Why I’m a fan of the New York Yankees
In 1962 I started to follow baseball. My father got me interested in it. He had grown up in Brooklyn, two local subway stops from Ebbets Field and had been a big Brooklyn Dodgers fan. The team moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and in 1962 was replaced by an expansion team, The New York Mets. The Mets did not particularly appeal to me. They lost a lot yet were known as loveable losers. They were probably known that way because of their manager Casey Stengel, who is one of the funniest people who ever lived. If I had understood Casey’s humor, as a young boy, I would probably be the all-time biggest Mets’ fan but at that age, I didn’t get it. The other local choice was The New York Yankees. They did not particularly appeal to me because they almost always won. Their record from 1921–1964 is not only the best for any sports team in history but probably ranks up there for domination with certain Wall Street investment houses and maybe some great European monarchies.
I started rooting for The San Francisco Giants. They had a very good team and the most exciting player in baseball, Willie Mays. Some years they would win and often they would come in second. I would see them on the rare occasions they played The Mets or would appear on NBC’s The Game of the Week, read about them in The Sporting News, look at box score but mainly got up in the morning and heard on the radio how they did the night before. I loved baseball, knew every player on every team but it really didn’t affect my day-to-day moods.
In 1972 The Giants got off to a bad start, attendance was down and the team was having financial problems. Willie May was now 40 years old, and under the best of terms, they traded him to The New York Mets. To me, The Giants without Willie Mays weren’t The Giants, especially having given him to The Mets. I wasn’t going to root for Willie Mays’ new team The Mets. They had transformed from loveable loser to beloved champions wining The World Series in 1969. They could do no wrong in the eyes of the New York public and that did not appeal to me. We could discuss my faulty logic but I’ll talk to you further about it when we have a drink.
That summer I was working as a camp counselor and I told my co-worker of my search for a new favorite team. He told me to start rooting for The New York Yankees. It seemed an odd choice. After 1964, the Yankees suffered a spectacular collapse and would finish in last place in 1966. They soon recovered to become a mediocre team. They would win about as many games as they would lose and the team seemed very boring. The legendary stars of the past were no longer there. But in 1972 The Yankees, due to a weak division, were in contention for in first time since 1964. I started to watch their games and got into the team. Their top relief pitcher, Sparky Lyle, had a a swagger as he came out of Datsun, that he rode in from bullpen to save the game. Their games were broadcast on WMCA and a 30-something sportstalk radio show host named John Sterling got me very excited as the season continued on. The Yankees did not win in 1972 but I became a fan. Most people in New York were not Yankee fans and The Mets were much more popular. So I had an underdog to root for. Up to this point of my life, baseball teams and political candidates I supported never seemed to win.
But that would change in 1976. In one of the happiest moments, up to that time in my life and, maybe to this day among the Top 10 happiest moments of my life, The Yankees won the pennant in dramatic fashion on a bottom of the 9th inning home run by Chris Chambliss in the last game of the American League Championship Series against The Kansas City Royals. I remember shouting, “Home Run! Home Run! We did it! We did it! We’re American League Champions!” Now there are other things I would achieve in my life but whether it’s a new job, new place to live, etc., there are always concerns in the back of my mind of would it be good, would there be problems, etc. But when your favorite baseball team wins, they win! There are no bad consequences or side effects. I feel pride that I had supported something all the way through and it was successful. I’m loyal and it’s a great feeling and makes up for the times I was on the losing side.
By 1977 The Yankees became well, The Yankees again. Reggie Jackson joined the team and they got their swagger back. They would win The World Championship for the next two years. To most people The Yankees did not seem like underdogs anymore. They had high-profile stars, a big payroll, a controversial owner George Steinbrenner and a manager who we’ll call Battlin’ Billy Martin. While The Yankees would become the most popular team in New York, there were Mets fans who did not root for them, fans of other sports teams who rooted for their teams and people in New York who simply did not care about The Yankees. To summarize it reminds me of this story; in 1985/1986, when The Chicago Bears had one of the most colorful teams ever, a woman in New York told a woman in Chicago that there were many people in New York who followed the arts and never followed professional sports. The woman in Chicago was horrified with the response. But just because The Yankees’ image had changed from 1972 to 1977 from underdogs to favorites wasn’t going to make me stop rooting for the team. It would be like to stop following The Rolling Stones when they went just another British rock group to when they became the icons they are now.
If only baseball players could stay with a team forever like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards stayed with The Rolling Stones. But players get old and have to retire, they get traded , they move to other teams for more money. By the end of 1978 The Yankees had given me 2 straight World Series and 3 straight American League pennants and I could not ask for more. As old favorites left the team, the new ones weren’t quite as exciting. The Yankees from 1979–1988 were a good team, but like my old favorite The San Francisco Giants weren’t usually good enough to win. Then the Yankees became a bad baseball team from 1989–1992. They finished in last place in 1990. So while I was a Yankee fan and followed the team, they weren’t that exciting anymore. The Mets had won The World Series in 1986 and were again the favored sports team of New York.
However, in 1993 The Yankees became good again. They challenged for the division. In 1994 they were in first place in August when a strike cancelled the rest of the season. A few months later my wife and I got our dog Duffy and maybe that changed the Yankees luck. For the following 18 baseball seasons, from 1995–2012, the Yankees would make the post-season 17 times! While there were these high-profile players and a big payroll, the stars were more humble such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. Their controversial owner George Steinbrenner had outlived his critics and now was being considered as one of the best owners in baseball history and their manager was a beloved New Yorker Joe Torre. They would win The World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009. The years they didn’t win, it would take me a while to get over it as I had rooted hard for the team. I can take pride that The Yankees that I started rooting for in 1972 have given some of the great thrills any sports fans can imagine. As Yogi Berra said, “there are so many unforgettable moments in Yankees history, you can’t remember them all!”
That sportstalk show host named John Sterling would become The Yankees’ radio play-by-play announcer in 1989 and has continued to this day. I read a column, where someone said that they hated to admit it, because it showed their lack of priorities, but some of the happiest moments of their life was spent listening to John Sterling announce great moments of Yankees games. I know what that person meant because I feel the same way.
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