The Yankees & Me

A long time ago I read that Teddy Gold, one of the original members of the Weather Underground, had told friends that he would never be a good communist until Willie Mays retired. Maybe his love for Willie and baseball was a good thing. We will never know. In March 1970 Teddy Gold, along with Diana Oughton and Terry Robbins, died making bombs to shape the world anew.

But the Yankees and me? I don’t know. It’s a hate/love thing. Lots of confusion. I grew up in Memphis watching Saturday baseball and Series games on a little black & white TV or listening to them on the radio. I watched all those great Dodger-Yankees series with Darthula Baldwin. “Tula” was the black woman who was our live-in maid and surrogate mother--our "Mammy"--while our widowed mother worked 60 hours a week selling real estate. I figure I get my politics from being raised by women, Tula at home and my mother doing battle with 1950s white-male chauvinists out in the marketplace. With Tula sitting next to me sighing and groaning and dipping her snuff, it was easy to love Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. They were heros carved into my imagination. But secretly I also loved Mickey Mantle because he was "the Mick," Billy Martin because he was crazy and Whitey Ford because he was steady. And finally Yogi Berra with large spoonfuls of grudging respect. (I always hated to see Yogi bat against the Dodgers. He was their curse.) Then Walter O’Malley moved the Dodgers to Los Angeles and my uncle and aunt got transferred out there the same year. I watched the Dodgers in the Coliseum. One Saturday afternoon, before Sandy Koufax learned to “pitch,” I sat on a bench seat high up in the Coliseum and saw him strikeout something like 13 batters and walk 10 or so others. Hell, he probably hit a couple of guys. From that vantage point it became much easier to allow my distaste for the Yankees to blossom. CBS bought them, Ralph Houk unceremoniously fired Yogi Berra, then George Steinbrenner for God’s sake bought them. Richard Nixon, the Boss’ buddy, was president. So from then rooting against the Yankees turned political. Tula, who had died, whispered in my ear: "Bobby, honey, I told you so." Time passed. Thurmond Munson died, like my dad, piloting a plane; Reggie Jackson came and went doing his swizzle-stick impersonation; Steinbrenner spent money and jerked players and managers around. The Boss was always up there in the voting for the annual Asshole Award.

And now comes my son-in-law Ed Holland. I love Ed. He’s great. Andrei Codrescu met him once and asked me under his breath in that goofy accent, “Bobby, did you find your son-in-law in a catalog?" But Ed grew up in Connecticut among a family of Yankees fans. He is definitely a Yankees’ fan. True Yankees fans don’t see the grey around the edges. They are rabid. Like you see on television. This is the guy who sleeps in the same bed with my only daughter. His son Johnny Hollandbyrd, who (ironically) plays “coach-pitch” Little League ball in a Dodgers uniform, is likewise infected. Being nine, he has no idea about his granddad’s confusion. And I try to be a Zen Buddhist. How can you be a Zen Buddhist and take sides? Or not forgive George Steinbrenner? Meanwhile, secretly, I'm a Joe Torre fan. And I admire Derrick Jeter the way I admired Yogi. He's just an incredible ballplayer. Oh well. Here’s a poem I wrote the morning after the Yankees lost to the Cleveland Indians. Read it now. Baseball poems are such emphemeral things.


This morning George Steinbrenner
Is putting on a fresh pair of cotton white boxer shorts.
He knows Joe Torre will lose his job.
And he knows now he will die.
No more “Boss.”
He sighs.
A-Rod doesn’t deserve to be in a poem.
Joba Chamberlain,
Like all of us when we were young,
Believes the world is flat

for my grandson Johnny Hollandbyrd

NOTE: In the the photograph above, black-eye Johnny had just gotten smacked in the nose by a pitch before a game. And the photo below is Ed pitching to Johnny during a game. Johnny's a good ballplayer. He can field and hit for power. That's Ed's doing. He been thowing balls to his son since Johnny was two. Andrei was right. It's like he came out of a catalog. Except he has this Yankee thing. Where did that come from, huh?