November 9, 2009

Rick Morrissy, of the ChiTrib, is just one of the first to try to soothe their psyches injured by rooting for clubs like the Cubs. “Now that the Yankees are back on top, I can settle into a more natural state of dark hatred and enthusiastic loathing for them. All is right with the world.

As the years rolled on after their last World Series championship in 2000 and the Bronx Bombers wallowed (for them), that hatred had turned to … what? Not pity exactly, but something like bemused dismissal. The Yankees were the filthy rich people who made impulse buys on hot-off-the-runway styles and ended up looking silly. There was no sport in it.

But now? After their six-game defeat of the Phillies? I can hate at will and with renewed vigor. Batter up!

I can hate Derek Jeter for playing to the cameras on the top step of the dugout as he cheered on his teammates.

I can hate the national media’s turbo-fawning over the Yankees, especially the media outlets on the East Coast and extra especially ESPN, which has an acute sense of who butters its bread.

I can hate Rudy Giuliani for his prominent seat at Yankee Stadium and his even more prominent PD-NY-FD baseball cap. Yes, Rudy, we remember you used to be the mayor.

I can hate the way the franchise spent gobs more money than anybody else to build a team of stars and then talked about “team chemistry.”

I could go on.

So I will.

I can hate the song “New York, New York,” which is played after every Yankees’ game. Start spreadin’ the news: It’s the anthem of a completely
self-absorbed city.

I can hate that the Alex Rodriguez story line turned into how liberating it had been for him to come clean on his use of performance-enhancing drugs. Explain to me why we’re convinced he’s clean now?

I can hate how Andy Pettitte basically has been given a free pass for his PED usage.

I can hate how New York bought into Nick Swisher’s phoniness.

That’s a lot of hate, I know. But what can I say? The Yankees bring out the best in me.

This hatred is a good thing, a healthy thing. So thank you, Yankees. You’re the bonfire on which some of us can throw our frustrations, whether it be the
economy, job problems, marriage woes or those stickers on pears that seem to have no purpose other than to make people crazy.

You’re here for us. You’re the mental health counselors who are standing by.

We need villains. We need big, bad nasties to hate. We don’t really want to get to know them. We would prefer not to find out they might even be human. We just want to hiss when they slither into our living rooms.

This is exactly what’s wrong with the NFL. Revenue sharing and a salary cap ensures parity, which ensures there won’t be an evil empire to detest. What team can you hate in pro football other than the regional rivals that crop up across the league? Besides Bill Belichick’s hoodie and the fact that Tom Brady has everything, there’s not a whole lot to hate about the Patriots.

We’re left to be disgusted with Terrell Owens. There’s not a whole lot of lasting fun in that.

On Friday, New York put on a ticker-tape parade for the conquering ballplayers that ambled through the Canyon of Heroes. Aptness required that the confetti be from shredded C-notes, but, alas, no. Even the conspicuously consuming Yankees have their limits. They might build a $1.5 billion stadium in a bad economy, but they’re not that crazy.

Some of us laughed at Yankees fans’ outrage during the barren years between World Series championships. I read a story Friday that described the “nine long years” fans had waited for title No. 27. Nine years? Dude, that’s 10 minutes in Cub years.

Yankees fans don’t think God is a Yankees fan. They think the Almighty is powerless in the face of the Steinbrenner family’s greatness.

You know what George Steinbrenner is? He’s the parent who does his kid’s science project for him. There is nothing special about the Yankees other than the fact they have owners who will spend in wretched excess to buy a winner. That’s not an art. That’s a payoff.

There’s no doubt baseball is better when the Yankees are winning. They are polarizing. They restart the discussion about the economic inequities in the sport.
Everybody needs a bad guy in a cape and dastardly mustache to root against.

I will say this: It’s hard to hate nice-guy Yankees manager Joe Girardi. And it’s hard to hate Kate Hudson, A-Rod’s girlfriend, no matter how excessively the cameras showed her.

Other than that, I’m whole again.”

Dick Heller wrote about Tony La Russa and Mark McGwire in the DC  Times, “The sadly misguided St. Louis Cardinals have hired Mark McGwire as a
hitting coach for 2010. The question is, why in the name of Stan the Man do they want him?
No matter how good he might be in the role – and I suspect not very – let’s call it a Cardinal sin.
Look at the record, as political challengers like to say. For 16 seasons in the bigs, Big Mac batted a very ordinary .263. This included such stellar averages as .231, .235 and .201 for the Oakland Athletics from 1989 to 1991 and .187 in 2001, his last season with the Cardinals.
But what about those 70 home runs in 1998 and 583 lifetime? Ay, there’s the rub, as Willie Shakespeare (or his designated ghost) might say.
We don’t know for sure that McGwire ingested steroids, but the circumstantial evidence seems overwhelming. His preposterously inflated late-career stats
certainly have convinced those of us who vote for the Hall of Fame. In three appearances on the ballot, he has collected less than 24 percent of the votes.
In fact, I doubt that he’ll ever enter Cooperstown without buying a ticket. The same goes for Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and anybody else
widely suspected of needling more than the opposition during his playing days.
Without concrete proof of drug use, this might seem unfair to some. But it is what it is, to not quite coin a phrase.
If you’ll permit a digression, it has been 20 years since another horsehide transgressor, Peter Edward Rose, was banned for life from baseball for betting on the game. My friend Steve, who has spent a lifetime watching and writing about sports, thinks Rose deserves to have his sentence commuted while the suspected steroid villains should stay on the outside looking in.
“Pete has paid his dues,” Steve reasons. “Besides, betting on his own team didn’t affect his numbers on the field. But those other guys…”
It remains to be seen how much McGwire’s advice can do for Cardinals hitters, many of whom suffered a postseason offensive letdown. I can’t quite see Mac helping Albert Pujols, who is two or three times the natural hitter McGwire ever was.
During the recent news conference in which his employment was announced, McGwire was a no-show. Undoubtedly, questions would have arisen about
steroids, and that would have been, literally, too embarrassing for words.
“By no means is he trying to hide, and by no means are we trying to hide him,” general manager John Mozeliak insisted.
Right. And the Cardinals’ uniforms don’t have redbirds perched on bats either.
Unfortunately for the ballclub perhaps, memories linger of McGwire’s evasive 2005 appearance on Capitol Hill when, with tongue tucked firmly in cheek, he told lawmakers, “I’m not here to talk about the past.” That ludicrous testimony brought widespread ridicule and shame raining down on an ex-ballplayer who once seemed like Superman in knickers.
McGwire, however, needed only one supporter to rejoin the Cardinals for next season: Tony La Russa. The club’s longtime manager has been and is a stalwart defender of his. Perhaps it’s appropriate that Tony also has a law degree, because barristers always stick by their man, right or wrong.
“I’ve believed in him from day one,” La Russa told the Associated Press in 2006.
But what about those dramatic and damning home run numbers?
“I watched him for years and years and years work out, and if any of us do that, we get bigger and stronger,” La Russa said.
Do you suppose Tony also believes in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy?
So Mark McGwire will be back in uniform next spring – his No. 25 has not been officially retired, although nobody else has worn it since 2002 – and trying to
earn his keep anew. If anyone mentions steroids, he’ll likely duck and deke conversationally like Cardinals Hall of Famer Lou Brock used to on the basepaths.
“On those things, I just keep my opinions to myself,” McGwire told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch two weeks ago. “People can think what they want.”
They do, and they will.”


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