Discover more from Leaves in the Wind
aka "The New York Yankees are a Moral Abomination," the complete text
[As I noted in my introductory essay to this newsletter, I will on occasion re-issue some of my older pieces in what I regard as their proper forms. Sometimes one is obliged to trim a text not in order to improve it, but simply on account of space; this is especially true when one is writing for a newspaper. The following piece appeared in The New York Times on 15 July 2018. (The political moment at which it appeared should be obvious.) A few lines I did not want to cut had to be sacrificed to make room for the magnificent illustration produced by Brandon Celi—which I reproduce here with the artist’s permission. Below is what henceforth I should like to be considered the textus receptus, and I release it now because the World Series is over and we have all been plunged once more into that ghastly spiritual void that stretches between the last out of the “Fall Classic” and the day when pitchers report to early spring training. I have restored my original title for the piece as well.
I should mention that most of the Yankees fans who responded got the joke. They clearly understood what the franchise represents at a metaphysical, rather than merely popular, level. Some, however, did not. To them I offer an apology, however belated. Honestly, I don’t mean everything I say here.]
Baphomet of the Bronx, by Brandon Celi (all rights reserved)
Soberly considered, the New York Yankees and their fans present a moral dilemma. Our consciences, naturally abhorring everything abominable, tell us that such things simply ought not exist. And yet we also know that the evil they represent is one we would not really want eradicated. Somehow we depend on it, not because it appeals to some morbid subliminal fascination with the horrific in us, and not even because it teaches us about the world’s deep Darwinian laws, but because it answers to a psychological need. By exciting in us that sweet cold loathing that only they induce—that strangely tender malice, at once so delicious and yet so purifying—the Yankees and their followers provide us an emotional hygiene. They give us occasion for the discharge of a dark, dangerous passion, but one unburdened by guilt. The detestation that any rational soul spontaneously feels for that franchise is so innocent, so uncontaminated by spite—just instinctive revulsion before something obscene, like the goat-headed god of the diabolists—and there are few luxuries more gorgeously nourishing than the license to hate with an unclouded conscience.
Yankees fans, of course, never having drunk from those healing springs, typically mistake this hatred for envy, and so for an inverted admiration. But nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, those of us from smaller markets sometimes fall prey to a slightly petulant, even bilious resentment at all that boughten glory—the exorbitant free-agent contracts, the legions of scouts, the colossal television revenues—but who can blame us? And how could we fail to be vexed by the fawning servility of a national media incapable of telling the beautiful from the meretricious? I mean, be reasonable: How often, as Derek Jeter’s retirement approached, were we made to endure the squealing ecstasies of television announcers too bedazzled by the fastidious delicacy of his dainty coupé-chassé en tournant on grounders to his right to notice his minuscule range or flimsy arm? Why were we forced to see him awarded a preposterous two additional gold gloves in his dotage when his defense was scarcely better than mediocre in his prime?
Who, moreover, can forget the obligatorily bibulous rhapsodies from sports commentators in the waning days of the old Yankee Stadium—grown men dissolving in foaming raptures over a “great tradition” in its twilight or intoning solemn encomia to the glorious “temple of sport” soon to be reduced to dust? Temple, forsooth! More like the largest brothel in the world, being torn down only because a larger, glitzier brothel was being erected across the street. (Really, how does a Yankees fan’s pride in all those purchased championships differ from the self-delusion of a man staggering out of a bawdy house at dawn, complimenting himself on his magnificent powers of seduction?)
So, I confess it: there is some resentment. But it never degenerates into emulousness or envy. No one from another market wants a team like the Yankees. The notion is appalling. Could any franchise be more devoid of romance? What has it ever represented but the brute power of money? One can admire the Cardinals’ magnificent history, or cherish fond memories of the great Orioles, Reds, or A’s teams of the past. But no morally sane soul could delight in that graceless enormity in the Bronx, or its supremacy over smaller markets. It’s an intrinsically depraved pleasure, like a taste for bear-baiting. And certainly none of us wants to be anything like Yankees fans—especially after seeing them at close quarters. Certainly, I have witnessed them in Baltimore during weekend series often enough to know the horror in full.
Not that it is easy to recall clearly. The trauma is too violent. Memory cringes, whines, tries to slink away. One recollects only a kaleidoscopic flux of gruesomely fragmentary impressions, too outlandish to be perfectly accurate, too vivid to be entirely false: nightmarish revenants from the dim haunts of the collective unconscious…monstrous, abortive shapes emerging from the abysmal murk of evolutionary history…things pre-hominid, even pre-mammalian, with indeterminate allotments of limbs…forms never quite resolving into discrete organisms, constantly spilling over and into one another, making it uncertain where one ends and another begins...
…It really is so awful: ghastly glistening flesh, reminiscent of snails, of eels, of cuttlefish…tentacles coiling and uncoiling, stretching and contracting…lidless orbicular eyes eerily waving on slender stalks…squamous hides, barbed quills, the unguinous sheen of cutaneous toxins…serrated tails, craggy horns, sallow fangs, gleaming talons…fragrances fungal and poisonous…sickly iridescences undulating across pallid, gelatinous underbellies or shimmering along slick, filmy scales...
…And what raucous yawps of elation they emit, like sea-lions crying out in erotic transport. How languidly and grossly they intertwine with one another—how clumsily, lewdly, indiscriminately—like lascivious cephalopods merged in seething tangles of prehensile carnality. And somehow, without having to see, one knows things about them: that the categories “parent,” “sibling,” and “mate” are only hazily delineated in their minds; that they suck nourishment from cellulose, heavy metals, and cactus spines; that, should they grow hungry on the journey home, they may very well pull over to the side of the road to devour their young. One simply knows…
Or so it seems to me now. Admittedly, my bitterness over the Orioles this season might be distorting my perspective a little. And perhaps I am avoiding a truth about the Yankees and their fans that I would rather not admit: that it is not everything grotesquely strange about them that terrifies us, but rather everything that is all too familiar. We may fear becoming like them; our greater fear, however, is of discovering that we already are. (And, by “we,” I mean “Americans.”)
Major League Baseball is in decline. Everything always is, of course (simple thermodynamics). Things may improve. But, right now, a faint air of doom hangs about this most exquisite of games. The median age of its fans rises each year; the young increasingly prefer other diversions; some savants predict a contraction of the leagues in the near future. Meanwhile, the only solutions the owners can contrive are trivial measures for shortening time of play, sometimes by diluting the rules, and never with appreciable effect. Yet the real cause of the problem is obvious. Though there has always been an immense inequality of resources between the richest and poorest franchises, the division has widened to catastrophic proportions in recent decades. It is hard to convince children to invest their love in teams that cannot plausibly hope for a championship any time within, oh, the first thirty years of their lives (or any time thereafter).
Yet MLB would never consider the wisdom, in the long term, of creating a real system of shared revenues and salary caps. The richest franchises—among which, the Yankees enjoy archetypal preeminence—are content to let the poorest wither in a laissez-faire desert rather than make any reasonable sacrifices for the common good. Thus the business of baseball—through greed, profligacy, shortsightedness, and an insatiable appetite for immediate gratification—consumes itself by relentlessly allowing its own communal basis to disintegrate beneath it, and by ignoring the needs of generations yet to come.
The analogy is imperfect, but irresistible. America, with its decaying infrastructure, its third-world public transit, its shrinking labor market, its evaporating middle class, its expanding gulf between rich and poor, its heartless health-insurance system, its mindless indifference to a dying ecology, its predatory credit agencies, its looming Social Security collapse, its interminable wars, its metastasizing national debt, and all the social pathologies that gave it a degenerate imbecile and child-abducting sadist as its president, remains the only developed economy in the world that believes it wrong to use civic wealth for civic goods. Its absurdly engorged military budget diverts hundreds of billions of dollars a year from the public weal to those who profit from the military-industrial complex. Its plutocratic policies and libertarian ethos are immune to all appeals of human solidarity. It towers over the world, but promises secure shelter only to the fortunate few.
And so, of course, the Yankees cannot help but be emblematic of everything that characterizes us as a nation and as an idea: a thing gargantuan and heedless, invincible and yet bizarrely fragile and self-destructive. Still, I suppose one must be fair. MLB’s decline, America’s—the Yankees may contribute mightily to the former, but they only epitomize the latter. (Though, truth be told, I would blame them for both if I could.)