I wonder if I’d be happier had I just chosen the Yankees.
Everything aligned perfectly for me to root for the New York Yankees. Growing up in Brooklyn, my love for baseball blossomed in the late 1990s. They had won four titles in my lifetime before I started middle school, so I spent the first few years of sports fandom assuming the same team always won every single time. My dad is a lifelong Yankees fan. My friends, who apparently didn’t hate themselves at a young age, quickly adapted pinstripes as their MLB proxies.
Not me. I just had to be different. Cheering for the juggernaut was too easy. That might have given me joy or some sense of pride, and I simply could not take that risk. No, I had to sentence myself to a lifetime of the Mets.
Rooting for the Mets, and ultimately getting let down in increasingly cruel and absurd fashion, is just one part of their fandom. The other is hating the Yankees. That’s just how it goes. Mets fans are the underachieving younger sibling who can’t possibly live up to the perfect older child. Few Yankees fans reciprocate this bitterness; plenty even hope the Mets succeed out of pity. It’s a toxic, one-sided rivalry that serves no purpose.
I nevertheless adopted “Whoever is facing the Yankees” as my second favorite team. That typically meant the Red Sox, who became a cousin with whom to share the bond of our mutual foe. Seeing the Yankees lose became more gratifying than a Mets win. I probably enjoyed the 2004 ALCS as much (if not more) than when the Mets reached the World Series in 2000 and 2015. I rubbed it in the faces of perfectly nice friends and family who showed far more restrain during the Subway Series. You see, it was good because… everyone around me was finally sad?
My identity wasn’t just attached to a game with outcomes I couldn’t control. It was attached to despising a logo and uniform. But I like to think that, with time and maturity, I’ve changed. Through a long journey of reflection and self-awareness, I’ve finally flushed this irrational hatred from my cold, bitter heart.
Does It Really Matter How Derek Jeter Is Rated?
Derek Jeter was always the main target of my animus.
Need proof at what a bitter brat I was? I recently stumbled across an old notebook from eighth grade. I have no recollection of what class this was from, or what assignment could have possibly led me to actively plead for a bunch of strangers to fail at the thing they love most.
A weird, hateful poem from a weird, hateful eighth-grader. By the way, I was wrong about the Mets. They came one win shy of making the World Series two years later.
Here’s the thing: 13-year-old me had no idea about WAR or Defensive Runs Saved. He wasn’t overly concerned about Jeter’s limited range or 6.4% walk rate in 2004. He was just a little jerk — well, not actually little; I subsisted solely on chicken fingers, french fries, and pizza, but maybe that’s a story for another time — who wanted to take down everyone else’s beloved hero.
Oh, you all worship Jeter. Then I must find a way to ruin him for you.
Jeter was not the best Yankee ever. Maybe he wasn’t even always the best shortstop on his own team for a while. He was still really good! I had nothing to gain from tearing him down.
I wrote that emo sports poem around 2004, a season in which Jeter hit a humdrum .292 with 23 homers and steals apiece. In those five seasons starting the new millennium, only that better teammate, Alex Rodriguez, accrued more WAR among all shortstops. He also placed second in hits behind Todd Helton.
Jeter wasn’t the deity that fellow Yankees fans made him out to be, but he was still a hits machine who rightfully earned a spot in Cooperstown. That’s pretty cool.
Why was I so angry that he didn’t also hit 45 home runs a season? Why couldn’t I just appreciate an all-time great? [Oddly enough, I never directed this same vitriol toward Mariano Rivera. Even at my darkest, I somehow still realized that he was the best ever at what he did.] Why was I so against the concept of liking something? And why did I still insist on going out of my way to say A-Rod was better in what was supposed to be a section appreciating Jeter’s greatness?
For whatever reason, I needed an antagonist. The Yankees were an easy target for anyone with an inferiority complex, and Jeter was the face of the dynasty. Looking back, they might not have been as dastardly as we all thought.
What Makes the Evil Empire So Bad?
In my childhood mind, I concocted the Yankees into arch-villains who broke the rules and stole from the poor. Those greedy, soulless leaches were taking star players from fine, helpless franchises who could not afford to keep their home-grown talent in town. What monsters!
There are certainly selfish billionaires worthy of our disdain. If anything, that’s more of a reason I no longer waste my energy hating any sports figures purely for silly sports reasons. We now seem to collectively realize that this list probably shouldn’t include the owner of a baseball team who directs that baseball team to acquire the best baseball players.
The Yankees did not force Jason Giambi to leave the A’s against his will. Sure, Oakland’s pockets didn’t stretch as deep, but Moneyball was a tale of frugality as much as it was about market inefficiencies. The Yankees simply did their best to obtain good players, optimizing their chances of success and giving fans a better product.
We used to call them evil for it, and I certainly bought into the narrative. In reality, we all just wanted our teams to operate the same way.
Fast-forward to 2020, and the rival Red Sox traded a cornerstone MVP in his prime to avoid paying the luxury tax. The Mets, meanwhile, have functioned as a mid-market club ever since their owners got caught up in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme.
As for the Yankees? They’re deploying a devastating combination of resources and intelligence.
Say what you will about acquiring a star closer for cheap because of a domestic violence incident, trading him for a future star, and then bringing back said closer as a free agent. That checks every supervillain box. For those able to overlook this ethical gray line, they have evolved into one of baseball’s finest front offices.
Despite still wielding MLB’s highest projected payroll, these aren’t the reckless spenders of George Steinbrenner’s days. They watched Robinson Cano walk, and now he’s declining on the other New York club’s ledger. Critics panned them for signing DJ LeMahieu instead of going full Evil Empire and giving a blank check to Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. That sure paid off handsomely. After getting a breakout campaign from LeMahieu, the savings allowed them to address a thin rotation last winter by signing Gerrit Cole.
They have also proven adept at uncovering hidden gems. Luke Voit, Giovanny Urshela, and Mike Tauchman were all tossed to the curb before the Yankees dusted them off into useful regulars. These finds have helped turned the modern Yankees into a remarkably resilient bunch.
Yankees fans were stunned when a huge chunk of the roster succumbed to injuries in 2019. As a Mets fan, it was the first time I felt a true connection to the crosstown rivals.
At first, I joked that the two teams were in the midst of a Freaky Friday swap where the Yankees had inherited the Mets’ bad health luck. After suffering a few more major blows this offseason, I wondered if the Devil was finally collecting on a deal struck 25 years ago.
Ultimately, I actually sympathized with their bad luck. For once, it was my turn to console upset Yankees fans. They’re one of us after all.
Mets fans know the pain of watching a season fall by the wayside because your burgeoning ace needs Tommy John surgery. (And then the other, and the other, and the other, and wait, seriously, Noah Syndergaard too now?) We know the pain of a star hitter getting derailed by a wild boar right after the face of your franchise — a beacon of light in an otherwise bleak existence — can cruelly no longer play the game he so clearly loves, no matter how hard he tries to fight his body’s betrayal.
And yes, the Yankees still went 103-59 and reached the ALCS, because of course they did. The gut instinct is to lament at how, even when everything goes wrong for the Yankees, things still somehow work out. These Yankees, however, didn’t truly feel like the Yankees. They instead were the ragtag misfits defying the odds and proving the world wrong.
LeMahieu was seen as some scrappy contact hitter who made his entire living on Coors Field. Instead, he was an MVP candidate. Even a Yankee hater needed to stop and admire a team not only surviving but thriving without Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, and Dellin Betances for chunks of the season. It’s hard to think and type this without sounding sarcastic, but in all sincerity, good for them. Well done.
Even before enduring much adversity in 2019, the Bronx Bombers had proven fallible. Despite their commendable consistency — I was in diapers when they last had a losing record in 1992 — they also have a singular title (2009) since 2001. I still have nightmares over the 2006 NLCS, so there’s something sneakily cruel about seeing your team making it far, but falling just short so many times. They’ve already had 14 playoff appearances end earlier than anticipated in the 21st century.
I won’t shed a tear for Yankees fans who lived through the 1996-2000 dynasty, but perhaps their blessed lives aren’t perfect either. Besides, it’s getting harder to root for their downfall when a new guard is making them increasingly likable.
Are the Yankees… Likable?
Even before their odd 2019, a weird thing happened in the Big Apple. Back in 2017, the Yankees became kind of fun.
After a four-year revamping phase that saw them annually win 84 to 87 games, the Bronx Bombers returned to the postseason in 2017. They weren’t fueled by a spending spree, but instead the byproduct of careful planning and meteoric rises of upstarts Judge and Sanchez. They were a young squad that endeared skeptics with their jovial spirit.
As the old guard waged a war against enjoyment, the Yankees conducted mock interviews in their dugout to celebrate home runs.
Remember the thumbs down guy? The Yankees embraced the meme, turning it into their own commemorative gesture.
Thumbs down for the clinch!????? pic.twitter.com/2DupUkGoKk
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) September 23, 2017
As he quickly became the new face of the franchise, it became vital to find a reason to hate Judge. I kept coming up empty. He was a babyfaced Paul Bunyan with a baseball bat who just kept hitting dingers. He also carried himself as a respectable, affable fellow who tugged at our heartstrings by playing catch with a young fan in the stands.
Whereas Yankees fans worshiped Jeter, Judge’s greatness was apparently harder for some to appreciate. During the neophyte’s brief 2017 summer slump, a guy sitting right behind me at Yankee Stadium spent the entire game complaining about Judge’s strikeouts and lack of clutch gene. He finished that rookie season with 52 home runs and a 1.049 OPS. This could understandably lead to some scoffing at spoiled Yankees fans. I said the same thing at the time, but honestly, every team has some annoying fans.
This didn’t necessarily make them the good guys. Maybe, as ESPN’s (and Bostonian) Katie Nolan opined before the 2017 ALCS, they simply were “a little bit less evil” than when they were “the literal worst.” Then again, hindsight will lead some to retroactively give that title to the Astros, who ultimately beat them for the AL pennant. In light of the sign-stealing scandal, it’d sure be hard to view New York as the bad guys if encountering Houston again in the playoffs. To borrow from wrestling parlance, the rise of a new heel could allow the Yankees to instead function in a “tweener” role.
But the “no facial hair” policy is still pretty dumb.
I Was Just a Hater
Yankees fans would always tell me I was jealous or “just a hater.” They were right.
I wanted my team to garner the same admiration and prestige. I wanted to live vicariously through their glory. I just, perhaps foolishly, thought such sports success needed to be earned instead of inherited. Had I registered for Yankees fandom in 1998, would I have appreciated the following stretch of dominance? Would 2009 have meant anything? Will any of it matter if I die without ever seeing the Mets win it all?
Before Yankees fans take me in as one of their own, or Mets fans excommunicate me, understand that I can still never root for the Yankees. I want to be a better, kinder person, but I haven’t come that far just yet. I like to think I’ve reached neutrality. If they win, oh well. If they lose, fine. Neither outcome affects my life, so I’m done letting them dictate my mood.
As Jerry Seinfeld once observed, we’re just “rooting for the clothes.” C.C. Sabathia never said something mean about my parents. Brett Gardner didn’t call me fat in high school (though he would have been right). They’re just strangers who happen to be wearing the uniform I arbitrarily decided to dislike in favor of another color scheme.
The logo is just laundry. The players are human beings trying to provide for their families and establish a fruitful career. Disliking a group of people because of self-conceived, imaginary tribal differences is no way to live life.
Just let the hate go. Trust me, you’ll feel much better.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Rick Orengo (@OneFiddyOne on Twitter and Instagram)