Damn Lovables If you don't like the Yankees, it's very possible you don't really like sports

November 08, 1999

When Chad Curtis caught the final fly ball of the 20th century
to give the New York Yankees their second World Series sweep in
a row, their third Series victory in four years, their 25th
Series triumph in a hundred, I sighed and thought, That's nice,
but the Boston Red Sox are so tragically beautiful in their
perpetual defeats, and the Chicago Cubs so adorable in their
eternal futility.

The hell I did. I high-fived my wife, yelled, whooped, clapped,
relived every inning with my kids, danced a little jig, stayed
up half the night clinging to the shards of another triumphant
year, put on Louis Armstrong and sang What a Wonderful World.

Exactly what is it about the Yankees that drives discerning
people like Rick Reilly (see his column in last week's SI, The
Team I Love to Hate) to displays of madness, in which they
invent frail justifications for not loving the lovable, not
admiring the admirable? How could Reilly write that "rooting for
the Yankees takes all the courage, imagination, conviction and
baseball intelligence of Spam"? As long as I'm asking: What is
the courage of Spam?

There's something twisted about a culture in which a fan of the
century's consistently best assemblage of professional athletes
has to explain himself, but here goes. And I'll do it on
Reilly's terms--imagination, conviction, baseball intelligence
and even courage.

To be sure, loving the Yankees in the 1950s and early '60s took
little courage or conviction. Watching a seemingly endless
parade of sluggers like Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Bill Skowron
and Roger Maris, one's tense moments only came from wondering
when the next ball would fly out of the park. A small amount of
baseball intelligence was required to appreciate Casey Stengel's
use of platooning and Whitey Ford's no-balk pickoff motion, but
the way those teams won was straightforward--good pitching,
superb fielding, power. As for imagination, that actually was
required--one could not imagine New York's losing. There was
even a musical comedy based on the preposterous notion that
there could be a year in which the Yankees lost the pennant.

From 1965 and until '94, however, loving the Yankees required
enormous reserves of courage and conviction. It didn't require
much baseball intelligence, because the New York teams of that
era didn't have any. One reason the decent young men on the
current Yankees team shun their team's coronation as a dynasty
may be that they recall that the Yankees of that 29-year period
won only two World Series. Also, those teams consisted of
individuals who were hardly easy to love. If you're looking for
a test of courage and conviction, try embracing Thurman Munson,
Graig Nettles, Reggie (I'm not running to first as fast I can)
Jackson and the consistently delightful and cooperative Rickey
Henderson.

Compare and contrast that unsavory lot to Scott Brosius, David
Cone, Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera
and Bernie Williams. All praise has amply and correctly been
lavished on these Yankees, the team of the 1990s. Only someone
who regards baseball intelligence as an oxymoron could fail to
marvel at a team that excels at all the little things--working
the count, going with the pitch, hitting-and-running, knowing
which pitcher to use in every situation. (In my book Joe Torre
was the Series MVP.) The lamest rap against the Yankees concerns
money: They bought the best players. Plenty of teams spend
buckets on players (how about those Baltimore Orioles?) but get
nowhere, and the vast majority of Yankees greats, now and
historically, came up through the system--Lou Gehrig, Joe
DiMaggio, Berra, Ford, Mantle, Williams, Rivera, Jeter.

If one still needs a reason to love the Yankees, try this: In
terms of talent, their position players--other than Williams and
Jeter--aren't great. An objective assessment would have
predicted a World Series loss in six to the 103-game-winning,
superb-pitching Braves. So why did New York triumph, seemingly
without breaking a sweat? For these Yankees winning is a feat of
attitude, of character, of wonder. Against them the RBI-rich
Texas Rangers can't buy a hit, Nomar Garciaparra suddenly makes
errors, and Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz are
hittable. Here's a team that makes gold out of Straw. What's not
to love?

What folks seem to hate most about the Yankees today is that
they win, but how sincere can these feelings be? Winning is why
people take to sports ("If they don't win, it's a shame...."),
and deep down, Reilly and his fellow travelers like the game too
much not to enjoy seeing it played at its best, with a touch of
magic. I don't think Reilly hates the Yankees. I think he hates
the Red Sox. Now that makes sense. Come home, Rick. It's a
wonderful world.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)