Frickin’ A-Rod or: How I Learned to Stop Wallowing and Grudingly Support the Yankees

Rooting for the bad guy always sounds so good in theory; there is a sexy excitement to the whole thing, a contrarian pride, and a Clint Eastwood danger. But in practice, it never works. At the movies, you find yourself unable to shake the momentum of the action, somehow hinged to the values of the hero, reasonably off put by the villainous secrecy, shady Russian accents, and grandiose threats of the bad guys. Somehow, you always come home to the good guy.

But this is baseball. And the lines aren’t so clear. And the winners aren’t scripted. So when I tell you that in this World Series I am rooting for the Yankees, I don’t expect that to change. No doubt the Yankees are the bad guys: George Steinbrenner as a grumpier Auric Goldfinger and Ryan Howard as James Bond. The Yankees represent everything evil about baseball – the monolithic corporate model, the financial gluttony, the designated hitter rule – and yet I find myself, thrust by the violent and unexpected winds of time into their corner.

Maybe thrust is the wrong word. This has been a slow process. My hatred for the Yankees has certainly faded in recent years. It’s a well documented fact; it confounds my friends and absolutely infuriates my girlfriend. But how did a cooling of hatreds morph into an unabashed rooting interest? What chain of cosmic calamities could have made a Yankees fan of me?

1. Childhood fascination with old Yankee legends

I spent a great deal of my childhood reading baseball books, especially biographies. Many of these books documented Yankee stars: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and especially Mantle were pillars of my childhood. And as much as I hated the 90s Yankees of that childhood (and names like O’Neill, Boggs, and Brosius still send a shiver down my spine) there was always a disconnect between those Yankees and the Yankees. I did not realize this until quite recently, but because of the books, because of the history, my loathing for the Yankees never went beyond those specific teams and the culture surrounding them. It never extended to the franchise in its entirety.

2. Living in New York City

Before I moved to Brooklyn, I had this image of Yankee fans as self-righteous, greedy, and pompous. But even at the Yankee game I went to, I didn’t see this. Sure, Yankee fans are brash. But people in New York City are brash. That’s just the way it is. I had also always associated the Yankees with a more upper crust fan base. Intrinsically, I figured the Yankees to be the wealthy man’s team and the Mets to be the working-class team. This may be true to a point, but I don’t know that. I didn’t see it. Small sample size example: the dudes on my softball team, who were mostly tow truck drivers, were split down the middle: half Yankees and half Mets.

3. The rise of the Red Sox and awful Boston sports fans.

Along those same lines, Boston fans have really emerged has the epitome of the self-satisfied, bragging, obnoxious sports fans. Part of this has to do with winning a lot, and you can’t really begrudge them that. But it’s still annoying. The Red Sox, in many ways, have come to represent the same thing as those 90s Yankees teams. Bill Simmons and co. have made me, at the very least, more sympathetic to the Yankee cause.

4. My weird Alex Rodriguez fascination.

In the early months of this blog, I wrote a threepiece series wondering if Alex Rodriguez was a tragic hero in the Shakespearian sense. It was a bloated, meandering, and borderline pretentious essay. But the sentiment from whence it came remains valid. Excerpt:

I’ve lived in New York for two months. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about this city it’s that people here absolutely despise Alex Rodriguez. It’s more than steroids hatred, or sucking in the postseason hatred, or trying to usurp heartthrob Jeter’s iconic place status. No, this is a kind of weird personal fetishistic hatred. I’m not sure if it starts in the media and spreads to the man on the street or vice versa, but listening for A-Rod banter in the Subway and reading the tabloid headlines off newsstands has become a hobby of mine. The A-Rod chatter has sunk to the point where people are merely disagreeing over how much and why they dislike the guy.

The act of writing those posts got me invested in A-Rod. I wanted to see him succeed just for the sake of tracking his image, his legacy. The hatred from New Yorkers just didn’t seem just. So I began to root for him, not in the interest of redemption, but in the interest of a break. The guy just needed a little space, a little room to breathe, little time to just be.

So yeah, I like A-Rod. I want him to do well.

5. The Dodgers lose to the Phillies consecutive years in the NLCS.

Okay fine. This post could have been three sentences long. It may be petty, but at this point I wish to inflict all human misery on Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Chase Utley, Ryan Madson, and pretty much every resident of Philadelphia. Never underestimate the power of bitter frustration.

Ted and I have talked a lot lately about what a free-floating fan is supposed to do during the playoffs. These are strange times for the non-Yankee non-Philly fans among us.  While we haven’t reached any profound conclusions as to how to behave in these end days, we can at least consider what makes us tick, what factors dig us in, get us invested. For me it is a combination of geography, childhood experience, and player intrigue (which really amounts to cheering for the narrative). But above all that, it is a savage desire to see the team who wounded me feel a similar, burning pain.  And maybe that’s the real allure of the bad guy. Honor be damned. Maybe deep down in all of us there’s an unquenchable thirst for revenge.

What do you guys think? Everybody’s gotta root for somebody. So what biases played into your decision. Is it friends? Is it revenge?

[awesome Greenpoint photo via flickr user svar]

16 Responses to “Frickin’ A-Rod or: How I Learned to Stop Wallowing and Grudingly Support the Yankees”

  • Jon "sex in a bottle" N.

    I’ve gotta say I’m a bit conflicted. On one hand, I’d love to see Phillies get absolutely destroyed by the Yankees. That, of course, goes without saying being a Dodger fan and all. On the other hand, if the Phillies win, it proves through some transitive property(or is it the Pythagorean theorem? Or am I retarded?)that our beloved Dodgers are at least on the same level as the Yankees. Or, if anything, provide solace to us that we at least lost to the best team (again). I’ve always been a fan of Jeter, so I’ll go ahead and side with the Yanks. I totally agree with the Red Sox sentiment. I love how all these fans (in Southern California, no less) came out of the woodwork proclaiming their undying fanhood. Anyway, screw all things Philadelphia except for cheesesteaks, the Roots, Rocky, and Ben Franklin.
    Great job with the blog, Eric!

  • You’ve caught me at a bad time (just came off an hour-and-a-half math fix), so I’ll pedantically note that the transitive property would really come into play should the Yankees win. If they’re better than the Phillies, who are better than the Dodgers, the Yankees are probably better than the Dodgers…but it’s hard to directly compare them if the Phillies win.

    The stereotypical attitude associated with Red Sox fans has definitely gone through one of the most, if not the most, rapid evolutions I’ve ever seen.

  • Ah yes, I knew that once I typed transitive property, I was incorrectly using it. So yes, I stand retarded. Thank you for the correction.

  • Well, no…”retarded” would be pushing it, I think…you had the context right. 🙂

    I guess I’ll dispute the final assumption of the original post. Not everybody has to root for somebody. My dad is a decent example during the regular season, but I’d bet that as the playoffs go on there are more and more fans who are just rooting for the series to take as many games as possible.

  • Ember, maybe I’m projecting personal stuff here. But I find it hard to watch any sporting event without a little bit of inkling to root one way or the other. I just think it’s so much more fun to become invested. I can appreciate the game on its own, sure, but why be so passive?

  • Bill Simmons has at the very least made ME wish ESPN would be taken over by Latin American socialist revolutionaries who would administer swift and harsh retribution

  • For a long time, I would have agreed with you. And I still agree that it’s more fun to be invested and harder when you’re not. It’s not that I don’t want to root, it’s just that none of the LCS teams really drew me to them.

    That said, I found myself slightly pulling for the Yankees against the Angels. Not for any of the above reasons, but it’s good to remind myself that just because they’ve won x pennants and y World Series titles doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still have that fire in their bellies. But this point will be somewhat mooted when they play the defending champions. So yeah, I’d like to be drawn to either of the camps, but I don’t expect to.

  • It can be unnerving to find yourself rooting for someone/some team that defies logic. At the same time, though, what are we as humans if we can’t evolve.

    I’ve mentioned it before, but there’s a new face of fandom as we continue to move around the country with the ability to follow closely any team that we want to. Geography has given way to omniscience.

    The open-minded fan–ie. the modern gentleman of the new sports media reality–must face all of the allegiance-builders that you’ve mentioned, Eric. Some are involuntary, others more transparent. Realize the building momentum of numerous life-realities, for example, versus Move to Seattle, become a Mariners fan. It’s a spectrum.

    The Free Darko guys have a good point on it, that guilt is less interesting than exploration.

  • I’m completely onboard with point #1.

    Although I don’t personally subscribe to points #2, #3, and #5 they are very valid reasons to support the Yankees this series, from your vantage point.

    Point #4 confuses me, a lot. The problem with A-Rod is he is just a phony individual. New Yorkers were well aware what transpired in his previous stops and what sort of a person he was. Also, when he first arrived in New York he knew what he was getting himself into and STILL tried to fight the horde when he probably should’ve just kept his mouth completely shut. I don’t want to dive into A-Rod much deeper right now. I’m confused by your leap from fascination with A-Rod to openly rooting for the guy. The animosity shown towards him in New York has always been completely justified. I present exhibit A:

    The prosecution rests.

    Even though the Phillies are one of the Mets most hated foes, I didn’t have to think twice about which team I’d be supporting one the World Series lineup was set. Also, Raul Ibanez has had to suffer through baseball hell the past 8 years and has finally made it to the series. Here’s to him hitting at least one game-winning HR off of Rivera. Rauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuul!

  • You expect me to talk?

    No Mr. Bond! I expect you to die!!

  • I’m a die-hard Dodgers fan from Phillies country. I was born and raised in Philly. I was 7 years old when the Phils won in 1970, but as I kid I spent my summers at my grandmother’s house in Vero Beach. My grandfather and father were both Athletic fans (yes, the WRONG team moved to Kansas City). I got schooled in all things Dodgers in spite of thinking the ’80 Phillies were the greatest team in the world… at that time.

    Dodgers blue runs deep in my family. A few of my cousins dated Dodgers players while they played for the Dodgers minor league team in Vero. Pedro Martinez’s wife and daughter were at my grandmother’s funeral (Pedro sent his condolences) last year.

    If you’re a true blue Dodgers fan, even one from Brooklyn like my girlfriend, you know oil and water doesn’t mix… neither do Dodgers and Yankees fans. That’s like being a member of the Red Sox Nation and a Yankees fan. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t mix.

    The history of animosity between the Dodgers and Yankees goes back decades to the Golden Age of Baseball. Sure, the Yankees have appeared in the most Fall Classics, but the Brooklyn/LA Dodgers, Dem Bums, have appeared in the 2nd most. They have won the third most behind the Cardinals.

    Sure, you can respect (or really loathe) the Evil Empire. You can be enthralled with A-Rod’s abilities (when he’s not in another slump), but to actually root for the Yankees is pathetic. You should give up your Dodgers bandwagon membership and just jump ship now.

    The hard and fast rule of the World Series is pretty easy to understand. Keep in mind, I HATE the Phillies, but you always root for the team representing your teams league. For you and me, that’s the Dodgers. But, since you’re really a Yankees fan than please do root for them and stop the charade about being a Dodgers fan. The game is over. Your cover has been blown. I wouldn’t be surprised of you were a Mets fan, too.

  • I think that last one has a lot to do with it. Having a team beat you twice in the NLCS….it would make me angry.

    And as for the perception of Yankee fans as upper-crusty corporate types. God, nothing could be further from the truth. Growing up in NYC, mos of the people I knew who were Yankee fans were school bus drivers and deli counter guys. The Mews were the “suburban” team, with their stadium surrounded by a parking lot in the middle of nowhere. Not that every Met fan is s suburbanite. But my history had the Yankees as the “salt of the city kind of team and the Mets as the more removed, suburban kind of team.

  • Thanks for the…long comment Robert. I see your points, but my answer is this:

    Fandom is defined by the teams you love, not by the ones you hate. To live it any other way is to make yourself miserable for no reason.

  • It’s easy for me to root for my team’s league in the All-Star game; what’s not endearing about being one-half for your last thirteen? In the World Series, though, league loyalty isn’t a major factor for me. Two years ago, I rooted for the Rockies; last year, I pulled for the Rays. And when push comes to shove during the regular season, I’m able to root for my least-favorite team to play spoilers. Not often, though.

  • Fandom IS as much defined by who you hate as who you love; please see the book “To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever” or don’t as this book is written from the opposite side of the fan divide from me and I hope nothing more than for its author to be run over by a snowplow

    Cheering for your team in glory is fleeting and tangential at best nothing more than mere sporting pixie dust but hating other teams is the marble slab of being a fan – it’s solid and ever present

    Hating sports teams hardly makes one miserable rather its the best way to play the numbers – out of 318 college basketball teams only one will win the championship – that’s 1 out of 318 odds – hating makes those numbers inverse you have 317 teams on your side against 1 wretched bunch – in sports most years no joy is found without bitter bitter hate

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