My wife and I have a long standing debate. A bone of contention. A ruffle in our respective panties. She takes issue with the fact that I use the term “we” when referring to something the New York Yankees have done, will do, can do, should do, or won’t do.
“You are not on the team!”, she says in her righteous tone, with the conviction of someone that thinks they actually know what they’re talking about. “Oh really, you and the Yankees won last night? You and the Yankees have an important home stand this week? You and the Yankees are going to F-word the S-word out of the F-ing Redsox up the F-ing A-word?“, she says with a look that implies that I’m either delusional and/or dangerously perverted. Yet I have explained to her time and time again, the fans are an integral part of any team dichotomy. Like UK football hooligans, the fans are an extension of their team and play a vital role of support, appreciation, and motivation for their beloved team. Without fans there would be no teams. And so I stand by the claim fact that I am an integral member of the New York Yankees.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a baseball player. I didn’t care what position…I honestly hadn’t given it much thought, knowing full well that the probability of this happening was on the same level of me winning a gold medal with the U.S. Women’s Gymnastic team. (Not that I don’t look great in a leotard, but I’ve just never gotten past my tragic floor routine accident…back when I was a 12 year old asian girl). In my youthful delusion of fancy I wouldn’t play for any other team than the New York Yankees. Selfishly refusing the rest of the baseball watching public the chance to watch my legendary home runs, unless they were arching dramatically against the backdrop of the NYC skyline (yes, I am aware that home plate faces east, opposite of Manhattan…but I’m in the middle of a charming reflection, so shut up). For me, to play for any other team would have been a compromise of my integrity as a fan, and that wasn’t an option. At some point today’s ball players were fans too. They had teams that they lived and died for. They had unbreakable alliances. But then somewhere along the way, things got complicated.
The irony is, baseball players are the worst fans in the game. Their alliance shifts with every contract year. Whoever is willing to pay them the most money is where they’re going to hang their officially licensed MLB hat. Or they will demand a trade if their basement-dwelling team or less than luxuriant host city fails to warrant their high-priced presence, or doesn’t sufficiently stroke their ego. And this hypocrisy doesn’t land solely on the players shoulders, clearly it’s the nature of the business. The individual organizations are as much at fault as the players. To their credit, they’ve created an environment that demands production and, at the very least, consistency. Which is the right way to run a business and the appropriate standards to expect from your employees. However, they’ve also set strict loyalty embargoes with their players. Short contracts and a ‘what have you done for me lately’ attitude hardly lend themselves to a comfortable, stress-free and productive work environment. When you can look over your shoulder as a player and see young upstarts being preened and fawned over by ownership and the media, it doesn’t take long to realize that your commemorative bobblehead is quickly becoming a collector’s item. Not that I feel bad for the players, per se, because their inflated salaries and demands have led to this era of moneyball, and ownership has foolishly allowed agents and player reps to take so much of their power away that you have to wonder who is really running the league.
But year after year, contract after contract, winning season or losing season, you can always rely on the fans being there for the long haul. A fact that most organizations take advantage of. They know that these tens of thousands of unpaid team members are the ones buying merchandise, tickets, concessions and collectibles. So they jack up the prices and begin offering every conceivable type of branded apparel (batting practice hats, spring training wristbands, workout jerseys, retro hats, and this….really?). If I didn’t know better, I’d say these teams cared more about money than their fans. Can you believe that? A company that cares more about their bottom line than their employees, clients, partners, and supporters? In America?!?!
By definition, a team is made up of individuals. Those individuals have a responsibility to collectively represent the ideals, history, and pride of a team. The luxury and honor that comes with the opportunity to play baseball for a living is something that nobody can overlook. Everyone is going to be on their best behavior and recognize and respect this unique and envious opportunity…right?
There are some players who have proven themselves to be solid human beings, giving contributors to the community, charitable benefactors to those in need, and pillars of society and respectability. Current players like Jeter, Mauer, Granderson, and some of the all-time greats like Clemente, Ripken, and Winfield have done so much for their communities and championed so many charitable causes that they have come to be known for their class as much as for their ability. However, a larger percentage of players are ambassadors of greed, avarice, and inflated pride. Hardly the people you want as representatives of what your team stands for.
At some point money compromised their integrity. Soon after, indiscretions of the flesh, drugs, gambling, violence, dog fighting, wife killing, gun toting, ear biting, and rape enter the picture…and that’s just Lawrence Taylor (I’ll be here all week folks…don’t forget to tip your waitress). And before long your players are known more for their press conferences than they are for their on-field accomplishments.
I am a great Yankee because I have never negatively compromised the Yankee brand with these public embarrassments. I have never been caught with a prostitute, and to answer my wife’s predictable follow-up question: No, I have never visited a prostitute either. When it comes to gambling, I have never walked away from a casino with more money than I entered with…but I’ve also never left more than $250 lighter. I don’t like gambling because I don’t win — So I just don’t do it. As far as drugs are concerned, let me just say this…..I have never visited a prostitute.
What I’m trying to say is, money being the route of all evil is corny and cliche, but not wrong. It can hardly be a coincidence that so many multi-millionaires have such a shady and corrupted life, including sports stars, celebrities, and let’s face it, even your rich friend’s dad that has an apartment in the city because he works late 4 nights a week….he’s not working.
There was a time when being a ball player was enough. It wasn’t the money, the endorsements, or the women…..well, ok, it was probably always about the women. But the money was not the motivating factor. Yogi and Rizzuto ran a bowling alley in Clifton, NJ in the off season to make extra cash. They played for the love of the game, not for the elevated income bracket.
I’m not saying the players are wrong for taking the bags of money that are offered. I’m not saying that ownership is wrong for turning the game into a high-priced entertainment industry. What I’m saying is, money has compromised the integrity and limited the commitment a player has to a team, and the team to a player. But what lasts beyond the scope of capital gains is the undying commitment a fan has to their team.
Sure, players get the stats, the recognition, the benefits and gains, but there are intangibles that the fans provide that are as important as the contributions of the players.
- Home Field Advantage: Is it an advantage because the grass is cut differently; Do the dimensions of the outfield and foul territory favor one team over another; Do some yahoo’s dressed like sausages racing around the field in Milwaukee give the Brewers added depth? No. And if you know me, you know that I will always defend bratwurst in any argument. But the truth is, home field advantage points clearly and directly to the importance and energy that the fans bring to a stadium. The not-so-silent silent partner. The heart and soul of the home team.
- Roll Call: I know that Derek Jeter has more hits than any Yankee. I know that Yogi Berra has more World Championship rings than any other player. I know that Mariano Rivera has more post-season saves than any pitcher. But what I don’t know is, who is the guy that started roll call? For those of you who don’t know what ‘roll call’ is, why are you on this website? Please go away. Personally, I think roll call is the best fan tradition of any sport for any team. From throwing back the opposing team’s home run ball at Wrigley (which has been adopted all over), to throwing octopus on the ice in Detroit (which I’ve never understood….but it’s still kinda cool), to fans in Buffalo, NY wearing a #32 jersey and killing their wives, nothing compares to the unifying energy of roll call. Roll call immediately bonds the entire stadium, makes you smile when you see the honest and often humorous reaction of the players addressing their name being called, and actually, if only temporarily, makes you wish you were sitting in the bleachers. The origins of this great tradition are a mystery to me, yet it remains one of the things I love most about going to a Yankee game. I don’t necessarily agree that box seats suck, as The Creatures roll call coda will have you believe…but I appreciate the typical polarity that comes when real New Yorkers converge: “Hey, you a Yankee fan? Me too….Go F yourself”.
- We will always be there: Whether you win or lose, choke or triumph, ascend or plummet, the fans will always defend, rejoice, support, and mourn with you. You may get on our bad side, you may need a wake-up call with some boo’s or groans from time to time. But as long as you respect the game and respect the team, and respect your fans, you will always have a few thousand people in your corner. In much the same way that Deadheads were part of the mystique and persona of The Grateful Dead, so too are the dedicated (no pun intended) and emotionally invested fans of their chosen team. The only difference is, I don’t wear Birkenstocks, a room doesn’t smell like patchouli for 30 minutes after I leave it, I bathe, and I don’t like crappy music.
I am a fan. I am a contributor. I am a great New York Yankee.
And to my wife I say, we have a big home stand this weekend, so you’re going to have to watch The Real Housewives of NJ in the other room. My team needs me.
And so until next time, this has been another declaration of The Bill of Rights and Wrongs
Bill Schedler is a freelance writer. Please visit his website to contact him for any potential projects and assignments.