I was in an upper west side bar Sunday night trying to have a conversation while the Yankees were playing the Indians, and the way the knot of Yankee fans around the TV were cheering every time a Yankee pitcher threw a strike or a Yankee batter got a hit, you'd think they had all just won the lottery.
A Cleveland pop fly? "Yankee baseball, Yankee baseball!" A called strike against Sizemore? "That's what I'm talkin' 'bout, YEAH!" An actual single by Damon? One woman starts screaming like she's delivering twins. "Imagine what she'll sound like when they actually score a run," I said to Ava. Five minutes later, I didn't have to.
Now I'm a Red Sox fan. This means that, while I am only casually acquainted with winning, I am intimately acquainted with losing. And one of the things that losers habitually do is cheer every little minor victory they see, because the big one is always out of their grasp. I know this because I've done it myself, for years. And I can see it in other fans. I can see it in Yankee fans. They haven't won the big one in so long, they go bazoo when they win the little one. (And for Yankee fans? "So long" is less than a year.) It's like your grandmother doing an end-zone dance when she wins two bucks on an instant Lottery ticket. It's kind of sad and nutty at the same time. You watch her and think, "Wow, you really don't know what winning is like, do you?"
Except that it's about losing. About knowing what losing is like. And that is something which is not in the Yankee Fan genetic code.
Back when I was turning 50, I started writing myself a birthday play, and as usual it turned into about fifteen different things at once, and maybe someday (not today) I'll turn it into a novel; but one of the things I did was give myself five monologues, one to start each act of the play. The third act monologue was about the Red Sox and the Yankees. Bear in mind that this was written in 2002, before the Sox beat the Yankees (cough) greatest comeback of all time (cough) on the way to winning it all.
ACT THREE, Scene 1
[Spotlight on Max. He puts on a Red Sox baseball cap and stares out at the audience.]
MAX: There are two kinds of people in the world. Yankee fans and Red Sox fans. A Yankee fan is a cocky, arrogant pretty boy who walks into a party expecting to be the center of attention; and if he doesn't go to the party, then it isn't really a party –- and don’t you forget it. Yankee fans never lose; they have victory taken away from them. They never say that the other guy won because he played the game better; they say things like, "We had a bad day," or "We made some mistakes," or "We didn't play up to our potential." If they were a bank, they would only give credit to themselves. And when they don't win like they're supposed to, then there has to be something wrong with the world -- not them. The Red Sox fan knows exactly the opposite. The Red Sox fan knows that the world, like baseball, is not about winning, it's about losing. The Red Sox fan knows that the world, like baseball, is a beautiful place where horrible things happen for no good reason under the wide-open eyes of God. It's a hard place, with hard rules, and one of the hardest rules of all is that the longer you play, the more you lose; but by losing, you know more about the game. And you appreciate not only victory, but the skill and courage it takes to continue playing. And you develop something that winners, and people who think they deserve to be winners, never have. Compassion -- for everyone except those fucking Yankees.
That was then. Now? Now I have total compassion for Yankee fans. It can't be easy, walking around like you're King Of The Mountain when you can't even make it past the foothills. It can't be easy, walking around like you're cock of the walk when you can't even get it up. It can't be easy, when the label you print out and wear, the one that says WINNER, ends up crossed out or covered with graffiti. My God, it's like you're a walking metaphor for America's place in the world. And I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Even a Yankee fan.
But I do want to point something out to all you brand new citizens of the real world.
When you lose in the first round of the playoffs three years in a row? It’s not stunning, crushing, anguishing, staggering, frustrating or tragic. When you do the same thing three years in a row? It’s typical.