I’ve been a baseball fan since I was seven. I rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers then. What a team. We lived in a New Jersey suburb, so there was no reason to root for the Dodgers, except that my dad would take me to Ebbets Field to watch them play. Dad was a Dodgers fan, too.
I’d cheer hard when they won. I’d mourn for them when they lost. More often than not, they’d win many games but at the last minute come up a game or two short. Their tormentors were the New York Yankees. Brooklyn was the rag-tag team of blue-collar guys, Italians, Irishmen and African-Americans—even a Jew or two.
The press, noting that they usually finished second, labeled the team “Dem Bums,” which is how one would say “those bums” in Brooklynese. The Yankees were white, square-jawed and movie-star handsome. Since the beginning of baseball, nearly 100 years earlier, they’d won an unprecedented 16 World Series championships. By the start of the 1955 season, the Dodgers had never won a World Series. So how could the Yankees lose? They couldn’t. It was Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle beating Duke Snider, Carl Furillo and Jackie Robinson. They were one and two in baseball, with Brooklyn always two.
In the grammar school where I grew up, almost every kid was a Yankee fan. I got teased unmercifully for rooting for those stupid Brooklyn Dodgers. I hated the teasing, but I also hated the Yankees.
We will beat the Yankees next year. You’ll see.
Then, the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. It was a betrayal of staggering proportions. (At the time, a Brooklyn fan was asked to name the two most evil men in history. He chose Adolph Hitler as one and number two was Walter O’Malley, the guy who decided to move the Dodgers to California.)
And so, from that day to this, though teamless, I continue to root against the Yankees. I have, for half a century, rooted for every baseball team in the Major Leagues when they played against the New York Yankees. It’s in my blood.
This year, however, much to my surprise, I became a Yankee fan. I told people that. I told myself that. I have broken the mold. The Yankees have assembled a phenomenal baseball team. The star of the show is Aaron Judge, a 25-year-old rookie who is a strapping six-foot seven-inches tall, from California, and someone who can hit a ball where few baseballs have ever gone before. He can hit a ball 500 feet. There is Gary Sanchez, another phenomenon. And there is Aroldis Chapman, a relief pitcher who can throw a baseball 105 miles per hour. No one has ever been able to throw a baseball that fast, not even Sandy Koufax (a long ago Brooklyn Dodger).
They finished the season not quite at the top of their division, but good enough to make the playoffs. Which brings us to the whole point of this story, which is what happened when the Yankees played their first post-season series of games, against the Cleveland Indians. Cleveland outplayed the Yankees in the first two games. Cleveland needed only one more game to send the Yankees packing.
That third game was played at Yankee Stadium on October 9, and I watched it on TV sitting at the bar at World Pie in Bridgehampton.
Here is what I wanted to tell you. In the fourth inning, something shifted inside my brain. I didn’t notice it at first. But then I did. Nothing on the field had caused it. Judge would come up and I would root for him. Sanchez would come up and I would root for him. Bird would come up, and the two Fraziers and this new Yankee pitcher named Green would come on and I’d root for them.
But then I looked at the scoreboard. The game was tied. And I was thinking, Cleveland, come on, you can do it, get those bastards out of there, just one run is all you need and the Yankees are history again. Do it.
But they didn’t.
I am going straight to hell.