|For every hero, we need a villain|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist
Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the first game played by the New York Yankees (then known as the Highlanders), which they lost 3-1. After that first defeat, owner George Steinbrenner fired manager Clark Griffith and replaced him with Billy Martin.
Hah! I'm only kidding. Everyone knows that Steinbrenner hadn't even been conceived by Mia Farrow and the Lord of Darkness 100 years ago, let alone taken over majority ownership of the Yankees. It's just a joke. No need for angry Yankees fans to fire off e-mails, though I'm sure they will anyway. Without fail, whenever I write anything even tangentially derogatory toward the team, Yankees fans blast me with e-mails. Once I get past the profane language and misspellings, they all accuse me of the same crime.
I'm a jealous Red Sox fan who hates the Yankees.
That's not the case at all, though. Yes, admittedly, I grew up a Red Sox fan, but my Boston allegiances are buried so far beneath my impartiality as a journalist that unearthing them would take longer than the Big Dig. And I don't hate the Yankees. I actually love the team. They make my job so much easier. No other team inspires such passionate opinions -- for and against. No other team provides such consistent material for satire. Just when you think you can finally ignore them for a couple weeks, they're back in the headlines again. Why, they just sent a $32 million pitcher to the minors over the weekend. How can you not mock them?
We need the Yankees the same way Rocky Balboa needed Apollo Creed, Luke Skywalker needed Darth Vader and Delta House needed Dean Wormer.
What would baseball be without the Yankees? A much better, healthier and more equitable world, for sure, but a far less interesting one as well.
Face it. Baseball without the Yankees would be like "Casablanca" without the Nazis.
That's why Page 2 is "borrowing" a page from the American Film Institute to present our Heroes and Villains week. We dedicate the next five days to those inspiring people in sports who make us want to stand and cheer, as well as those sports figures who make us want to stand and throw a cell phone at their skulls. We'll give you our favorite heroes (Jackie Robinson, Lou Gehrig, Muhammad Ali) as well as our favorite villains (Steinbrenner, Bobby Knight, Mike Tyson).
Because it's both of them, heroes and villains, that make sports so rich, dramatic and entertaining.
Sure, it's fun to root, root, root for the home team but isn't it a whole lot more satisfying to root for them when they're beating a team owned by someone truly evil, like Steinbrenner, Al Davis or Art Modell? Don't you get more emotional when your school takes the field against a rival that has been kicking your ass since Rich Gannon was a freshman? Weren't the Olympics more fun before the Soviet Union broke up and there was an entire country to root against?
For every Alabama, there must be an Auburn (and vice-versa). For every Green Bay Packer, there needs to be an Oakland Raider. For every Hickory High, there needs to be a UNLV. For every Joe DiMaggio, there needs to be a Morris Engelberg.
The best villains provide not only an adversary for our heroes to cut down but for them to measure up against as well. I'm sure David knocked off a bunch of shorter, small-market opponents, but it was killing Goliath that turned him into a king. The U.S. won the gold medal in hockey in 1980 but people don't remember that team for beating Finland in the championship game, they remember it for beating the Soviets in the semifinals. We would have cheered Jesse Owens winning four gold medals anywhere, anytime but what made his accomplishment special was winning them in Germany in front of Hitler.
Yes, it's always great to win a championship, but when you also take it away from a team that represents greed, avarice, the IRS, cable TV companies and everything else that represents evil -- in other words, when you beat the Yankees -- that is truly an achievement worth celebrating.
Beating a team makes you a winner. It's beating a villain that makes you a hero.
So, bring them on, heroes and villains both. Bring on Ruth and Jordan, Mays and Mantle, Gretzky and Elway. And bring on Steinbrenner and Modell, Rodman and Laimbeer, Drago and Tyson, too. Bring on the yin and the yang, the alpha and the omega, the Twins and the Yankees.
And while you're at it, bring on the e-mail, Yankees fans. I can handle it.
Sheesh. How do so many of you people have access to the Internet on Riker's Island, anyway?
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Yankees fans can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.