Did The Yankees Buy a Championship? Is Baseball Fair? Am I Fair?

For those of you who don’t want to read the long post that follows, I will tell you that the short answer to all three questions is “No.” 

The Yankees didn’t buy a championship because you can’t buy a championship.  They deserve a lot of credit for what they accomplished this season, the Steinbrenners deserve a lot of credit for their dedication to winning championships, and yet … and yet … when to get out of the house to avoid even the possibility of turning on the TV or computer to learn anything about their ticker-tape parade, I ended up going to get my hair cut and beard trimmed and found myself confined to a a barber’s chair within a few feet of a big screen TV broadcasting that parade, I felt as if I was a detainee at Guantanamo Bay.

Baseball, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is not fair.   The success of a baseball team depends upon the actions of unelected individuals who are granted absolute control over a chunk of millions of lives by a monopolistic system masquerading as free enterprise.  It is, of course, nothing of the sort.   The main virtue of capitalism is supposed to be that it allows people to become rich by satisfying the needs of others.  In a monopoly like baseball, the unelected despots become rich without having to give any thought to the needs of the millions who root for a team. 

And I am most certainly not fair, when it comes to experiencing emotions about baseball.  I know this and I struggle with it.  To illustrate my irrationality, and my self-consciousness about it, I offer these quotations from my book, The Last Days of Shea:  Delight and Despair in the Life of a Mets Fan:

p.89:  “After reading the Mitchell Report and venting my outrage at the rotten eggs who had tried, by cheating, to alter the competitive balance of baseball, I turned my attention to the efforts of the Mets to trade for Johan Santana, a pitcher who would deserve and receive the largest contract ever offered to a pitcher.”  Note the irony directed at myself.  I have a problem with people who alter the competitive balance of baseball with an injection, but I don’t have a problem with my team altering the competitive balance of baseball with a massive amount of money?  Yes, I would have been bothered if the Yankees had signed Santana.  No, I don’t think this is consistent of me.

p.200-201  ”Isn’t it corrupt of me to love an underperforming team with one of the biggest payrolls in baseball?  Isn’t it disingenuous of me to try to pretend that the Mets still have anything to do with the colorful underdog image the New York hype machine manufactured for them back in the 1960s?     …    Whenever my analytical mind penetrates all the way to the deepest absurdities of my baseball fandom, my poetic mind pushes back and says, see, there’s something extraordinary here, because you don’t like irrational belief, and here you are irrationally believing in something.”  What you find here is a contemptuous self-consciousness about something I write about a great deal in my book.  Baseball is a place where I allow myself all sorts of primitive thrills I don’t allow myself in ANY other aspect of my life.  I believe myths I know are not true.  I feel tribal identification.  I hate people and abstractions that don’t deserve to be hated.  I become deeply attached to home turf and I scorn the home turf of others.  The only reason I can accept morally the fact that I do these things when I root for the Mets is that I am always fully aware that the myths are not true, the enemies are not enemies, and that the tribe is an arbitrary community that demands nothing from me.   In baseball, all of the emotions that have made human history so wonderful and so horrible are turned into a game where they may be enjoyed in brackets, where they don’t hurt anybody.

All of this is to say that if I want to fucking hate the Yankees, I’m going to fucking hate the Yankees. 

I understand and sympathize with the puzzlement that some articulate responders felt when they read my previous misty-mythical-Metsy blog entry about how we’re better than they are because we don’t think we’re entitled, but someday the fates will send a small shaft of light down to lift our humble misery to the heavens, and blah, blah, blah.   I can’t satisfactorily answer the astute and challenging questions posed by JD and Kiko.   They are right when they say that the Yankees are doing nothing wrong and are not in fact buying championships.  They are right that the Mets are morally no better and are mainly less competent.  They are right to point out that the owners who stiff their fans by taking a profit and not investing in their team deserve to be criticized more than the Steinbrenners.  But nevertheless I feel about the Yankees the way I feel about the Yankees.  They are the not-me and I cannot root for them.  To root for them because they are of New York, and New York is the place I identify with more than any other place in the world, would make them part of me.   And I don’t want the not-me to be part of me.  I don’t want that.  To root for the Phillies, a worthy team that is merely a rival, seemed to me to pose less of an existential threat in this last World Series.  I don’t defend this.  I have never defended it.  In my piece about how Mets fans should root for the Phillies, I made the point of comparing the Mets to Cain and the Yankees to Abel.  Unpack this.  Cain’s resentment of Abel was legitimate.  He didn’t understand why God accepted Abel’s sacrifices but rejected his own.  It wasn’t fair of God, but it was the way it was.  I’m not saying that Cain was right to hate Abel so much that he killed him.  But I am saying that when I see Alex Rodriguez riding on top of a limousine receiving cheers and cascades of shredded paper from the buildings that line the canyon of heroes, I want to kill him.

And I will stand by what I said in Yankee Hatred.  Even if no one can reliably buy a championship, winning far more than any other team because you are always extremely well-funded and generally competently run takes some of the fun out of being a baseball fan.  I congratulate sincerely Yankees fans who can identify Horace Clarke or Danny Tartabull, but I warn Yankees fans who now have too much of the heroin of winning in their system.  You may be doing nothing wrong, but a time may come when you are doing nothing fun.   If the Mets ever win anything again, it will be a miracle and it will feel like a miracle, even if they have enjoyed every advantage in the world.  Yes, we will have more fun than you are having now.

As for the question of what is to be done, all I can say is this.  I don’t want a salary cap, which isn’t possible anyway, because owners will just use it to make more money for themselves.   It is my firm belief that the only way the problem of the games unfairness could be solved is if people somehow managed to get rid of the system whereby teams are owned by families and individuals.  I don’t know enough about the law to know what we could have, but I dream of a world, which we can probably never have, in which teams might be managed, on a non-profit basis, by boards of trustees accountable to elected officials in counties within specific metropolitan areas, where ticket prices are kept low in the interest of the fan, where the money made is divided among the players according to formulas that reward performance plus intangibles as determined in a fair, agreed-upon way, and where every team has as much of a chance of winning in a particular year as any other team.   Profits make sense in a system in which there is competition.  But they are not good things in a monopoly.  I can’t help but think that it would be a good thing if baseball were re-organized in such a way that it would only benefit the fans and the players.    This utopian suggestion, of course, won’t do as a proposal for an alternative.   I really don’t know what to say. 

I am waiting until next year.  And I am wrapping myself in the blanket of my myths and my antipathies.  My baseball universe isn’t happy at the moment, but it is coherent.  I know what I want.  I want to feel good about the Mets.  I want them to win.  I want that level of baseball excitement that I have only felt just a few times, that is so rare, so perfect, and so memorable that just a tiny amount gives the soul the sustenance it needs to hope, dream, and suffer through decades.

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Check out this recent interview with me, about my book and the World Series, with Frankie the Sports Guy on WGBB 1240 AM.

Come see me talk about and read from my book on at 7:30 on Tuesday, November 10 at the South Huntington (LI) Public Library.

Or come see me talk about and read from my book at 7:30 on Tuesday, November 17 at the Teaneck (NJ) Public Library.

And please check out Michael Kimmelman’s article “At the Bad New Ballparks” in the current issue of the New York Review of Books which features The Last Days of Shea.

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