George Steinbrenner has apologized, "sincerely," for the performance of his baseball club in the World Series. His apology goes to the people of New York and to "fans of the New York Yankees everywhere."
That last part includes me, or at least used to.
Sorry, George, I know the great old American tradition of good sportsmanship compels one to be a gracious loser, or in this case accept an apology with good grace, but your apology is not acceptable.
The Yankees aren't the problem, George. You are. I don't want an apology from you. I want your head.
So, I bet, do baseball fans everywhere, Dodgers included.
Rooting for the Yankees is not the most courageous test of a sports fan. As the old chestnut puts it, being for the Yankees is like being for General Motors. You start out knowing you're the biggest and get your kicks by applying your wealth and power to crush the less fortunate. The logic for backing both GM and the Yankees seems to be: big is better and monopoly best of all.
Of course these days that old imperious impulse also falls into the "used to" category. The Yankees aren't the only mighty ones who've experienced a humbling fall from previous form. GM's had a lousy year, too.
In my own case, my lifelong affection for Yankee pinstripes is tempered by certain circumstances of birth.
I am a New Yorker, and grew up at a time when the city dominated American sports as nothing since. It sounds like typical New York arrogance to say this, but at that time New York had it all. If you lived there it was hard not to be an ardent sports follower of at least one, and probably many, superb teams.
It's natural, if naive, to think of your past as having been part of some special period, but when it came to baseball New York in the '30s and '40s was a golden time. I was especially fortunate to be there then because, thanks to my newspaperman father, I was the proud possessor (and envy of the neighborhood) of season passes to all three New York teams.
One high school year I went to more than 140 major league games. Each of the teams, and each of their parks, held special attractions for me.
I loved to sit just behind the right field foul pole in the Polo Grounds, where the Giants played, and watch their great outfielder, Mel Ott, nervously paw the earth like some thoroughbred at the starting gate during a tense moment in a game -- and also watch him come to bat, lift his leg as high in the air as Bob Feller about to deliver a fastball, and then pump home run after home run down that same shortest of all right field lines.
In Ebbets Field, that bandbox of a park in Brooklyn where win or lose the Dodgers stirred more emotions daily in their faithful fans than I've experienced in any other sports event, including the Redskins at their peak, it was seeing their centerfielder, Pete Reiser, roam recklessly after hits that remains an indelible memory.
Cavernous Yankee Stadium, in the Bronx, had a majesty of its own -- its tiers of seats rising in three decks from the playing field, its vast expanse of outfield, its monuments to great departed stars in deepest centerfield, its pennants from past season glories encircling the roof all gave a sense of tradition and athletic excellence unmatched anywhere.
As for the teams themselves, they were as different in style and character as their respective parks.
The Dodgers were, always, the most unpredictable and exciting, and they came closest to being what their publicists proclaimed them to be. They were the people's choice, the most democratic of clubs. You couldn't hate them, because they had a contagious dash and esprit of their own, and it was easy to see why their fans loved them, even when they lost the big ones, as invariably they did. No matter, we'll wait till next year, was the way their legions responded to defeat.
The Giants, not the Yankees, were the quintessence of old New York. They came out of the grandest tradition, of the winning days of the first great baseball manager, John McGraw, and their teams reflected that feeling of past grandeur. They were always a smoothly knit unit, and always had more than one great player, a Carl Hubbell, a Bill Terry, a Mel Ott, a Johnny Mize. Their fans were about as loyal and clannish and certain of their place in the proper scheme of things as a gathering of the faithful at a reunion of Yale's Skull and Bones.
The Yankees, well, I claimed them for special reasons.
Before I was in my teens a great sports writer, Frank Graham, a friend and professional colleague of my father's, gave me an autographed copy of his first book, Lou Gehrig: A Quiet Hero, and signed it, "To Haynes, from one Yankee fan to another." It was through his pages that I became captivated by the Yankee legends: to the selfless, courageous Gehrig, the greatest of team players; to the larger-than-life presence of the Babe, still the most exciting athlete America has produced; to the flawless performances of DiMaggio, Lazzeri, Dickey, Gordon and the rest.
Sure, it's childish, but scratch any sports fan and you expose a child. So I became a Yankee fan, not because they were the GM corporate board in pinstripes but because you knew they exemplified the finest in sports. They had class. Win or lose, they gave their best. They had pride. They never offered false excuses. Like Lou Gehrig in adversity, they were proud to be Yankees whatever fate had in store for them. And so, down the years, I have remained a Yankee fan.
Until now, that is.
About that apology, George. It's misplaced. It's you who should apologize to the Yankees -- and to baseball.
In the years since you've owned the premier sports franchise, you've succeeded in putting on the most sustained no-class peformance in the history of American professional athletics. You have bullied your players, fired your managers, humiliated your coaches, bragged about your checkbook brand of sportsmanship, hogged the limelight, courted dissension and made a mockery of team spirit.
This World Series brought all those elements together, for all to see. Those weren't Yankees out there. They were a bunch of browbeaten, snake-bitten, intimidated athletes second-guessed into a stupor and so spooked at the prospect of arousing your wrath once again they forgot why they were there. By the fourth game, you had even this old Yankee fan rooting for their opponents. Well, not quite. I was rooting against you.
Years ago, when the Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig were riding high, the cry went out across the land, "Break up the Yankees." They were so good no one else had a chance.
You've finally accomplished that, George. It's not the Yankees that need breaking up now, it's their owner.