In the very quiet town of North Andover where I live about 25 miles north of Boston, we got a visceral shock after game 5 of the American League Championship Series, which the Red Sox won over the Yankees in 14 innings. The morning after, sketchy reports on the radio news described a shooting at an intersection not far from my house. Early versions had three men dead in a van.
As the story got clarified, we breathed a little easier. The October 20 story in the Boston Herald still takes some unscrambling. Six men (you have to count up the number paragraph by paragraph) had gone out drinking “in bars in Boston and Lynn” on the night of game 5. Among them were Red Sox fan Jose Rivera, 33, and Yankee fan Julio Rodriguez, 58, both of Lawrence, a town next door to North Andover. Rivera, Rodriguez, and the four others were, in other words, going home that night after whooping it up at sports bars.
Rivera’s jubilation over the Sox win rubbed Rodriguez the wrong way. Rodriguez started shooting, killing Rivera and wounding two others as the van was northbound on Route 93, well away from North Andover. The unwounded driver pulled off at the first exit he saw, Route 125, and bailed, along with an unwounded passenger and Rodriguez. A wounded passenger took over the wheel and drove the nine miles north on 125 till the North Andover cops stopped him.
Things get serious in Red Sox nation when the Yankees are involved.
The Sunday before, I had gone into the pro shop at our local golf course. Frank, behind the counter, and I agreed that it looked like the series was over after the Sox took their 19-8 drubbing from the Yanks in game 3. “It was a better matchup on paper this year,” Frank said, and I agreed, puzzling over the Sox’s awful seeming fate. Our general sentiment? Like that of most New Englanders, it was, screw ‘em, let’s watch the Pats. I’d bet the TV ratings in New England for game 4 were the lowest of the series.
It is not only in New England that people loathe the Yankees. It goes back a long, long way, to the Gotham-centric origins of television. Back in the fifties, when TV cameras weighed hundreds of pounds and baseball was broadcast from a stationary position in the stands behind home plate, CBS’s Game of the Week, with Buddy Blattner (later Pee Wee Reese) and Dizzy Dean, meant Yankees baseball at least half the time. It made sense, dollarwise. The networks were in New York, the equipment was there, the technicians were there, and it was hard to move. (The Dodgers and Giants were there, too, but the ad agency and network execs were Yankee fans, Manhattanites.)
But television did the same thing with everything, you see. And just as the New York and New Jersey accents of kids on TV commercials or of voiceover announcers grated on the ears of the rest of the country, so did New York’s point of view grate, too. I remember cleaning out my grandmother’s basement in South Dakota after her funeral and finding an old sports page from the early 1960s. The baseball standings, still with only eight teams in each league, showed the Yankees (post-Maris, post-Mantle, post-Ford) in the cellar. I thought then I should save it, but I didn’t.
I lived in New Jersey for two years, and listened to the Yankees regularly on the radio. I like baseball on the radio, and the Yanks had a great broadcasting team, especially after Charlie Steiner joined John Stirling and the egregious Michael Kaye was exiled to TV. And I admired the quality of the Yankees’ play on the field, with Andy Pettitte a special favorite. But root for them?
Put it this way. After the Sox pulled out game 7 of the ALCS, it was John Stirling’s obnoxious victory bray I imitated: “Yankees lose! Thuh-uh-uh-uh-uh Yankees lose!”
Before the ALCS, I had said to my wife, “I don’t just want to see the Yankees lose, I want to see them humiliated.” That’s the way it worked out, so much so that the World Series itself was anticlimax. The Cardinals hardly even showed up. But maybe that’s not fair. Maybe the Sox had already won their real championship, and simply rolled over the Cards, hardly noticing.
I did have one wish unfulfilled. I wanted a seven game series with at least one rain delay, and the final Red Sox win on Sunday night. That would mean the victory parade Monday and, by election day, virtually all of New England would either be hung over or still drunk.
That, in turn, would leave the polls to sober Republicans who take nothing for granted. Red state Massachusetts? Hey, why not go all the way?
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