"Best team money could buy."
Any true Yankee supporter has heard this refrain once relatives, friends, golf buddies, or even complete strangers realize they are a New York Yankee fan. The “haters” are everywhere, but until I moved to Nebraska 45 years ago I didn’t realize the full extent of the disdain.
My usual response was to reply, ”That’s why they call it professional sports; you go out and buy the best players to win championships.” But as in any sport, the more you win, the more excuses are made for your own franchise of choice as if they couldn’t do the same thing.
I grew up in New Jersey during the '60s and moved to Nebraska in 1972 to attend school and play football at Midland College in Fremont, so I wasn’t aware that sporting a Yankee hat opened the door to chastisement from complete strangers. Obviously it was all about jealousy as the closest consistently successful professional team to Nebraska was probably the St. Louis Cardinals (since the KC Royals had just started in 1969 and weren’t much to talk about until 1976). Of course it only deepened the hatred when the Yankees beat them three years in a row to prevent them from going to the series.
'Hey, nice hat!'
What I have also found through the years is that there are those true-blue fans, who once they see a hat, jacket, or sweat shirt will usually say, “Hey, nice hat!” They generally are not loud about it, but they want you to know there is that kinship, and a shared sense of camaraderie because they know we are definitely in the minority. My connection to the Yankees is obvious considering where I grew up, but I always wondered if all those compatriots were displaced fans from the East like me. What I soon realized after a few conversations was that there were plenty of homegrown Nebraska Yankee fans, especially those of Bob Cerv.
I was always surprised when someone I just met could recite the Yankees' lineup from the '50s or '60s just like I could. Unlike some fans, I don’t hide my allegiance whether it is the decals and license plate holders on my car and truck, or the hat and jacket I consistently wear to go along with my golf club covers. Subtlety has never been one of my strong points, but unlike some “fanatics” vs. the normal fan, I was OK with Boston winning a couple, and I thought it was great the Royals won the Series in 2016. After all, they still have 24 or so to go before they reach the Yankees' achievements!
Tom (“Taco”) Aguirre has been a fan as long as I have, but that was something we realized only after having gotten to know each other for a couple years. Taco graduated from Lincoln High in 1966, but had been listening and watching Yankee games on TV with his dad from the time he was 10 years old. I didn’t realize it, but he said the Yankees were on TV almost every weekend, so it was as natural as my love of them.
From the time he was playing midget baseball in Peter Pan Park he wanted to wear No. 7 just like the Mick. It seemed we both harbored that dream of having the bases loaded with two outs in the ninth, and getting up as Mickey Mantle to blast the game-winning home run. I was a little more fortunate than Taco in that I actually got to see Mickey at old Yankee Stadium do that when I was in fifth grade as he hit a two-run home run against the Detroit Tigers and Al Kaline.
One area we agree with the Yankee haters about is our opinion of Hal Steinbrenner. Even life long fans didn’t like him since he represented everything that was disloyal about the wealthy and privileged all us middle class Joes couldn’t relate to. And every time he fired Billy Martin, he'd bring him back, only proving what a con man, liar, and blowhard he was, not unlike another of his wealthy long time NJ friends.
Yankee spirit back
This year has seen a revival of the Yankee spirit. I’ve noticed more and more apparel and interest. Young players like Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, and Louis Severino are awakening some memories of the past champions because of their common appeal and never-say-die attitude. Even some of the haters have had to admit it is a gritty “old school” bunch rather than the pampered, overpaid characters who often look like escaped civil war prisoners.
Even though it was a bit disappointing to see this year's Yankees lose to Houston in the ALCS, as with all fans we’re looking forward to next year. So if you see that NY hat approaching, don’t be afraid to say, “Nice hat!” since it could lead to a nostalgic conversation, and let's face it; at this point, every team is the best that money can buy!
Oh, by the way, the answers to our photo quiz are: (top row, from left), Don Larson-P, Elston Howard-C, Yogi Berra-C, Tony Kubek-SS. Bottom Row: (L-R) Casey Stengel-MGR, Mickey Mantle-OF, Bill Skowron-1B, Whitey Ford-P.