A friend of mine is a Yankees fan, and he told me on Wednesday morning that he’s finished. Done. Through. Of course, he does have a habit of periodically going off the deep end about something the Yankees did or did not do and then proclaiming himself ready to break off all relations with pinstripes. The break-up usually lasts about 47 minutes. This time, I will admit, he sounds a bit more serious.
“Youkilis,” he grunted. “I hate Kevin Youkilis.”
I do not hate Kevin Youkilis, but I know exactly what he means. Some years ago, the team I grew up loving — the Cleveland Indians — signed pitcher Jack McDowell. Oh, I thoroughly Clemenated Jack McDowell with the fury of a thousand suns. I’m not sure why I did. There was just something about him, his hideous “Black Jack” nickname, his travesty of a Cy Young Award, his music thing, his giving the finger to the fans, his ever-changing facial hair … oh, it wasn’t logical. It didn’t have to be logical. It was a sports thing. He pitched for the White Sox, and he beat the Indians a few times, and I just could not stand him.
Then, the Indians signed him as a free agent.
And the feeling was, really, kind of awful. You put up with so much as a fan. High prices … traffic … complacent owners … oddball philosophies … prospects who flame out … favorites who get traded or leave town … heartbreaking losses … as Michael Schur and others have said, you would never put up with this kind of pain in an ACTUAL relationship. But you put up with it in sports because, well, because you do. You squeeze the moments of joy for all they are worth, and you endure the much deeper and more lasting agony, and it’s just what being a sports fan is all about.
But getting Black Jack McDowell was a different challenge from anything the Indians had done to me before. Here they were telling me that they had several meetings, and gone through numerous negotiations, and they had determined once and for all that I could no longer loathe Jack McDowell. That’s it. They just took that away. And, I don’t know, it just seemed like that was crossing a line. Yes, through the years, they made me invest way too much hope in Rick Waits and Tony Bernazard and Ernie Camacho. Yes, through the years, they made me believe that 1987 was the year, and that Von Hayes was the future, and that Wayne Garland was the pennant clincher. Yes, they put me through all sorts of horrors.
But telling me one day, clear out of the blue, that I had now LIKE Jack McDowell, that was too much.
This week, the Yankees signed the much-despised former Red Sox star Kevin Youkilis. This is hardly unprecedented for the Yankees. Heck, the Yankees were practically BUILT by a much-despised former Red Sox star. And through recent years, they acquired the much-despised former Red Sox star Wade Boggs, the much-despised former Red Sox star Johnny Damon and the much-despised former Red Sox star Roger Clemens. But it is true that if you look just a little more closely, you could argue that this is a different situation.
Boggs: When the Yankees signed him, they were kind of irrelevant. They’d had four straight losing seasons and had not been to the postseason in more than a decade. Basically, the Yankees had been in the business of signing EVERY 35-year-old former star, so this just fit right in with their corporate strategy. After acquiring Don Baylor, Gary Ward, Mike Easler, Ken Phelps, Jose Cruz, Bert Campenaris and others, it would have been a shock if the Yankees HAD NOT gotten Wade Boggs. Anyway, the Red Sox were not all that relevant then, either, having just lost 89 games. The Yankees-Red Sox thing was a rivalry, sure, but it was kind of dormant.
Clemens: I would argue that when the Yankees signed Clemens, he was no longer viewed as a Red Sox pitcher. Boston had dumped him in basically the same way the saber-toothed tiger dumps Fred Flintstone in the closing credits, and he had pitched in Toronto for two years. I think enough time had gone by that he wasn’t really a hated Red Sox guy anymore. Plus Clemens was still a dominant force, which makes a lot of bad feelings go away (I might have felt differently about Jack McDowell in Cleveland if he had not posted a 5.10 ERA over one and a half seasons).
Damon: Now, this was a more direct hit. Damon came right to the Yankees from Boston … this little more than a year after Damon hit the Game 7 grand slam that punctuated the Red Sox ALCS miracle comeback. No doubt Yankees fans despised him and felt some hard feelings about the Yankees acquiring him. But I think this, too, was different and here’s why: In a direct sense the Yankees were not only signing Damon, they were also TAKING DAMON AWAY from the Red Sox. In the end, Damon had almost as many plate appearances as a Yankee (2,525) as he did for Boston (2,782) with a higher OPS+.
But this Youkilis thing — none of that applies. The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is as hot as it has ever been, maybe hotter than ever. Youkilis was probably the most hated player on the Red Sox, which is saying something. He is also 33 years old and coming off a pretty dreadful year — the guy hit .235 and only posted a league-average on-base percentage because he was hit by pitch a league-leading 17 times (Youkilis: The Greek God of Plunk). And it’s not even like the Yankees get the joy of taking him away from Boston … the Red Sox gave up on Youkilis in the middle of last season and dumped him on the White Sox.
In other words: There is nothing good about this acquisition from a Yankee fan’s perspective. The Yankees are essentially demanding that fans root for a guy they’ve so thoroughly enjoyed clemenating for so many years AND a guy who probably won’t be the hitter he was in his prime. Talk about your lose-lose.
You know how players have no-trade clauses in their contracts where they pick 10 cities and you are not allowed to trade them to any other place? Well, I think cities should have a “No Way” clause for certain players — if the team tries to acquire that player, the fans can just say “No Way,” and the deal is off. I have little doubt that Yankees fans would have used their No Way clause to avoid getting Kevin Youkilis.
Of course, now that the Yankees did get Kevin Youkilis, he will probably hit .386 with 37 homers. That seems to happen to Yankees signings a lot. My friend says he doesn’t care how well Youkilis plays, he will never be able to root for him. Yeah, well, that might be December talking. I have a feeling a change of heart won’t take more than two big hits.