Osama bin Laden has done something that no single person, shadowy organization, national government or even the United Nations has been able to accomplish for decades: He has made us all root for the Yankees. This is no small achievement. Americans are a well-meaning, polite people--except when it comes to the Damn Yankees, a team that, at some point or another in its illustrious history, has humbled, humiliated, abused or strutted cockily past the hometown favorites of every city in the country.
And yet, in the wake of the appalling attack on New York, everyone is rooting for the Yankees--as if another ticker-tape parade up New York's so-called "Canyon of Heroes" will bind our collective wound and soothe our national anxiety. People, pull yourselves together. In this time of crisis all our national leaders have rightly been urging us to get back to "normal"--and normal means hating the Yankees. To cite that suddenly omnipresent cliche, if we all start rooting for the Yankees, the terrorists will have indeed won.
Let us never forget that the reasons to hate the Yankees go far beyond their infuriating practice of always winning. It extends to their cocky fans (hey, isn't that arrogant Donald Trump in the front row?), their extravagant hiring practices, the way New York treats the team as a civic religion (does Mayor Giuliani get PAID for all this cheerleading?), the fact that they represent the hated city of New York, and, of course, their pitcher, Roger Clemens (who should be in a reform school, not in a World Series).
Locally, the Yankees have been the equivalent of a thuggish older brother, treating their often-hapless cross-town rivals, the Mets, like an All-State quarterback treats the waterboy. As the Yankees have won the last three World Series--"and four of the last five!" the TV commentators keep freakin' reminding us--Mets fans have found themselves rooting for someone, anyone, to defeat the Bronx Bombers. It's made us even root for the Atlanta Braves and their racist John Rocker!
So by the start of autumn, most Americans were well into their preparations to cheer whatever squad would face the Yankees in the team's increasingly inevitable World Series appearance.
But then Osama's followers steered two airplanes into the World Trade Center and the world, even the baseball world, was remade anew. Since Sept. 11, there have even been reports--impossible to believe and horrifying, but reports nonetheless--that some Bostonians are rooting for the Yankees.
"After the tragedy, the whole country needed something to rally behind," lifelong Red Sox fan Eric Dyke told a Boston paper. "The Yankees have become America's team." (Lord, grant me strength.)
Here in New York, even Met fans have gone over to the dark side and are actually looking forward to the once-loathsome spectacle of the ticker-tape parade for the victorious Yankees.
For proof, I called up Marie DeBenedittis, who makes the best sandwich in town. You have to understand that DeBenedittis is not merely a Met fan. Her deli, Leo's Latticini, is less than a half-mile from Shea Stadium. Her sandwiches--featuring mozzarella so fresh that the cow has separation anxiety--are served in the Mets clubhouse after games. Photos of Met players form a shrine behind the counter. All are autographed--with glowing references to the sandwiches, by the way.
And even DeBenedittis is rooting for the Yankees. "It would be good for the city if the Yankees won," she says. "The city and the country needs this."
Needs this? I respectfully, disagree. All America needs is a quick, successful war, a rebuilt World Trade Center (all 110 stories), a presidential signature on our governor's $54-billion recovery package and a return to the country's pre-Sept. 11 passion: hating the New York Yankees. The last thing we need is a parade for those heroes in pinstripes (besides, didn't the horror of the World Trade Center finally teach us that the word "hero" does not apply to overpaid men who play baseball for a living?).
Full disclosure? I have a hate-hate relationship with the Yankees' seemingly annual victory parade. As a reporter for The New York Post, I have been forced to cover the parade every year, a tired cliche from the self-serving chest thumping to the truants' vandalism to the canned civic pride to the endless description of the parade route as "the Canyon of Heroes" (so endless, in fact, that I call that stretch of lower Broadway anything BUT the "Canyon of Heroes," preferring the "Gully of Greatness," the "Crevasse of Conquistadors," the "Ravine of Winners" and the "Gorge of Glory").
Plus, it's just not a fun event to cover from a journalist's perspective. Here's a sample conversation between reporter and parade-goer:
REPORTER: So, how does it feel to be here today?
PARADE-GOER (taking a swig out of an unmarked paper bag): It's f--ing great! F--ing Yankees! We showed those f--ing (fill in the name of that year's hapless Yankee opponent) that you can't mess with the New...York...F--ing...Yankees!
To spice things up in 1998, I wore my Mets cap to the parade. This was before last year's Subway Series, during a typical year when the Mets did little else but wave as the Yankee Express steamrolled everyone else. So I figured that Yankee fans would see the blue-and-orange "LOSER" sign on my head and be courteous in victory, with a few good-natured pats on the back and a friendly, "Well, maybe next year, buddy."
But Yankee fans are about as gracious in victory as Gen. Pinochet. I felt like I was wearing a Hitler mask at the Israeli Day Parade. Even New York's Finest could not guarantee me safe passage up the Fissure of Fantastics. "You're wearing a Mets hat?" a cop asked me. "What are you, friggin' crazy? They'll kill you in there."
I offer this tale only as a reminder that hating the Yankees used to be a source of national pride. But now, my natural allies in Phoenix are left in an unfamiliar place: out in the cold. Under normal circumstances, the Diamondbacks would be bathed in the admiration of an entire nation as they went into battle to defer (or even just delay) the Yankees inevitable championship. The Diamondbacks would be our heroes of the moment, sent out to fight the good fight.
Phoenicians are already feeling the tide turning towards the Yankees. Arizona Republican columnist E.J. Montini even called Mayor Giuliani's office hoping to get a statement from the mayor that would temporarily release America's baseball fans "from the sentimental good feelings we all currently have for New York and New Yorkers." The mayor's office did not return Montini's calls, further evidence that it is now considered an American's duty to root for the Yankees.
Phoenix mayor Skip Rimsza said he was unconcerned by the national support for the Yankees at the expense of his hometown. Rimsza's a good guy, whom I met a few years ago when I went to Phoenix for a story and called him for a quick comment, thinking he'd be too busy for me to meet face-to-face. I was wrong. He asked where I was staying and five minutes later, picked me up at my hotel and took me to lunch at a place called Los Dos Molinos (would Rudy Giuliani do that for a visiting reporter? Would the reporter WANT him to?).
"Hey, the country does have empathy for New York and its mayor, and the Yankees are benefiting from that," Rimsza told me on the eve of the Series. "But in the end, it's just a game. Who wins the Series ultimately is not important."
Not important? Mark those words. The mayor of Phoenix is on record saying that it doesn't matter to America if the Diamondbacks win or lose to the Yankees, that a century of hate and unity can be as quickly undone as a pair of 110-story buildings.
Man, the terrorists really have won.