Keefe To The City: Fanning The Flames
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By Neil Keefe
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“I thought Rangers fans, frankly, were awful. They are all bandwagon fans that finally decided to show up to support their team, and they never seem to know when the right time to cheer is. So I thought Rangers fans were by far the worst of any I’ve seen in the postseason. I thought they were an embarrassment.”
How much of that statement is true? None. Well at least I think none of it is, though I’m sure a lot of pink Ian Kinsler shirts were sold over the last month. But when I read that statement over it sounds just as ridiculous as it did when I wrote it the first time. So ridiculous that I would never say it with any meaning or actually use it to express my feelings about the fans of the Texas Rangers. So why is it that Rangers owner Chuck Greenberg made a similar statement about Yankees fans?
“I thought Yankee fans, frankly, were awful. They were either violent or apathetic, neither of which is good. So I thought Yankee fans were by far the worst of any I’ve seen in the postseason. I thought they were an embarrassment.”
Why would the owner of a franchise that has reached the postseason once in 11 years make a statement like that? Why would he decide to take on the most prestigious and winningest franchise in the history of professional sports? I’m not sure, but I’m trying to figure it out.
When I first heard Chuck Greenberg’s comments, I shrugged them off thinking he was just having his one October in the limelight and trying to make the most out of it before the Rangers fade back into oblivion and the Angels regain the edge in the AL West. I thought he was just acting like Red Sox fans did following 2005, thinking that because they won one time in 86 years that their “Yankees Suck” chants actually had some meaning. Then, Greenberg’s comments gained steam, took over headlines and forced hundreds of callers to voice their opinions on how Yankee Stadium is basically a double for a Guns N’ Roses concert from 1991 (something I actually have no problem with since I am all about rowdy home crowds).
The problem with Chuck Greenberg’s opinion on Yankees fans is that you knew he would have to apologize just as fast as he shared his real opinion. And like a friend retracting a comment made during a drunken stupor the night before when everyone knows you say what you really feel when you are drunk, Chuck Greenberg issued a meaningless apology.
“Earlier today, in the course of praising the extraordinary support and enthusiasm of Texas Rangers fans, I unfairly and inaccurately disparaged fans of the New York Yankees. Those remarks were inappropriate. Yankees fans are among the most passionate and supportive in all of baseball. I have spoken directly to Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine to apologize for my intemperate comments.”
Maybe Mr. Greenberg spoke to Hal Steinbrenner’s secretary or voicemail because while Hal did tell Mike Francesa on Tuesday that he accepted Greenberg’s apology, he also made it clear that the Yankees would be retaliating in the near future. And he said it with the kind of fire and passion that his father would have said it with.
On a side note … when things go wrong with the Yankees, everyone likes to say, “If George were still around and still George, this would have never happened.” Most of the time when things go wrong with the organization, like no players showing up for Bob Sheppard’s service or Mark Teixeira missing two games against the Rangers in the middle of a pennant race for the birth of a child, it’s true, if George were still here and the old George, there is no way these things would happen. But when Hal talked with Mike on Tuesday, he spoke about the incident the way I imagine his father would have talked with had this incident happened during his father’s heyday.
Not only did Hal speak with similar fervor, but he sounded just like George and it was rather scary, but reassuring. I have heard Hal Steinbrenner speak before, but never before have I really listened to him speak at length about an instance in which his business was being portrayed in a negative light. It made me realize once again that I’m lucky the Steinbrenners are the family that owns the Yankees.
There are two things you should never do if you are the owner of one of the other 29 teams not named the Yankees in Major League Baseball:
1. Blame the Yankees and their finances for your problems.
2. Take a shot in any way, shape or form at the Yankees or their fans.
The first of these things is annually done by the Red Sox. The team with the second-highest payroll in baseball blew their negotiations with Mark Teixeira and wouldn’t go the extra mile to sign him. Then this year when asked why he didn’t make a play for Kerry Wood, Theo Epstein said, “We were outbid by the Yankees when they were willing to take on just a little bit more of his salary. It ended up being a great move for them and cost us.” Two weeks after Epstein’s comments, the Red Sox ownership group completed a $476 million deal to purchase Liverpool FC of the Premier League. I’m not trying to tell anyone how they should spend their money, but let’s not pretend like the Red Sox owners are searching for spare change on Yawkey Way, which is the way they make it sound most of the time, blaming the Yankees for their inability to acquire certain players.
The second of these things is something you never want to do to any team, let alone to the Yankees. Maybe Chuck Greenberg missed John Rocker’s little spiel about New Yorker’s 10 years ago. To think about how big a deal that was in 2000, imagine a player saying those same things in today’s sports world with blogs and social media being what they are. Oh my.
When Greenberg made his comments, he probably thought they were either not going to be a big deal or that maybe his words would work in his favor to re-sign Cliff Lee. I would have to think it is the latter because apparently Mr. Greenberg graduated college summa cum laude and I would like to think that a man rich enough to own a MLB team would also have the intelligence to understand that people would be listening to him speak on the radio. Sure this is New York, but when Hal Steinbrenner spoke on WFAN on Tuesday, there wasn’t a single beat writer that missed the conversation and most of them live tweeted the interview and all of them wrote about it as soon as the interview were over. As the owner of the Rangers, Mr. Greenberg had to know something similar would happen in Texas.
But Mr. Greenberg’s comments weren’t dismissed. Instead his words caused headlines and stories branching off other stories. More importantly it directly affected me with friends that are Red Sox and Mets fans texting and e-mailing me to let me know that Yankees fans are the scummiest fans in the world because the owner of the Texas Rangers said so. And for the last two days, sports radio has become a hotline for anyone who hates the Yankees to call in and share their horror story from Yankee Stadium as if their life was actually in danger at Yankee Stadium. But oddly enough, no one wants to admit that they did something to instigate a problem, they just want to tell the part of the story where someone in a pinstriped jersey took a swing or verbally abused them.
Is the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium more hectic and chaotic than other stadium in Major League Baseball? Yes, but I don’t think it is in a negative way. There’s a reason why the Red Sox refer to Fenway Park as “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark” and it probably has something to do with the fact that the Fenway crowd gives every Red Sox starting pitcher a standing ovation whether they leave the game after seven scoreless innings or in the middle of the second inning with the bases loaded.
Since 2004, a large portion of the crowd are there for two reasons: Sweet Caroline and to watch Jason Varitek walk up the plate to “Kryptonite” by Three Doors Down (OK, not so much the second thing). But for me to sit here and lump all Red Sox fans together and say that Red Sox Nation is just a bunch of wasted Bostonians waiting to sway to the creepy lyrics of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” would be irresponsible. Because the majority of Red Sox fans that I know, never miss a game and hate the pink hats as much as Yankees fans hate the Wall Street suits that leave the Legends seats between the bases vacant for most of, if not, all of the game. But since stereotyping seems to be the theme this week … I guess Red Sox Nation is just a bunch of Bostonians that found out they had a baseball team in their city in 2004 and think that giving up five earned runs in three innings is a job well done for $500,000 a start.
When I go to Fenway Park, I follow two simple rules: no excessive cheering and mind my own business.
Sure I will clap when the Yankees do something worth clapping for, but I’m not about to stand up in the aisle and do a Joba Chamberlain 360-fist pump when CC Sabathia induces a double play or raise my arms to the heavens if Robinson Cano goes BOOM! I respect the home team and their fans and recognize that I am a visitor in their home. When someone tells me the “Yankees Suck,” I just nod or laugh. What am I going to do? Get into an argument about the history of baseball with someone whose blood-alcohol level is a mirror image of Joey Votto’s on-base percentage?
The problem is there are a lot of fans that don’t follow these rules. They don’t follow any rules. There are a lot of fans that go on the road and think that the other 50,000 people at the game are there to see them. I’m pretty sure that most of the time these people show up with the idea that they are going to cause trouble. Either that or the $9 Bud heavies decide it for them. There is nothing worse than going to the Stadium and having some gongshow in a Pedroia shirt trying to start a four-person “Let’s Go Red Sox” chant in the right field bleachers at the Stadium. It’s the ultimate feeling of being embarrassed for someone else and just wishing they would stop before it escalates into a real problem.
Chuck Greenberg didn’t single out the bleachers during his rant, but I’m sure if we asked him what part of Yankee Stadium he was talking about, it would be the bleachers. And since Mr. Greenberg’s outlandish remarks, one particular YouTube video has made its rounds of a brawl breaking out during a postseason game this year at Yankee Stadium. And where did the video take place? The bleachers, of course.
There is no better place in the world to watch a baseball game if you are a Yankees fan than the right field bleachers. Section 203 represents everything that is the real stereotypical Yankees fan: passionate, knowledgeable, educated and informed. The common misconception is that the right field bleachers is the home to trouble and violence, and sure it is sometimes, but so is every other section in every other stadium in the world. The real bleacher creatures are the ones trying to prevent things from reaching the boiling point in an effort to protect their reputation and prevent security from keeping a closer eye on them than they already do.
With their home away from home’s reputation being dragged through the mud since Chuck Greenberg comments started a nationwide verbal assault of Yankees fans, I decided to ask two of the staples in the right field bleachers what they thought of this nonsense that the bleachers are an unsafe haven for baseball fans and a place of “violence.” Longtime bleachers creatures Bald Vinny and Sheriff Tom shared their thoughts on how bleacher virgins are destroying the reputation of the tight-knit group they have built over many years.
Vinny: “The bleachers, and specifically Section 39 and now Section 203, have always had a heavy police presence. At one time during the playoffs, I counted 11 cops around Section 203 alone. It sucks for us, because it’s obviously not the “bleacher creatures” that are causing a problem. Just by virtue of their seat location, people are classified as bleacher creatures, which is obviously not the case. The core “card carrying” members of the creatures are the ones policing the section. Those other fans give us a bad name.
“Yes, Yankees fans are loud, passionate and borderline obnoxious. Yes, many of us do take pride in that. Yankee Stadium is our house. Since I wasn’t blessed with any athletic skill, the only way that I can help my team win is to get on my feet and make some noise. If I can get in the head of an opposing player, you can be sure I will take that advantage. Cheering and heckling does not need to be profane. In fact, in our group, it’s more important to be creative with your heckling than the same old “(player name) sucks” same goes with fans. If you are a fan of the opposing team you really aren’t going to get a tough time unless you are going out of your way to look for it. You can sit there in your team’s hat and jersey and certainly enjoy the game hassle free (save for maybe a bit of ribbing). But if you are the guy getting up on your seat to try to rally your team in my house, we are going to cut you down faster than a rain forest.”
Tom: “They cracked down on us in the bleachers before to the point where in a smarmy fashion we came out there in shirts and ties one day, on our best behavior. I have it documented on a scorecard that a security guy actually implored us to chant, “You’re Bad” instead of “You Suck” No joke.
“Every fan base has their chuckleheads. Put thousands of people in a mass, and there are going to be drunkards, reprobates, yellers and fighters. We just do a lot of that stuff in a much more choreographed and entertaining fashion. I think the thing that bothers me most regarding recent charges is the “violence” word. We use barbs, not fists. I miss the old bleacher days of singing songs. Sometimes I’m stunned at how much we used to sing. Sure, thinking back on some of the lyrics now my brow goes askew, but it was never meant to hurt or provoke. It’s usually meant to rhyme along with something they play on the scoreboard over and over
“I won’t touch the apathy charge. I think that was meant at the fake fans that may or may not show up in the pricey seats. From my perch in the bleachers, “apathy” is never a word in our dictionary. The fans in the bleachers are passionate and funny. They love their team, they love each other and they hate their foes like they hate spinach or Justin Bieber. No one wants to hurt anyone. No one wants to shock nuns. We want people to laugh.”
With no games left to play, stories like these will consume headlines until Opening Day, and hopefully the retaliation that Hal Steinbrenner talked about with Mike Francesa will come in the form of signing Cliff Lee away from the Rangers. Because while taking a shot at another franchise in the media will become news, winning a championship will become history.
Follow Neil on Twitter at twitter.com/NeilKeefe