball caps, in colors and styles specifically designed for fans in different cities (I think they have a couple just for Hillary Rodham Clinton, depending on which stadium she's trying to appeal to voters in).
"We've sold caps in every single state in the U.S.," says Michael Moorby, who produces and sells the caps on his website, Yankeeshater.com. "The people are out there. People really like to see the Yankees fail. It's becoming a booming market. ... We have a lot of parents buying stuff for their kids. We have a bunch of baby portraits with the kids in the cap. I'm not kidding -- it runs deep. People tell stories, 'My father was a Yankee hater and his father was a Yankee hater.'"
Red Sox fans have joined themselves to Yankees fans like a kidney patient hooking himself to a dialysis machine, only with more pain and mental anguish usually involved over the years. No matter the occasion, Boston fans instinctively turn their thoughts to the Yankees.
"Yankees suck! Yankees suck! Yankees suck!"
"That's a very beautiful thought, Patrick, and I'm sure your dear Mary is thinking the exact same thing wherever she is. But the priest says you need to step away from the casket now."
Asked to explain the fundamental difference between Sox fans and Yankees fans, YankeeHater.com's Moorby replied it was a simple one. "It's 'How can we manage to blow this game?' versus 'How can we find a way to win it?'"
Moorby, of course, said that prior to the 2004 championship series, back when a typical conversation between a Red Sox fan and a Yankees fan still went something like this:
Red Sox Fan: The biggest problem with Yankees fans is you're spoiled rotten. You've won too many times to really enjoy a championship. The champagne of victory never tastes so sweet until you've choked on the vomit of defeat while hugging the toilet in the bathroom of the Cask and Flagon at three in the morning.
Yankees fan: Nineteen-Eighteen.
Red Sox fan: The Yankees spend so much money that anything less than a championship is a letdown. You'll never know the thrill that comes with overcoming impossible odds to snatch the ultimate prize. To appreciate winning, you first have to know the agony of being rushed to the hospital with a 104-degree fever after getting infected from a non-sterile needle while having "Steinbrenner sucks" tattooed on your rear end.
Yankees fan: Bucky Dent.
Red Sox fan: Actually, I feel sorry for you, I really do. People who've never known unrequited love can never truly appreciate love. You have to know what it's like to have brain cancer slowly eat into your brain cells after using a lead-based face paint for an entire 81-game home schedule, plus spring training and the postseason.
Yankees fan: Bill Buckner.
Red Sox fan: All right, that does it. I've had it with you. Shut your @#&%@ing piehole!
Yankees fan: Roger Clemens.
Red Sox fan: Jeter sucks!
Yankees fan: Aaron Boone.
Red Sox fan: @#$& you!!!
The conversation usually broke down from there.
Everything is different now thanks to Boston's 2004 comeback. Now, a conversation goes like this.
Yankees fan: All right, so you finally won one series against us when it actually meant something. Now get over yourselves.
Red Sox fan: Who's your Papi!!!
Yankees fan: Actually, I think it's kind of nice that you won, I really do. At least now we don't have to hear your pathetic whining about how much you suffered over all those years. Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen King should finally be happy.
Red Sox fan: David Ortiz!
Yankees fan: I mean, it's not like this changes anything. We've still won 26 championships since 1918 and you've still only won one and we're still going to kick your ass again next year. You do know that don't you?
Red Sox fan: Kevin Brown!
Yankees fan: All right, that does it. I've had it with you. Shut your @#&%@ing piehole!
Red Sox fan: A-Fraud!
Yankees fan: @#$& you!
Red Sox fan: @#$& you!
There is nothing wrong with this. The beauty of a great sport rivalry is that it allows otherwise intelligent, mature people to act like fraternity boys during rush week. The whole point of letting a rivalry get overheated is that it allows us to take a break from filling out Bill Lumbergh's stupid TPS reports and feel honest to God passion for a night without having to buy a copy of Maxim magazine first. Rivalries give us an excuse to spend $250 on officially-licensed replica jersey, show up to the game in a rainbow wigs while holding up a "Jeter .316" sign and egg the opposing team's bus when they leave the ballpark.
And if Rudy Giuliani is suddenly prohibited from doing that, what are the normal fans supposed to do? It's not like you can return face paint to the store after you've opened it.