Saturday night, I sat with some friends at Clancy's Bar on Dodge while the Yankees were putting the finishing touches on a 19-8 rout of the Red Sox in Game Three of the ALCS. My brother was wearing a Sox cap -- even though both of us are dyed-in-the-wool Twins fans -- and a stranger asked us the $56,000 question:
Are you really a Red Sox fan, or do you just hate the Yankees?
Of course, my brother and I are two of the biggest Twins fans on the planet, so the short answer to that question is "We just hate the Yankees". This inevitably prompted my best friend Voss to ask "Why"?
Beyond the obvious, like the Yankees being evil and all, I was born hating New York. Yes, they are evil. This is the team that honored a truant with a parade -- a kid who, while skipping school to attend a playoff day game in 1996 against Baltimore, interfered with a fly ball, turning an out into a home run. In any civilized sports city, these fans are beaten with sticks. In New York, they get a parade.
Three decades ago, the celebrated author Roger Ansell described Yankees fans as "overdressed, uncomprehending autumn arrivistes". Today, we describe them as front-running boors.
Early in my life, I was exposed to the boorish nature of the Yankee fan. My father's family is from Austin, Minnesota, Spam Town USA. The Nemitz's are all huge Twins fans. For six months out of the year, we cheer, gripe, second-guess, and root for the Twins in good times and in bad. Being the Twins, there's far more bad times than good -- from 1993 to 2001, the Twins lost 20 more games than they won every year. Prior to that 10 year run, the Twinkies won 2 World Championships in 5 years. But before that, they reeled off 3 winning seasons in the previous 20. Lots of losing when you root for the Twins.
My mother's family is from a small town in Iowa. They have rooted for the Yankees since the days of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, through good times but not in bad -- they stop following if the Yanks aren't winning. Being the Yankees, that's not often. Winners of 39 American League championships (there have been only 101 total!) and 26 World Championships, the Yankees are the winningest team in the history of sports.
My first memory of baseball is George Brett's infamous "Pine Tar Game" in July of 1983. I was only 5; the game was on TV and I can remember my dad watching as George Brett hit a homerun to put the Royals ahead. Yankees manager Billy Martin stormed out of the dugout to protest -- Brett had pine tar too far up the barrell of the bat, which is illegal (the tar makes the bat stronger and less susceptible to breaking if the batter is jammed on an inside pitch) -- and the home run was disallowed. Brett flew into a fit of rage and had to be restrained. The game was played under protest. I remember asking my dad why the Yankees had whined so. His response: "Because they're the Yankees, and they're poor sports, son."
I rooted for George Brett when I was a little guy; I even liked the Royals much to the chagrin of my dad. My first pair of big boy underwear had little baseballs and bats on them; I called them my "George Bretts". That's how I was pottytrained -- I was mortified to soil my George Bretts, so I discovered that wonderous invention known as the toilet.
In 1987, with the Twins in the midst of a pennant race, we went to our first game in person. I was 9 years old, my brother was 6. We were at the Metrodome for Reggie Jackson's final game in Minnesota (he was with the California Angels at this point), and I wanted to boo him. I had no idea he had starred for the Yankees in their 1977-78 World Series wins. Just had a feeling I was supposed to hate the guy.
The next day, a rookie named Mark McGwire hit a ball a mile into the bleachers for Oakland, and I was hooked. The Twins would go on to win the division, and later that fall, their first championship.
From 1988 until I went to college in 1997, the Nemitz and Fuller familes made a trek to the Dome for the Twins/Yankees series every summer. It was here that my hatred of the Yankees was soldered directly to my circuits. Otherwise lovely family members turned into boorish, brash, awful behaved animals. Our Twins won more of those games than they lost, thank God.
I hold a grudge against Juan "Senor Smoke" Berenguer to this day for blowing a game in 1989 against the Yanks. My brother and I saw Magic Juan a couple of years ago at the Mall Of America, and we walked up to him and talked. Nice guy. Still hate his guts for blowing that game.
One game in particular, other than the Berenguer game in 1989, stands out. In 1990, a young jheri-curled kid name Deion Sanders was playing outfield for the Yankees. In fact, Ricky Henderson played in that same outfield. Talk about two of the most ridiculous athletes of our time. Can't stand either of 'em. Anyway, Neon Deion is shagging balls in left field during batting practice, and standard courtesy is to flip a few to the kids standing in the front row watching. This being Neon Asshole Deion, he chucks the balls at the plexi-glass barrier over the left-field wall -- tricking the kids into thinking they're getting a ball -- and shattering eardrums from the ricochet. My cousin, wearing a Yankee cap, got a ball from Deion later. He got it signed years later, and promptly lost it. Ha ha.
Deion got his later on when an inebriated fan dumped a beer on him. I wasn't old enough to appreciate it, but I am now, and it cracks me up.
In 1996, the Yankees started their current dynastic run at championships. Meanwhile, the Twins were reeling off hopeless seasons with terrible players. Thank God I went away to college and missed the trips those years. I did my hating of the Yankees from a distance. It became a fall ritual to root for whoever was playing the Yankees. I lost a bet to a girlfriend and had to buy a Mariners hat when they played New York in '96 and '97, but she didn't have to bend my arm too far. I pulled for San Diego in 1998; for Atlanta in 1999; for the Mets in 2000; for Arizona in '01; and the Marlins last year.
I was asked once if the Nebraska Cornhuskers played the New York Yankees, who would I root for? My response: anyone with a gun and a good aim.
Throughout the 1990s, the Twins were really not competitive. Their games with the Yankees were mostly forgettable. I cheered just as hard, believing in my heart of hearts that average players like Ron Coomer and Matt Lawton were really All-Stars, and that the Twins would break through this year and win. Never happened.
In 2001, the Twins finally did break through. I was a senior in college, and the Twins had returned to fielding a competitive team. In their series with New York in April, the return of Satan, er, Chuck Knoblauch, coincided with dollar hot dog night. Drunk college kids + dollar hot dogs + hated ex-Twin + The Yankees = ?
"Chucking" hot dogs onto the field at Knoblauch of course. Hundreds of them. Knoblauch was pelted with so many hot dogs the game was almost forfeited. What a moment. Fuck you Yankees.
The next year, Anaheim defeated the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs. Greatest moment of the year. If Britney Spears had showed up on my doorstep soaking wet and asked to come in, it would not have been better than the Yankees losing. A close second, for sure, but better? No chance.
Flash forward to 2003. In April, Derek Jeter injures his shoulder sliding into third base. I'm at the Homy Inn watching this transpire; when the ambulance and the stretcher come out, I started laughing so hysterically I almost threw up. I hate Derek Jeter. Why? I hate the Yankees. Derek Jeter is the symbol of the Yankees, the captain. Therefore, he must endure the wrath of my verbal taunts and assaults. And I'll laugh when he gets hurt.
In October, the Twins and Yankees meet in the playoffs for the first time ever. All those games thru the years, all the insults hurled back and forth, and finally they were playing in October, 5 games to death. I got two noise complaints the day of the first game at my apartment; I was yelling and screaming at the TV so loudly it disturbed my neighbors. Suck my stem, Yankees.
For Game Two, my brother and I went to a sports bar. During the lineups, as the old fart Public Address man Bob Shepard -- who should have died years ago, the bastard -- was introducing Hell's Devils, the Yankees, we yelled derogatory insults at each of them. We were almost asked to leave.
The Yankees win in four games 3-1. Its really not even close.
In 2004, they meet again in the playoffs. The games are close; its killing me. I had no fingernails, no fingertips left -- I could have robbed any bank in town and gotten away with it -- my fingerprints were nonexistent. My face broke out with acne like I hadn't had in 10 years. I couldn't sleep. I was eating giant feasts and not gaining weight. It was ridiculous.
Game Two. You know how this one ends. Twins lose in 12.
Game Three, Yankees win 8-4. I'm at the AIGA Reception for our Design Show Judges, dialing in the ESPN GameCast every break to get a score, getting more pissed each time.
Game Four, I'm busy with the judges judging our show. Its killing me because the Yankees side of the family is at the game -- in a skybox!!! Living the sweet life, at the Twins ballpark, in a private luxury box, for a playoff game -- and I'm in Omaha. You bet. Twins lost in 11 innings, ending the season. Oh well.
10 days removed, My face has cleared up, my fingers are back, I'm back to getting 6 hours of sleep a night. 8 months until they square off again. I can't wait.
My top reasons why I hate the Yankees more than any ex-girlfriend, more than Hitler, more than Charlie Manson:
10. George Steinbrenner owns the team. This is a man with the warmth of Pat Buchanan, the patience of Ross Perot, and the credibility of O.J. Simpson.
9. Yankee reliever Sparky Lyle wrote The Bronx Zoo, a 300-page whine about how tough life is when you're earning a large salary for pitching for a World Series winner.
8. Yankee tragedies are supposed to consume the nation. After Thurman "I won seven fewer Gold Gloves than Johnny Bench" Munson's plane went down, the Yankee faithful wanted the waiting period for Munson's Hall of Fame election waived. Tony Conigliaro, whose life was more tragic than Munson's, and who hit more home runs in far fewer at bats than Munson did, is forgotten outside of Boston.
7. Howard Cosell rhapsodized about Mickey "the CAT-a-lyst" Rivers, Reg-GER-oo, and Chris "the Silent One" Chambliss when the Yankees were on Monday Night Baseball in the 1970's. ABC called it Monday Night Baseball, but in practice it was The Yankee Game of the Week.
6. Bill Mazeroski got the key hit in three Pirate wins, hit the World Series-winning home run, batted .320 and watched Yankee Bobby Richardson get named the MVP of the 1960 World Series.
5. Above-average feats by ordinary Yankees make magazine covers.
4. Joe DiMaggio was voted baseball's "Greatest Living Player" largely because that noted baseball expert, Paul Simon, wrote a line in "Mrs. Robinson" about him.
3. Either the Yankees of the 1960's were a cliquish gang who slammed windows on kids wanting autographs as described in Jim Bouton's book "Ball Four", or...Bouton is a liar, in which case the Yankees issued a paycheck to a big-mouthed malcontent who had a 4-15 record in 1965.
2. Their dynasty began because the Red Sox owner, Harry Bleeping Frazee, needed money to finance his theatrical ventures. We are not talking about hard work by the Yankees; this was Dumb Luck I. Just before the end of the 1920 season, the Chicago White Sox were a better team with a brighter future than the Yankees. By the end of that season, the Sox were a shell of a great team. Eight of their stars were on their way to lifetime bans as a result of throwing the 1919 World Series. This was Dumb Luck II in establishing the Yankee dynasty.
1. No matter how often I remind myself that he has a family and probably visits sick kids in hospitals, I cannot like Derek Jeter.
Now, I'm off to wear my T-Shirt that says "Jeter Sucks" on the front, and "Gay-Rod Swallows" on the back...for the unitiated, that's "Derek Jeter Sucks" on the front, and "Alex 'A-Rod' Rodriguez Swallows" on the back.
During the game tonight, a 6 hour, 14 inning marathon won by the Red Sox 5-4, I yelled the following line after the Sox won, scaring even myself:
"Hey Jeter, why don't you and Gay-Rod go lube up with your tears and have some butt sex!" I tell you what, hatred of the Yankees runs deep and turns the best of us sour...
Good night, everyone. Go Twins.