Hate the Yankees? Not anymore

  • Larry Henry / Sports Columnist
  • Tuesday, October 24, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

I once hated the New York Yankees.

Not because they won all those World Series.

I just figured that was part of life.

You were born. And the Yankees won.

You grew up. And the Yankees won.

You got married. And the Yankees won.

You had a family. And the Yankees won.

You got old. And the Yankees won.

You died. And the Yankees won.

Damn Yankees, all they did was win.

Their winning had nothing to do with my enmity towards them. I hated them because of something they did to a sportswriter in my hometown.

This was years ago when major league teams still traveled by train.

The Yankees were passing through the Midwest one spring and their train had stopped in our town for some reason.

A sportswriter from the local paper got wind of it and went out to do a story.

Like most of the boys I grew up with, I was an avid reader of the sports pages. That was the first section I turned to because I wanted to read about my heroes.

You also got familiar with the bylines of the local writers and my favorite was the guy assigned to do the story on the Yankees that day. His name was Mac.

Though I had never met him and didn’t know much about him – other than that he was an ardent hunter and fisherman and that he had grown up in the same town with Red Schoendienst, the standout second baseman of the St. Louis Cardinals – Mac was an important figure in my life. Because every time he had a story in the paper, it was as if he were talking to me. He was telling me about the game he had seen the night before or the players he had interviewed.

I liked his style. I wanted to be like Mac.

Years later, when I worked on the same staff with him, I got to know him and he was a really good guy. A World War II combat veteran, he had come home from Europe with some shrapnel in his body and he subsequently had to have part of a leg amputated.

I didn’t know about his war ventures when he got on the train that day to interview the Yankees.

Neither did they or they might have treated him with more respect.

Mac was a good reporter and an accurate writer. What he told you was how it was. And what he told his readers the next day about the Yankees wasn’t flattering. The gist of his story was that the Yankees were arrogant and didn’t want to have anything to do with a smalltown sportswriter. They blew him off.

That didn’t sit well with me. And for many years, I held it against the Yankees.

Treat my hero like he was some stray dog that wandered in off the street, will you? I didn’t care who won the American League pennant as long as it wasn’t New York.

But it seemed like the Yankees were always winning. And if toward the end of the season they needed a player to help them win a pennant, they’d make a trade. The guy might have been horse-patooey with his former team, but the minute he put on Yankee pinstripes, he was transformed into Superman. Another reason to detest the Damn Yankees.

Then something good happened: The Yankees quit winning championships.

They got one in 1962 but it was 15 years before they got another.

In between, they had some years when they were abysmal. The highlight for me was 1966, when they finished dead last.

I was working at a small daily in western Kansas. One morning I came into the office and the publisher said, “You see what the Yankees drew yesterday?” It was some paltry number.

We had a nice little ballpark and the publisher thought since the New Yorkers were having trouble drawing fans to Yankee Stadium, maybe they could do better in our town. So he dashed off a telegram offering the services of our facility. Someone in the Yankee front office with a sense of humor actually called back and thanked us, but politely declined the offer.

It was fun tweaking the noses of the once-proud Bronx Bombers.

Then along came a new owner and the winning returned, along with the arrogance.

George Steinbrenner was one more reason to despise the Yankees.

The winning was brief (1977-78), but the arrogance endured, even though it was 18 years before the Yankees won another World Series.

A strange thing happened in 1996. I started to like the Yankees. And it all began with one man, the manager, Joe Torre.

Torre seemed a decent guy. He was modest, restrained, treated his players with respect, and they in turn respected him.

Like their manager, the Yankees of ‘96 seemed a decent bunch of fellows. Guys like Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Derek Jeter, Jim Leyritz, Andy Pettitte and Jeff Nelson had a blue-collar work ethic that people all over the country could relate to. And when the Yankees won the World Series that year, their success wasn’t greeted with “not the Yankees again,” but “good job, well deserved.”

Now they’re aiming for their fourth world title in five years, and I’m still quietly pulling for them.

If Mac were still alive, he might even like these Yankees.

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