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 three–piece 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]