Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Birth Right

Growing up as a kid in Baltimore, I was a fan of the Orioles and the Colts, just like everybody else. Exactly when football came up on my radar screen I can’t pinpoint. I can vaguely remember a newspaper headline lamenting the Colts’ NFL Championship Game loss to the Cleveland Browns 27-0 (1963) and I sat on the porch and sulked when Joe Namath’s Jets beat the Colts in Super Bowl III as an 18-point underdog. I became a huge Namath fan after that, and even wore white shoes in my high school football days (way before it was considered OK).

Baseball is a different story though. I remember the day the Orioles traded Milt Pappas for Frank Robinson and I can trace my fan allegiance to the Orioles to one event: The’66 World Series. Baltimore sweeps the Dodgers in 4 straight to win their first world championship

It’s part of a working class town’s birth right to have a close tie to their sports teams. That’s true in Baltimore, there’s an added bonus;

You get to hate the Yankees.

It’s part of the deal. Nobody is an Oriole and a Yankee fan. You can like the Pirates, or the Phillies, even some of those teams out west, but not the Yankees. Paul Blair went to play for the Yankees and was immediately disowned. Don Larsen finished his career with Baltimore, but he was always that guy from the Yankees who threw the perfect game in the World Series.

There’s nothing similar about Baltimore and New York except both are port cities with immigrant neighborhoods. For the longest time, there was nothing similar about the Orioles and the Yankees either. In Baltimore there was “the Oriole way.” How you played baseball the right way. In New York, they were always trying to make some deal to get the top players away from inferior clubs.

If you followed the O’s, you hated the Yankees and that was that. (You also got to make fun of the Red Sox and laugh at the Senators but that’s a different story)

Hating the Yankees was a daily summer pastime. I’ll be the pitcher and you be Mickey Mantle and I’ll strike you out in the bottom of the ninth! You be Whitey Ford and I’ll hit a three run homer off you to win the game! Every day in the street in front of my house from March ‘till October, the Yankees were defeated by some dramatic feat. Even in curb ball (a Baltimore city game) the hated Yankees went down to defeat as the sun was setting and my mother called me for dinner.

Apparently Yankee hating isn’t limited to kids from Baltimore. It’s somewhat of a national obsession and represents all that is good, and sometimes bad about being a fan.

What is it about the Yankees that is so “hateable” anyway? They’re good, if fact they’re arguably the best pro sports franchise of the 20th century. I’m not jealous of them. If they win, they win. I don’t check their scores, unless they’re playing the Orioles.

I suppose when you’re on top, you’re an easy target and they have had their share of characters over the years, starting with Babe Ruth (who’s from Baltimore by the way). Ruth is the only larger than life figure in baseball history, and he was a Yankee! Traded from the Red Sox, Ruth built the stadium and started the Yankees on the most successful championship run in sports history.

People hated the Yankees in the 20’s and 30’s because they always won. They came up with the best players, sometimes coerced from smaller city teams for big money. The 40’s were dominated by the war, and in the 50’s the Yankees went back to dominating baseball. Between Ruth, Gerhig, DiMaggio and Mantle, the Yankees had four of the best players ever!

Maybe it’s their fans that people dislike. When things are good, they’re out in force. When things are bad, they’re in hiding, or explaining how they used to win, bringing up some old box score and acting like it’s only a matter of time before they ascend to the throne again. Yankee fans are passionate, that’s for sure. Nobody is a casual Yankee fan.

George Steinbrenner is easy to dislike from afar. He seems to act like a jerk more often than not, but the few times I’ve talked with him, he’s been as charming as anyone I’ve ever met. And he wants to win!

It is harder to dislike the Yankees with Joe Torre as their manager. Who wouldn’t want Joe Torre as their manager? He’s smart, honest, a real baseball guy and isn’t a glory hound.

How can you dislike Derek Jeter? Or Bernie Williams? They’re two of the best players in the game today, and they happen to be Yankees.

I admit, the Yankees are great. Maybe the greatest sports franchise ever.

I have a lot of respect for them.

But somewhere in my heart I hate them.

I must.

It’s a rule.