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The Yankees, the GOP and me

Not the Daily News

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Believe me, I know the drill. Prejudice is corrosive, divisive, blinding and demeaning. A good person fights prejudice anytime it rears its ugly head, whether in the public realm or the depths of one's heart. To harbor prejudice is to be lessened as a human being and should be a source of embarrassment, consternation, shame.

But I can't help it. I hate the New York Yankees. Always have, always will. Have ever since I can remember, at least as far back as that day in the mid-fifties when my father took me to my first baseball game. So, journalistic neutrality suspended, I was thrilled when the Boston Red Sox beat the Yankees last week, becoming the first team in Major League Baseball history to rally from a three-game deficit to win a seven-game playoff series.

Put another way, the Yanks endured the greatest postseason collapse ever, losing the last two games on their home field, no less. "This time, it was the gluttonous Yankees who choked," wrote Dan Shaughnessy in a front-page story in the Boston Globe. "This time the cosmic forces were aligned with Boston."

The good news for long-suffering Red Sox fans was incidental to the chief objective: The Yankees, the most smugly successful franchise in American sports history, were sent packing.

Now, like most prejudices, mine is inherited. My father was a Dodgers fan, and the first game I attended was played in Brooklyn. I remember the fences at Ebbetts Field--long since fallen victim to the wrecking ball--were cozily close and covered with a bright patchwork of ads. The grass was oh-so-green, and the Dodgers were a glorious ethnic melange of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella and Carl Furillo, Duke Snider and Gil Hodges, Johnny Podres and Don Newcombe.

To root for those Dodgers was to root against the Yankees. During the decade between 1947 and 1956, Brooklyn's "Bums," as their fans fondly called them, met their interborough rival six times in the World Series. Brooklyn won but once, in 1955. I have a World Champions banner in our living room, the felt long-faded from deep Dodger blue, commemorating the only title Brooklyn ever captured.

When the Dodgers fled greedily to the greener pastures of the West Coast, followed by the New York Giants, the only game left within a hundred miles was at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx. There lurked the New York Yankees of Whitey, Mickey and Moose, the Yankees who stole games and home run records with a ridiculously short fence in right field, the Yanks who won almost as a birthright and displayed all the haughty, arrogant confidence that goes with entitlement and riches.

And that was even before the franchise was purchased by blowhard George Steinbrenner, criminal contributor to Richard Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign; before the Yanks fired announcer Red Barber after 34 years because he had the audacity to draw attention to the 413 fans in the stands as the team fell to last place in 1966; and before free agency allowed the richest franchise in the game to load and reload at will to maintain its supremacy in the marketplace. This past season the New York payroll was $182 million, highest in baseball and about 50 percent higher than Orange County's entire budget for fiscal year 2004-05.

During the four years (1958-61) that New York was barren of baseball as practiced in the National League--the superior league that eschews the bilious, cheap-thrills designated hitter--my family settled for trips to Yankee Stadium, where we rooted loudly for the visiting team. Any visiting team. My lingering memory of those visits is sitting in the upper deck in left field as Mickey Mantle hit a towering home run toward us in a Yankee win over the Detroit Tigers. The Tiger pitcher that night was Jim Bunning.

Come 1965, three years after a New York franchise was added to the National League, we took my dad to see the Mets on Father's Day, only to watch Bunning silence the crowd by pitching a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies.

These days Bunning is a U.S. Senator from Kentucky, where he's running for re-election against Democrat Daniel Mongiardo. Bunning, a baseball Hall of Famer who enjoys a six-to-one funding advantage and a big lead in the polls, has recently engaged in rather peculiar behavior, even by American political standards.

Bunning said Mongiardo resembles one of Saddam Hussein's sons (it's unclear which one) and that Mongiardo's staff assaulted his wife at a political picnic. He asked for increased protection because he feared a personal attack from terrorists. "There are strangers among us," he said. After insisting on debating his opponent from a separate studio and barring neutral observers, Bunning was discovered using a teleprompter to supply his opening and closing remarks.

Bunning never wore a Yankees uniform. But, being a Republican, he's a Yankee at heart. The Yankees are, in fact, the quintessence of contemporary Republicanism.

Both team and party are accustomed to outspending rivals. Both team and party command a handsome share of national media attention. Both enter major contests expecting to win. Both are relentless and unapologetic in their pursuit of victory. Both possess the swagger of success. Both are notable for their insensitivity to the needs of the less fortunate. Back in early September, when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays arrived late in New York because they'd stayed with their families in advance of Hurricane Frances, the Yankees immediately demanded the visitors forfeit their scheduled game. "When a hurricane is bearing down on the Florida coast, you worry about your family first and baseball second," said an irritated Lou Piniella, the Tampa Bay manager and former Yankee.

The major league office denied New York's request. After all, the last forfeit in the majors occurred back in 1918.

Strangely, that was the last year in which the Boston Red Sox won a World Series. And the franchise known in New England as the "Evil Empire," the specter haunting Boston across the decades and repeatedly denying the Sox a chance at another championship, has been those greedy New York Yankees.

The Yankees often thwarted Boston's postseason aspirations in excruciating fashion. Last year New York rallied from four runs down in the decisive seventh game of the American League championship series to win in 11 innings. This season it appeared the Yanks would quickly oust the Sox. But Boston rallied in ancient Fenway Park, the baseball equivalent of Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, winning twice in extra innings to send the series back to New York.

Watching those games took adept work with the TV remote. When the Yankees are at bat it's difficult to watch, much as is the case when our war president smirks his way through a speech. The viewing got progressively easier, however, as the Yanks lost twice in New York in the so-called House that Ruth Built. (The Sox sold electrifying slugger Babe Ruth to their arch-rivals in 1920, a move that supposedly cursed Boston forever.)

The curse may be lifting. Even the Yankees' attempt to rub salt in a lingering wound by having the ceremonial first pitch for Game 7 thrown out by Bucky Dent, a mediocre infielder whose homer eliminated Boston in sudden death in 1978, could not arrest their amazing, satisfying collapse.

The Sox now face the St. Louis Cardinals, their fifth World Series appearance since 1918. They lost the previous four in the decisive seventh game, twice to the Cardinals. Most recently, they lost to the Mets in 1986 after coming within an out of victory. Perhaps Boston's success this year, defying all precedent, bodes well for another competitor from Massachusetts, John Kerry. Certainly it's time the ball bounces in favor of the Democrats.

That's my prejudice, anyway.

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