I often get asked about (or more appropriately, accused of) being a Yankee fan from Queens, as if I’m some sort of homer who merely latched onto the storied franchise because, well, they were the big winners.
Bottom line: totally not true.
I was a Yankee fan because my older brothers were Yankee fans from Queens, because when THEY were growing up (late fifties, early sixties) there was only ONE baseball team in New York: the Yankees. The Giants and Dodgers had headed west, and the Mets had not been invented.
The Yanks did well, at least for a while. They began to collapse after 1964, right about the time Mickey Mantle’s knees were breaking down. By the time I started following baseball in the late sixties, the proud franchise was a national joke, and Mantle was about to hobble off the stage.
After I wrote a column on Derek Jeter last week, one of my friends from the old neighborhood, Albert Short, posted a blog he’d once written about suffering through this era:
“I grew up in north-east Queens, in an apartment complex populated largely by displaced Brooklynites. This was hardcore Mets territory. The Mets were born the year after I was so by the time I became aware of baseball, my contrarian nature dictated that I must become a Yankee fan. This was a tough time to be a Yankee fan, around 68-69. The Mets would take the World Series, while the Yankees completed one of the fastest disintegrations of a team conceivable prior to free agency. Mantle, Maris, Ford, Howard, Kubek, and even Tresh may as well have been Civil War generals by the time I understood baseball.
The woes of the Yankees of this era were personified by their second baseman and shortstop, Horace Clarke and Gene Michael. I’d seen both make three errors in a game, but at least Clarke could bat his weight. Michael couldn’t, despite being notoriously thin. Worse was the fact that they held on to him for about six years of consistently putrid performance.
I was out enjoying the marvelously clement weather just before and noticed a little kid wearing a Jeter shirt. He is truly fortunate to be living in this marvelous age where the Yankees have a shortstop worthy of the high calling of “Yankee.”
Well said, Short. We had no Jeter back then. And by the time the Yanks made it back to the World Series, the golden age of our childhood, the magical years between 6 and 12 years-of-age, were gone. Our real hero growing up was a guy named Clyde. But he played a different sport.
And so, me and Albert Short and all those Queens Yankee fans over 40 are officially exonerated. We were Yankee fans when it wasn’t cool. In fact, it was downright cruel!
By the way, thanks, Al, for writing my column this week. Just like the old days at St. A’s, when I borrowed your homework!