There are few places in New York City more welcoming on a chilly October night than McSorley's, supposedly America's oldest tavern. A stove warms the front room as Irish bartenders built like bank-vault doors sling gallons of the house beer, which comes either light or dark and must be ordered two glasses at a time.
On the night when the Seattle Mariners fizzled in Game Two of the American League Championship Series, though, McSorley's seemed frosty to anyone who didn't share its patrons' joy over the Yankee victory. It might appear churlish to vacation in New York and then complain about being surrounded by spoiled, grating, poorly spoken, tasteless Yankee fans who probably couldn't describe their own ancestry. The truth is, though, it's tough to swallow.
Not that I'm all that mournful for the Mariners, who looked pathetic, especially as they booted the ball all over the Bronx in decisive Game Five. It's just that watching the Yanks' dynasty in action is nauseating, like seeing Commie tanks roll into Prague or a Starbucks open across the street from your favorite locally owned cafe. With the Bombers, it's always the old story: Big Smashes Little.
This year, it is worse than ever. Not only are the Yankees expected to win everything in sight; we're all expected to like it.
Call it the baseball equivalent of the post-Sept. 11 political chill. The prospect of the Yanks bolstering terror-shattered NYC with a world championship is a scenario straight out of TV's naughtiest dreams. In the new unwritten script, the New Yorkers are the good guys and the Arizona Diamondbacks, worthy champions of the National League, have been relegated to a supporting role.
Arizona, which outscored the Yanks 13-1 in winning games one and two, wants a rewrite. Of course, now the hyper-partisan New York hardball scribes, who set the tone for many other newspapers, simply have an even more compelling scenario: Gotham's heroes, backs to the wall, fight to stay alive. Surely no one, not even the Daily News' shameless Mike Lupica, will dare draw a direct comparison with the martyred civil servants of Sept. 11. But the subtext will be there, sitting right next to Giuliani on the first baseline.
So count on it: No matter how well the D'Backs do this week, the story will be the Yankees and their efforts to win one for America, apple pie and Greenwich Village, right up 'til the final out. And if the Yankees do win, I fear even some Red Sox fans might succumb to the brainwashing and weep with joy.
I love New York, don't get me wrong. Visiting the city so soon after the arch-crimes of Sept. 11, seeing sidewalks dotted with makeshift shrines and walls still plastered with victims' photos, was sobering and inspiring. But when it comes to the effort to enlist the whole country in support of this new Yankees=America fiction, count me out. The Yankees do represent some American truths--the unhealthy concentration of wealth and power, for one--but not the best.
And so the alternative is...the Diamondbacks? These historical nonentities with the Taco Bellish logo and the swimming pool in centerfield? Well, it doesn't feel quite natural, especially since sprawling Phoenix is pretty much the anti-Portland, a smoldering blot that's eating the desert alive and gulping the Colorado River dry. But I was surprised at how sympathetic the Snakes seemed as they demolished Their Lordships on Saturday and Sunday. They hustle; they build their wins with power hitting, sly shots to the outfield and terrifying pitching; they're a team of veterans who clearly want this championship down to their bones. The 4-year-old Diamondbacks are the grubby frontier upstarts matched against the pinstriped Eastern Establishment, and it's hard to think of a story more perfectly American than that.
The enemy of your enemy can be your friend, it turns out. And I'll take friends like Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson any old time.
Cheering for laundry: Though the Yankees hail from diverse points (from Caracas to Fayetteville), they boast no equivalent to the Mets' Brooklyn-born John Franco. Third baseman Clay Bellinger is from upstate Oneonta, while the eerily handsome Derek Jeter was born in 'Jersey. Scott Brosius--ta da!--is from Hillsboro, Ore.
And another thing: At least the homely Diamondbacks (think angry beanpole Randy Johnson or human pitbull Matt Williams) look like baseball players, not refugees from a GQ fashion shoot. Those Yankee boys think they're so damn pretty....