When I was about 10 years old, my family and I took a trip up the California coast to San Francisco to taste some authentic ghirardelli chocolate, ride the streetcars and watch the New York Yankees play the San Francisco Giants in AT&T Park, a beautiful baseball stadium overlooking San Francisco’s sparkling waterfront. Adorned in my Robinson Cano jersey and a beat-up yankee cap, I sat munching on popcorn and watching the first few innings unfold in my seat right past the infield on the third baseline. It was around the third inning when Bobby Abreu hit a high-flying foul ball–a ball that the entire stadium lost in the blazing sun and clear blue sky–until, that is, it hit me.
The fans in my area took pity on me as the stadium nurses came to bandage the bleeding impressions of the seams of a baseball on the back of my hand. They even convinced the fan behind me who had caught the ball after it ricocheted off my hand to give it to back to me.
“Yo, you should give that little girl the ball that hit her!”
“Yeah, even though she’s a Yankee fan!”
“Hey listen, we’re gonna give you this ball back, even though you’re a Yankee fan. We’re gonna make an exception for ya,” they said.
And though I was grateful that the entire section of Giants fans seemed to be looking out for me, I couldn’t help but take note of the fact that I was in their good graces “despite being a Yankee fan.” They made it clear that I was the only Yankee fan in the entire stadium they were going to be nice to.
Every stadium I attend, the story is the same (besides getting nailed by a foul ball, of course). Baseball fans hate the New York Yankees–hell, even non-baseball fans hate the Yankees. They hate everything about the Yankees, from the fact that they “are too cool to have print their names on the jerseys” to the ball club’s outrageous spending tendencies. Fans needn’t travel to Fenway Park to hear the notorious “Yan-kees suck!” chant, because the words have reverberated, at one time or another, off of every single MLB stadium seat, all over the country.
Every baseball fan has heard it. Most baseball fans have chanted it. Even my little league Yankee teams were referred to by opposing players as the “evil empire,” though they most likely had no inkling of the phrase’s origins.
The Yankees are universally despised because they win. Because they have dominated professional sports with more championships than any other franchise, ever. Because for so many years they were owned by a both a “giant and a fraud” in The Boss–George M. Steinbrenner III. Because many of their franchise faces, like Alex Rodriguez and Reggie Jackson, are disliked just as much as the pinstripes they wore. Because, at times, they more closely resembled Wall Street corporations than a baseball team, headed by a ruthless CEO who spent his career using big bucks to make big wins.
But following another failed season by the Bronx Bombers and on the eve of another uncertain summer, it might be time for sports fans to view the New York Yankees from a different angle. The narrative of the New York Yankees is far from its glorious stereotype–periods of Yankee dynasties have been punctuated by almost entire decades in which the team was the laughing stock of Major League Baseball. Many a player has faltered under the pressure in the House the Ruth Built–and the newer House that Jeter Built.
Being a New York Yankee isn’t as easy at it looks.
The Bombers are berated in every stadium they enter. While other teams have specific stadiums they attend where they expect to be booed, cursed at and despised, members of the Yankee Clubhouse must become accustomed to being hated everywhere they go–from Los Angeles to Toronto.
And oftentimes, the place they are most hated is their own stadium. Yankee fans are ruthless–like a stadium full of George Steinbrenners, Yankee fans have no fear of booing their favorite players. Just ask Alex Rodriguez. Fans show up to every game, but their contempt is as palpable as that of a disappointed parent. It is next to impossible to please a Yankee fan–unless the Bombers bring home a World Series, fans are never satisfied.
This atmosphere creates a smothering pressure to succeed. Because the Yankees have such a highbrow reputation, fans all over the world expect them to win every season. Many more headlines appear if the Yankees don’t make the playoffs than if they do–as was the case last season. It is so much more bitter to lose if your team is expected to win; and when a team like the Yankees has a worldwide reputation of baseball prowess to uphold, players break under pressure.
So perhaps instead of contempt, the sports world should exercise a bit of sympathy for the members of the New York Yankees–because staying at the top is often just as hard as getting there in the first place.