Reason No. 613 to hate the Yankees

Cliff Lee did great in his final audition in front of the Bronx faithful, though not sure how faithful they all are when a sizable portion of them abandoned the game before its conclusion. Hey, Yankee fans: Your team scored 5 runs in the eighth inning a few days ago, on the road — is it too much to ask for you to stay until the end of a game, particularly considering you needed to take a second mortgage out for your seats? You’re a disgrace to “Freddy Sez” Schuman, who died on Monday at age 85.

Anyway, Jay Mohr was (somehow) right — one of the primary reasons I can no longer root for the Yanks is reflected in Mohr’s quote to the Daily News in Sunday’s paper:

“I was a Yankees fan when I was growing up but when the organization had the audacity to tear down the old Yankee Stadium  to somehow make it better and bigger and brighter, it just became this embarrassment of wealth where every year I’m supposed to root for a guy that I booed eight months ago, like Randy Johnson or Kevin Brown. ‘Oh yeah, now I like him because he is wearing pinstripes.’ It’s just too much.”

Not to worry Bronx Boosters: Cliff Lee will be yours in a matter of weeks. If you’re fortunate enough, you’ll get to see him at call-backs beating your team once more.

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Rooting interests

Was in Barnes & Noble the other day on my lunch break,and I flipped through Joe Benigno’s book Rules for New York Sports Fans. Well, hell, I’m almost 38 years old, and My Old Man had me reading the sports pages since I graduated from picture books (I grew up thinking that newspapers were read backwards, starting from the back page). So I hardly need to read about “rules” for being a fan. On the other hand, I live too far upstate to get WFAN’s signal, and Benigno is nothing if not a passionate sports radio host, so I gave the book a look-see.

Benigno writes that you can’t change fandom after you’re 13 years old, that there’s no divorce in fandom. I don’t think I saw it, but I suppose he might as well have added that there’s no converting religions (through marriage or otherwise) in sports fandom and no equivalent evolving of your politics as a fan, either (I’d probably agree on that one for professional politicians).

Well, I’m not divorced (despite my friends frequently referring to my wife as a Saint). I’m still a Catholic (though, to paraphrase Jake Barnes, I’m a rotten one). I’m still fairly Center-Left. And I changed the team I root for at the age of 36.

It’s been nearly a year since I came out with this, but let me explain and expand.

I was born into Yankee fandom — my father idolized Mickey Mantle, and my grandfather (from Italy by way of Yonkers, or is it Yonkers by way of Italy?) took me to my first ballgame, at age 7, at Yankee Stadium in 1979. I rooted for them until I was 11, became disillusioned at that impressionable age, came back within a few years, and slowly had that cynicism build up until I left the Yankees to root for the 2009 Mets. The Yankees won the World Series that year. The Mets won an early start to fall golf.

The year I turned 11 I rooted for the 1983 Yankees more than any team in my life, past or present. If you remember, that was the season that Billy Martin came back to manage the Yankees (Oh, right, that one? No, not that one. That one? No, that one.). The Yanks’ game program had a picture of Martin from behind pointing his thumb over his shoulder at his No. 1 with the words “Billy’s Back.” The team yearbook had a photo of Martin kicking dirt on an umpire, which surely did wonders for the Yanks getting any leeway on close calls that season.

My favorite player was Graig Nettles. I adored him. I modeled my batting stance on his. I sought out his model baseball glove, his model spikes, his model bat. I sought out his baseball cards. I bought his book. I loved Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” music video (remember those?) because he mentions Nettles at the end of it (the end of the video, that is, not the song).

And the Yankees traded their two-year captain and Gold Glover in spring training 1984 and named Toby Harrah their third baseman.

I was crushed. A few days before the deal, I remember seeing the back page of one of the tabs with a story about the potential trade of my hero. I threw the paper down the stairs in my house in anger.

Nettles went to the Padres, and the Padres went to the World Series that year. I bought and wore a Padres hat that year.

Eleven is pretty young to become a budding jaded cynic, but hell, I experienced a strike shortened season when I was 9. No wonder my generation grew up jaded, for God’s sake. It’s one thing to have grown up a decade earlier, when your President leaves a season (or two) early. It’s only politics, government, and the future of the free world. It’s quite another to have your baseball heroes out for the summer. We’re talking about something much more important. (Though at least they came back that year. I wonder how fans who were 9 years old during the 1994 strike-canceled season feel today).

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The neighborhood in the Citi

NY Times photoBeyond the obvious reasons of the on-field product producing soul-crushing five-game losing streaks, three-strikeout performances by their franchise third baseman, and expensive tickets made more expensive by surcharges and fees, I wonder if the problem of declining attendance at Citi Field is ingrained in some sort of original sin that was masked by lovable Shea Stadium, but has been laid bare by the not-quite-yet-beloved new Mets park.

Shea was indeed lovable, in some ways in spite of itself. Author and professor Dana Brand wrote a book that fondly remembered The Last Days of Shea. But as most Mets fans would admit, and as even Dr. Brand put it: “The line you often hear from Mets fans is ‘It’s a dump, but it’s our dump.'” It’s one of the many things I genuinely love about Mets fans over Yankee fans. Mets fans lost their oft-derided stadium (even oft-derided among themselves), and they still mourn it. It was built on land that inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s forsaken Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby. Yankee fans, meanwhile, lost a palace with an unmatched history of championships (albeit one with a ’70s disco make-over) and replaced it with a gray gaudy mall — and Yankee fans hardly shed a tear for the old place (except when bidding up pieces of it at Steiner’s Sports). There’s no similar poetry devoted to the final days of old Yankee Stadium, not in the same vein as in the book by Brand, who obviously speaks for a lot of Mets fans. It’s like the Yankees brass (with the help of The City) plowed over a community park to drop an exclusive baseball version of the Palisades Center into the South Bronx, and Yankee fans loved them for it, even if that mall hardly loves them back.

That said, could the Mets’ attendance problem lie in the real estate agent’s refrain of Location, Location, Location?

Michael Shapiro touched on Flushing in the epilogue of his 2003 book about the last days of the Dodgers era in Brooklyn, The Last Good Season. Shapiro’s book was cited recently in a New York Times-led discussion about Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs in response to a question about Moses and the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn.

Shapiro writes:

“There is talk about tearing the place (Shea) down and building a replacement in the parking lot. The new park would be called Jackie Robinson Stadium. It would, if it is ever built, have a retractable roof but otherwise look like a replica of Ebbets Field.”

OK, so prescience isn’t perfect for authors — A roof? Um, no (thank God). And Jackie Robinson got the rotunda, but not the naming rights to the entire place. But Shapiro was close enough (the book was published three years before they broke ground on the new field). He continues:

“The stadium, however, would sit at the confluence of highways, not city streets, which runs contrary to the idea of what Ebbets Field represented. It is an idea that other planners have incorporated in the new parks in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Seattle, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, San Francisco, and other cities that had built and then torn down parks like Shea. It is the reason Chicagoans fill Wrigley Field even when the Cubs are dreadful. Ebbets Field was a city ballpark, a ballpark to which people could walk. They could pass it on their way to work, and hear the noise from inside when they were heading someplace else. It sat in the middle of a place where many people lived.”

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