The Yankees weren't quite "just another team" to me, I was aware of their past and knew they'd won many World Series, but that was all quite literally in another lifetime, and to the extent that I had any negative feelings about them at all, it was because they'd been the Indians' rivals in "Major League." Clu Haywood, I hated. Don Mattingly, he played first base for Springfield Nuclear, how could I have anything but love for him? The Yankees' history was nice, but it didn't mean much to me, and neither did they. Soon though, that changed.
I remember watching Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship, between the Yankees and Orioles. That was the game in which young Jeffrey Maier reached out into the field of play and turned an out into a Derek Jeter home run. It would have made sense for me to be against Baltimore in that series, because they'd just knocked the Indians out of the playoffs, but when the umpires failed to rule correctly that the ball had been an out, I was unhappy about it. For whatever reason, I wanted the Yankees to lose.
Fourteen years later, here I am. I won't recount all the highs and lows of Yankee-hating from over those years, needless to say there have been plenty of each. I'm 32 years old now and I've faced troubles considerably more serious than a baseball season in getting here. Besides, hating is a young man's game.
Yet there I was Wednesday night, watching Game 3 of the Yankees/Orioles series, having already seen the reanimated corpse of Raul Ibanez tie the game on a 9th inning home run. I was at my girlfriend's apartment, so she was there when Ibanez stepped to the plate again in the 12th and I said to no one in particular:
"Go ahead and let him hit another fucking home run... then let someone shoot me in the face."
She was charmed, I'm sure.
I was sickened by the sight of Yankees fans in my feed getting to enjoy the moment, and tweeted something about how unbelievably stupid baseball can be. This lead to some good-natured teasing from a couple others on Twitter, which I handled with all the aplomb and maturity of an eight-year-old. Thursday morning I apologized for being such a baby. One of my Twitter friends asked in all sincerity, "Why so much hate?" It's a fair question, something worth pondering during the hangover after a good hate-induced bender.
I know why of all the teams out there, the Yankees are the one I hate. They've had so much success and have so many advantages bestowed upon them by the simple grace of money, which are obvious and understandable reasons to dislike them. Why does my dislike for them run so deep though? Why has it ruined dozens of my autumn nights over the years?
The hatred began because they played the Indians in consecutive playoffs, but it continued to grow after Cleveland stopped making the postseason every season. Only once in the last eleven years have the Indians made the playoffs, so I've rarely had the opportunity since college to devote my passion to rooting for them in October. I think my Yankee-hating has grown to such unhealthy depths because it's been the only consistent outlet for caring deeply come playoff time.
I was happy to cheer for the Orioles this week, just as I've been happy to cheer for the Twins and Angels and Red Sox at times, because anyone but New York, you know? But I haven't been close to those teams, I haven't felt any real connection with them. The connection is always with the Yankees. Jeter has been there, Rivera has been there. Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez became Alfonso Soriano and Jason Giambi, who became Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano, but they all wear the pinstripes and the pinstripes are always there.
Does that mean I'd miss the Yankees if they weren't there to hate? I can assure you I enjoyed it in 2008 when for the first time in the life of my hatred, New York missed the playoffs. Perhaps celebrating a regular season demise wouldn't be as sweet if it became a regular occurrence. I haven't had the chance to find out though, and I don't suspect I'll get one anytime soon.
The Tigers and A's were playing at the same time as the Yankees and Orioles on Thursday, so I avoided getting too worked up about things in the Bronx by watching Justin Verlander do his thing. Instead of rejoicing when the Yankees lost though, I just lamented that they hadn't held on the night before, since the series would now be over if they had. Today I watched Game 5, but found some chores to do along the way, usually while the Yankees were batting (they still haven't figured out a way to score from the mound!). I was resigned to an eventual defeat for the Orioles, so at least I wasn't surprised when it happened.
I wish I could tone my feelings about the Yankees down, take pleasure in their failures without the anguish over their success, but if I haven't figured it out by now...
Tomorrow night, I'll be at a going away party for two friends, so maybe I'll be unable to watch any of the game. Maybe I'll just see the score when I get home and sigh. Probably though, I'll find a way to watch, and at some point some schmuck in pinstripes will get a big hit, millions of jerks will celebrate, and I'll quietly fume in the corner, wishing someone would just shoot me in the face.