As I watched the terrific new movie Moneyball (see review on the Arts page), I flashed back to my childhood and learned hatred for the New York Yankees. It wasn’t just that I was born in Brooklyn, where the Dodgers (followed by the Mets) were the local “people’s cherse.” It was what I learned from my father and virtually every other dad on my working class block: the Yankees were the bullies, the monied corporate entity, the team that, despite playing in liberal NYC, were one of the last teams in baseball to hire a black ballplayer, nearly a full decade after the Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson.
In short, I learned the Yankees were the cold-blooded “Republican team”, while our National League representative (Dodgers, and Mets) were the Democratic team of the people. My dad always reminded me that until the Dodgers moved to L.A., first baseman Gil Hodges lived about five blocks from our home, with his wife often seen at the local Waldbaum’s supermarket. No Yankees lived among their fans in the Bronx. They were the enemy!
Today it’s different, with a Yankee team dominated by minority stars and nearly all my friends and my brother fervent fans of the Yanks. But to this day I can’t put my heart into rooting for them.
And Moneyball reminded me why. How do you root for the team with the unfair advantage? Baseball is the only major sport without a salary cap, and if the Yankees don’t make the playoffs one year (they’ve made 17 of 18!), they just go out and pilfer the best players in baseball from small market teams that can’t afford them.
The Yankees are often called “The Evil Empire” by fans in other cities, and if I didn’t live here I’d probably be saying the same. When I attended a Yankee game earlier this year I bought a hot dog, then sat in a chair in front of the food stand to gobble it down before going to my seat on the second level. A security person immediately scrambled over to me and checked my ticket. Why was I sitting there?
Uh, it’s a public dining space? Not for you pal! These are for box seat fans only. How dare you think you can eat your frank among these hedge fund elite! Avert your eyes, peasant!
And that’s the last Yankee game I’ll be attending for a while. I’ll have to get my baseball fix from the (gulp) Mets, who are owned by a family that can’t pay its players not because they are in a small market, but because they hooked up with Bernie Madoff and are being sued by the government for over $300 million dollars.
The good news is the baseball side of the Mets is being run by Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodestra, two guys who were involved in the original “Moneyball” sabermetrics revolution in Oakland. (The Peter Brand character in the film is based on DePodestra). Despite a mediocre team and countless injuries, the Mets hung in there most of the year. And Met fans, the type of people who still believe that rooting for the underdog is noble, are putting their faith in these two enlightened thinkers.
Rooting for the underdog. Quaint, huh? Are you old enough to remember when that was the American ideal? Because whether in “Moneyball” or politics, it has always come down to two choices: using money and power to bludgeon people (even if you lucked into wealth) versus a level playing field and a sense of what’s right and fair.
I never understood how one could root for the neighborhood bully. But after watching the Republican debates, where some in the audience cheered for the idea of a man dying because he couldn’t afford health insurance while booing a gay American soldier, I realize why this movie struck such a deep chord in me.
(For more on Moneyball, click the Arts and Sports pages)