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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Three Tribes of New York Sports Fans

This is excerpted from my book, "The Juju Rules, or How to Win Ballgames from Your Couch." (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

(Good grief, buy the damn thing! Or better: Give it to everybody you know as a Christmas gift!)

The New York baseball market is comprised of three angry tribes:
            YANKGERS: The dominant tribe, as of this writing. "Yankgers" is an acronym of Yankees-Giants-Knicks-Rangers – YGKRs – the city’s oldest teams. At any moment, the typical Yankger’s joyful recollection of Roger Clemens beaning Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series might segue into a weeping appreciation of Lawrence Taylor, 15 years earlier, snapping Joe Theisman’s leg like a frozen curly fry.
This fervor stems from bloodlines. In many cases, the Yankees represent the first adopted team of their ancestors, immigrants who celebrated their new life in America by watching Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig kick the emerald green snot out of teams from fancy-pants places like Baltimore and Washington. Between 1927 and 1962, Yankee dynasties romanced New York’s Italian and Irish populations like a millionaire industrialist sending pricy chocolates to a stripper. The Yankees became the gateway drug to other New York franchises – starting with the football Giants.

In 1956, the Yankees and Giants both won world championships, inspiring New Yorkers to equate the two as looming dynasties. Both played in Yankee Stadium. Both retired uniform numbers by the bushel: (Ray Flaherty, No. 1; Tuffy Leemans, 4; Al Blozis, 32…) The Giants – behind Frank Gifford, Andy Robustelli and Sam Huff – seemed poised to become the Yankees of the NFL.
Then the dice turned cold. The guts of the Giants, Vince Lombardi, jumped to Green Bay, and the brains of the franchise, Tom Landry, skipped to Dallas. That left clipboard of the team, Allie Sherman, to run the show. Between 1958 and 1963, the Giants played in five NFL championship games – and lost every stinking one.
In the 1980s, the Giants again flirted with greatness. Behind Phil Simms, Joe Morris and L.T., they won the 1986 Super Bowl. Unfortunately, the players went on strike, and the owners broke the union like a certain Redskin quarterback’s femur. The league imposed a revenue-sharing system designed to create what it called “parity.” 
Everyone knows the NFL loves America. It reminds us constantly in sugary half-time shows and United Way commercials. But the NFL’s owners do have one problem with the United States:
Capitalism.
They hate it.
The NFL is the world’s leading communist organization.
            Each spring, its worst teams draft highest, receive the weakest schedule, and sign players shed by the winners, due to a league enforced salary cap. In a perfect NFL season, every team goes 8-8, every player dresses alike, and every TV announcer flutters his hands like Terry Bradshaw. Thus, the league’s owners avoid their worst-case, nightmare scenario: An NFL version of the Yankees.
As for the other Yankger teams? When critics condemn New York fans for backing the rich, powerful Yankees, they manage to ignore the tortured histories of the Rangers and the Knicks. Sadly, Yankgers cannot do this.
DODGINTS: In the early 1900s, the New York Giants won three world championships under John McGraw, arguably the First Coming of Billy Martin. They won again in 1933 and then in 1954, under Leo “the Lip” Durocher, the Second Coming of Billy. Their mortal enemy, the Brooklyn Dodgers won just once – in 1955 – while losing eight World Series, making them the First Coming of the Redsocks. (In fact, the B’s on their caps bore a striking resemblance.)
Both teams succeeded by signing African-American players, such as Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson, long before the redneck-cracker Yankees woke up and acquired the majestic oak tree that was Elston Howard. (By the way, that disgraceful lag in morality cost us at least three world championships. Imagine Larry Doby in the Yankee lineup of 1954. Also, Boston could have ended its “curse” 50 years earlier, if not for racial foot-dragging.)
In the winter of 1957, the Dodgers and Giants abruptly skipped to California.
If it happened today, the National Guard would be deployed. Effigies would burn, lawyers would sue, and elderly white mobs in tea party costumes would march on Washington. The anger would have a name: Coast Traumatic Stress Disorder. But in the Nytol era of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the masses were too newly mesmerized by TV to mount an insurgency.  They didn’t have a team, but they could watch Milton Berle dress in drag.
Fans of the Giants and Dodgers faced a hellish choice: Keep rooting for the teams that betrayed them, whose games now started after 10 o’clock each night, or support the franchise they hated more than they hated life itself – the Yankees.
So were spawned Dodgints, Yankee fans created by the Great Dodgers/Giants Treachery of 1957.
Inside every Dodgint lurks a cork-popping rage that must be directed at somebody – anybody – but preferably a Met or Redsock. They cannot explain this anger any more than an emperor penguin can describe life outside Antarctica. They’re always ready to detonate. They always want to fight. The craziest Dodgints are the children of those who kept rooting for the Dodgers or Giants, like google-eyed zombies milling around a shopping a mall. They refused to sign up for baseball’s version of a methadone clinic, the Mets. In fact, Dodgints view Met fans the way that brown ants view red ants: They want to squeeze them with their pinchers, until the tiny heads explode.
Dodgints constantly fume. They want every Yankee manager fired, every Yankee pitcher pulled. They want the cleanup hitter to bat third, but they also want him traded. The Yankees can be leading 13-0, but if a star hitter strikes out with runners on base, their whole night is ruined. They love the Yankees. They hate the Yankees. They’d rather finish 20 games out than lose the World Series in seven games on a humpback blooper. They fear every Redsock acquisition, even players the Yankees wouldn’t touch with a laser pointer. They want every free agent. They want every game, every at bat, every pitch. They want the season over, as soon as possible.
Publicly, they scorn juju.
Privately, they are the most obsessive practitioners ever known. They weigh every subconscious movement for its impact on the team. Some may even dream juju in their sleep. 
They never find peace. They never experience joy, except for the moments immediately following a Yankee win. It lasts until Frank Sinatra finishes “New York, New York.” Then the shakes return.
I am a Dodgint.
             NYETS:  The polar opposites to Yankgers, Nyets take their name from the New York Mets, Jets, and Nets, and flourish mostly in areas of weed-whacked Suburbia and its ancient holy land, Long Island. 
Why there? The Mets and Jets played at Shea Stadium in Flushing, and the Jets for years practiced at Hofstra University, in Hempstead. The New Jersey Nets’ glory years occurred as the New York Nets, playing in Nassau Coliseum. In hockey, the Islanders are, well, Islanders. 
Nyets believe in the power of love, the magic of nature and the greatness of God. They generally abstain from juju. As a result, their teams have suffered.
Met fans watched as the great Tom Seaver was run out of town by the blowhard tabloid sportswriter Dick Young. They watched little Lenny Dykstra go to Philadelphia and plump-up into a steroidal-rage behemoth. They saw Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry resurrected as Yankees. In 2007, they watched their team blow a 7-game lead with 17 games left, the kind of meltdown that ended nuclear power in the Ukraine. In recent years, they’ve watched one of their last icons, Keith Hernandez, hawk hair coloring. He couldn’t snag a Viagra contract.
Jet fans had to witness the transformation of Joe Namath from World’s Coolest Bachelor to a shaky old groper of waitresses. They suffered the indignity of playing home games in Giants Stadium. In 2000, after head coach Bill Parcells resigned, they watched his handpicked successor – future Patriots’ legend Bill Belichick – quit after one day. He scribbled his resignation on a napkin: “I resign as HC of the NYJ.”
Nets fans? Let’s just say that, through their first 30 years, they never watched an NBA championship game that they were playing in.
Even when touting his team, a Nyet’s head will shake, as if to say, “Yeah, I don’t believe me either.” They claim to disdain violence, but beneath every dinner table, the Nyet is choking a napkin with his or her bare hands. In dreams, they are dousing Mr. Met with gasoline and striking a match on Bernie Madoff’s stubbled chin.  
Many Nyets yearn to flee Long Island. But to the west, they face a city swarming with Yangkers and Dodgints, hungry for the chance to shred a David Wright jersey into animal bedding. New Jersey won’t accept them; it’s still pissed about the Nets. If they go North, they will find Redsock fans still seething over the 1986 World Series. (If the Yankees ever fall, "METS SUCK!" will quickly become Fenway’s favored chant.)
If they move to – say – Ohio, they face the obvious questions: You’re from New York? Why aren’t you a Yankees fan? These days, a Met fan turning up in Toledo will trigger calls to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Singer Marc Anthony is a Met fan.
His wife, Jennifer Lopez, roots for the Yankees.
When Nyets inbreed, a mutation often results. See that bearded guy standing on Broadway, wearing a Mets cap and Minnesota Vikings jersey? What caused him to support a team from a city he only knows from reruns of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show?” What happened to him? And do you really want to know?
The Russians have a one-word answer. Nyet.

1 comment:

a formerly great NYJ QB said...

I really want to kiss you right now!!