Yankee Hating 101

All you need to know about this national pastime
By CHRIS YOUNG  |  May 28, 2006

George Steinbrenner
"HATE" IS A STRONG WORD: Unless George is involved

“Hate” is such a harsh word. We really shouldn’t be practicing it or passing it down to our offspring anyway, and Lord knows this cruel world doesn’t need any additional preaching of animosity toward any of God’s creatures.

Like it or not, though, hating the Yankees has become a time-tested avocation. You certainly don’t have to be a Red Sox fan to despise the Pinstripers; heck, Mets fans have been doing it for decades, and New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers fans engaged in it long before them.

But the Yankees are a polarizing team; you either love ’em or you hate ’em, and there’s rarely any in-between. Oh sure, there’s often a certain amount of begrudging respect blended in with non-Yankee fans’ venom, but usually not enough to convince them that the New York professional baseball club is an organization worth rooting for.

Yankee fans are everywhere, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re significantly outnumbered by those who hold George Steinbrenner’s team in contempt. Professional sports teams that enjoy inordinate amounts of success tend to generate this kind of disdain — after all, whose favorite ballclub hasn’t been vanquished by the Yankees at one point or another? The same kind of demonization is often directed at the Montreal Canadiens hockey team, whose total of 24 Stanley Cup championships closely rivals the Yankees’ 26 World Series victories, making those two teams the most successful franchises in North American history.

And not surprisingly, the most despised.

Winning, like familiarity, breeds contempt from the outside, especially when it comes at your team’s expense; that’s why there’s no Padres Haters Guide being readied for publication, nor any university course listings for Mariners Hating 101.

And while there certainly are plenty of folks out there who could tell us a thing or two about why the Red Sox are worthy of loathing, that kind of advice isn’t usually welcomed in this town, and is certainly not appropriate for a newspaper supplement of this nature. The Red Sox probably do have enough faults that are worthy of publication, but putting them down in print wouldn’t necessarily guarantee a healthy readership — not around here, anyway.

So let’s focus on the Yankees. Is there reasonable justification for this franchise’s being so roundly hated? Is their roster so littered with despicable characters that the whole organization is deserving of condemnation and scorn?

Here are some factors that have undoubtedly contributed to fans’ passionate dislike for all things pinstriped.

• Let’s start with the fashion, shall we? There’s nothing wrong with the Yankee uniform, per se. It’s clean and neat and strongly rooted in tradition. And I can even see why the team doesn’t put the player’s name on the back of the home uniform; a lot of teams don’t, including the Red Sox and the Dodgers. But how come the team can’t deign to put their players’ names on the flip side of their road uniforms? Is there some conspiracy with the program-sellers to make sure that fans purchase a book so that they’ll know who’s who? It’s a bit presumptuous, don’t you think, for the Yankees to assume that their players will be instantly recognized by numeral alone when they’re playing in visiting stadiums? I guess Yankee Haters should be happy that the team doesn’t have pinstripes on their road jerseys; that would represent the height of carrying “tradition” a little too far.

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It’s tough to hate these Yankees

Say what you must about the past and present Yankees, but there are a few players who are upstanding enough individuals to avoid your slings and arrows of pinstriped persecution:

Joe Torre: Simply put, he’s one of the best managers, and people, in the game. I’m sure he has a dark side, and there are undoubtedly a few folks who have seen it. But his inherent class and his courageous ability to put up with his owner’s meddling ways make him eminently worthy of your admiration. It’s just too bad that Boston was never able to secure his services — he would have loved the chance, and the fans and players here would have loved having him — but at least he’s never wavered from the person he is, and he brings an additional touch of class to the organization. Almost enough to cancel out the actions of the Boss.

Mariano Rivera: A true gentleman and a man whose accomplishments almost transcend the game. He’s been loyal to the organization, has never been a showboat or a distraction, and this deeply religious man is a credit to this or any other franchise. Other than him being so damn good and being (most of the time) a Red Sox nemesis, there’s really nothing to even remotely dislike about this future Hall-of-Famer.

Bernie Williams: Other than the fact that he left the Red Sox at the altar when he was nearly signed by Boston as a free agent in 1998 (before re-upping with the Bombers at the 11th hour for seven years and $87.5 million), Williams has been a quiet but key component to each of the Yankees’ championship teams. Quiet and sensitive, and a top-flight jazz musician as well, the talented guitarist beat Steinbrenner at his own game during those 1998 contract negotiations, and his game of chicken paid off with a lucrative deal. Other than last year, when the switch-hitting outfielder’s numbers and skills dropped off precipitously, Williams more than earned the big contract back in ’98 with four subsequent .300 seasons and two more Gold Gloves (for a career total of four), all the while maintaining a low profile in a clubhouse full of superstars. Williams tends to annoy Red Sox fans with his penchant for stepping out of the batter’s box all too frequently — oftentimes as the pitcher is beginning his wind-up — but otherwise, he’s a smooth dude, and it’s no surprise that the Yankees wanted him back in a reserve role even after his big contract was up.

Jason Giambi: I know, I know, steroids. But at least he’s the only one of the accused members of the BALCO gang to at least step to the fore and acknowledge his regret and apologize to the fans (even though he didn’t actually say what he was apologizing for). But as the scandal erupted and engulfed such suspects as Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro, Bonds, and Sheffield, only Giambi was man enough to express heartfelt remorse for his (supposed) actions. He’s always been a great teammate and person (ask anyone in Oakland or NY), and it was his presence in the Bronx that probably helped tilt the scales for old pal (and former A’s teammate) Johnny Damon in his decision to sign in New York. Giambi’s comeback from his disastrous 2004 campaign is also noteworthy and deserving of plaudits.