BY DAVID WINICKOFF
As I sat down to watch Game 5 of the American League Divisional Series between the New York Yankees and the Oakland A’s, I was presented with a profound dilemma. Should I root for the Yankees? I was a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan, and to root against the Yankees was my nature, to hate them my obligation. For years, the Yankee pinstripes have embodied the enemy. It’s not fair that they have won the World Series so much, especially since the Red Sox haven’t won since the Neolithic Revo-lution. Babe Ruth, Bucky Dent, Roger Clemens. These are the shadows alive and dead that have haunted me just as they have haunted every other Sox fan. And yet, horrible to admit, as I got in touch with my feelings, I found myself making a strange emotional alliance with the Bronx Bombers.
This recognition unleashed a clash of psychic forces within myself that doubtlessly will have to be worked out through years of therapy. The Yankees? Owned by that deranged loot-monger Steinbrenner, the arrogant Jeter, and that steak-headed traitor, Roger Clemens? The winners of the last THREE World Series! How could this be?
Of course, it’s obvious. You can’t help but root for the city of New York in the wake of the World Trade Center disaster. How did the French Prime Minister put it? We are all New Yorkers. The city has suffered, and we have suffered through and with them. We’re all New Yorkers.
But are we all New York Yankees fans?
I think on some level, we are. I think even the Fenway Faithful conceded this when they broke into a chorus of “I Love New York” in the first home game after the bombing. Was hell freezing over that night? Or perhaps pigs were flying over the Green Monster?
I know how amazing that choral tribute was because I’ve experienced the hate first hand. Yes, I have something else to admit. To my family’s disgust, I was a Yankees fan until the age of 6. This must be the stage of psychological development when children start to understand “shame.” Around that time, I remember attending a Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway dressed in full Yankee uniform. I’m talking everything: the hat, jersey, pants, stirrups, even my Dad’s black leather belt wrapped twice around my waist. I narrowly escaped dismemberment that day. Neither I nor my Dad escaped without shame. After that, for better and for worse, I permanently donned the “B.” And I began to loathe the Yanks with the best of them.
But this week, as the A’s-Yankees series progressed, I really started to enjoy the Yankees. The Yankees were MY team again. And they have been great! Did you see Jeter’s incredible back-handed flip to Jorge Posada in Game 3 that cut down the tying run in the late inning that preserved the victory? That was the best play I have ever seen. He ran full speed across the diamond to back up the cut-off man, just in case the throw went over his head. Well, it did, and Jeter took the ball running away from home play and flipped it across his body to Posada for the out. Did you see him as he leapt head first into the stands to catch a foul ball in the eighth inning? For now, he is simply the best shortstop in the game. Sorry, Nomar!
And how can you hate the Yankees manager, Joe Torre? You gotta love his perseverance, integrity and passion. He has come back from prostate cancer to win championship after championship. You also gotta love his emotional sensitivity. The guy cries more on the job than Jon Hanson! I love Joe Torre. I even love his big bulbous nose.
When Mariano Duncan, the fearsome Yankees closer, blew away the final two batters, in their sparkling white moon shoes and yellow and green uniforms (sit down Peter Pan!), I shouted for joy. I saw Mayor Giuliani on the field, hugging Joe Torre, and I knew that this was much bigger than baseball. Everyone knew. We were celebrating with a stadium of survivors. And for a night, at least, we were all Yankees fans.