Confessions of a (non-NYer) Yankees Fan

Hope all my fellow Bloomington residents picked up a copy of April’s The Ryder magazine. (They seem to be a few months behind on posting the issues online, unfortunately.) Along with a smart piece by the great Hoosier songwriter Tom Roznowski, there’s an essay by WFIU jazz host David Brent Johnson titled, ”The Year the Yankees Won the Pennant: Confessions of a Devoted Fan”.

Johnson spends his first grafs trying to explain why Yankees fans are so reviled. He lists Halberstam’s October 1964, the musical Damn Yankees, and Steinbrenner, along with the team’s unreal record of success, as reasons. He relates his personal story of a friend discovering his secret, shameful fandom. I can’t speak to it with any empirical evidence, but the disdain for fans of the Yankees seems to be amplified when it’s directed at non-New Yorker fans.

As a native of the great city of Indianapolis, I grew up without a major league baseball team. Sure, we had the triple-A Indians, a team with great fan favorites like Razor Shines. But minor league baseball is never quite the same, especially when you’re a farm team of the Expos.

The Cincinnati Reds are the closest team (in terms of miles) to Indianapolis. But I never knew anyone who was a Reds fan growing up – and this was before the Pete Rose scandal. Northern Indiana has always been Cubs territory, and many of my friends gradually drifted into the masochistic cycle of hope and despair they’ve perfected in Wrigley. A few friends later became White Sox fans during the excitement around the young phenom Frank Thomas. And around Evansville, where most of my family lives, it’s St. Louis Cardinals territory – something that’s only intensified since local boy Scott Rolen made the team.

Between the Pacers and the newly-arrived Colts, I didn’t actually think much about baseball. I never played it as a kid – I was too busy switching between basketball, soccer, and football. When I got together with friends, we played basketball, soccer, or touch football. But the tribalism of boyhood means that, eventually, you have to pick a team.

My family led me, in a roundabout way, to the Yankees. My aunt had been a year behind Don Mattingly at Memorial High School in Evansville. He occasionally stopped into my grandfather’s music store, and I ended up with a signed baseball card. And then another. And a poster. A glove. A bat. And I identified with this guy – not only was he from the same place as my family, he had a goofy long neck like me. And he played for the Yankees.

The Yankees appealed to me, despite their utter lack of success in the 1980s. They were a team that had reinvented themselves in era after era. They weren’t just vehicles for star players, but strong ensembles that enabled superstars to emerge. This was the team of Ruth, of DiMaggio, of Mantle and Maris. Being a Yankees fan gave me a sense of historical grounding – something missing in an Indiana upbringing. (That sense of missing Hoosier heritage is, appropriately enough, one of the subjects of Roznowski’s essay in The Ryder.)

And I became a Yankees fan, despite growing up in Indiana and having no significant connections to New York. It’s not necessarily a decision I made consciously, but it’s one that I have no regrets about. No amount of teasing from my friends who root for the Cubs, or seasonal derision from my friends who root for the Red Sox, is going to change it. I am a Yankees fan. As Johnson notes in his piece, there is a bit of a confessional tone to that sentence; there’s also a fair bit of defiance.

Then again, it’s a bit more complicated for me. I’m married to a Red Sox fan.