Yankees are tough to beat, and almost as tough to hate

October 08, 1998|By JOHN EISENBERG

Hating the Yankees isn't nearly as much fun as it used to be.

There's no Reggie, no Billy, no big-city swagger, no stable of blimp-sized egos billowing hot air.

Yes, Yankees fans are still loud and annoying, the Big Apple media are still maddeningly myopic and George Steinbrenner is still in charge. That's almost enough to make you pick up a shoe and throw it at the TV.

But the team itself is almost impossible to dislike.

Only on principle, out of habit, can you hate the '98 Yankees.

Their manager, Joe Torre, is the anti-Billy Martin, a gentleman win or lose. His players, with few exceptions, keep their heads down and their mouths shut.

And, man, are they good.

If you're following the playoffs with your usual, vein-popping hatred of the Yankees this year, you should take a sedative and go sit in the woods for a while. Calm down.

Like Mark McGwire's awesome home run stroke, the Yankees are a work of art this year. They deserve appreciation, not hatred.

They have delivered a perfect game, a batting title and the American League record for wins so far this season, relying on such stars as Bernie Williams, the elegant center fielder who won the AL batting title; David Cone, one of the all-time mound warriors; Derek Jeter, the young shortstop who covers so much ground; and Paul O'Neill, the ultimate competitor, who throws a fit every time he doesn't get a hit. Just to name a few.

But forget about individual prowess. In the end, this is a team that has far exceeded the sum of its parts -- the greatest compliment for any team in any sport.

As of now, there isn't a single sure-fire Hall of Famer on the Yankees roster. Not one. Yet they still went out and won more games than any other major-league team since 1906.

Give them credit, not catcalls. They play hard, smart and together. They pitch and catch, move runners along, hit cutoff men, give nothing away, deliver in the clutch and battle to the last out. Is anything left?

Think about those qualities, then think about the disaster that unfolded at Camden Yards this year. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, if you're still booing the Yankees, you're just booing laundry.

Yes, Yankees-hating is a tradition that many fans around the country will indulge regardless of the circumstances. But it was easier when Reggie Jackson was running around flexing his muscles and Steinbrenner was buying up free agents and the whole endeavor reeked of the attitude that the world ended at the Hudson River and anything beyond it was just dust on a resin bag.

Compared with hating those teams, hating this year's Yankees is like eating a tasteless, fat-free dessert instead of a bowl of extra-rich ice cream. It's just not the same. For now, at least, Jeffrey Maier has left and gone away.

These Yankees feature a healthy dose of home-grown talent, not just a coldhearted assembly of free agents. These Yankees are more dull than arrogant. These Yankees were hard to hate long before Darryl Strawberry's unfortunate illness and Shane Spencer's Roy Hobbs imitation made them sympathetic.

Yes, they and the Orioles had a vicious brawl in May, escalating the bad blood between them. Some Orioles fans will seethe at the idea of having to appreciate the pinstripers for anything. Fair enough.

But the Orioles' Armando Benitez started the brawl with his stupid beaning of Tino Martinez, so you can't blame the Yankees. And let's face it, the Orioles finished 35 games behind the Yankees this year. They were humbled beyond all measure.

In such a year, with the rivalry cooled and no emotion on the line, why not just give the Yankees the respect they deserve? You can hate them again next year.

Meanwhile, at the risk of committing heresy in a city full of card-carrying Yankees haters, here's hoping the Yankees knock out the Indians in the American League Championship Series and go on to beat the Braves or Padres in the World Series.

Why? Well, who wants to see another upset when there's a chance to see a new standard for excellence established? Let's see that instead. Upsets happen every year, but who knows when, or if, we'll see another team play the game better?

The Yankees won 114 games during the season and swept the Rangers in their Division Series last week, allowing only one run in three games. That's right, one run in the whole series.

In a year when so much history has been made, it's only appropriate that they go on and finish their business in the same fashion. Setting a new standard.

Yes, that means having to inhale deeply and maybe change the channel when the cameras turn to Steinbrenner celebrating in his box. Ugh.

But the Yankees -- the players, managers and coaches -- deserve such a moment this year. They have played at a level seldom seen. A level to be appreciated.

A level you just can't hate.

Pub Date: 10/08/98

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