Why hating the Yankees isn't going to go away

(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images )
March 04, 2014|Peter Schmuck

TAMPA, Fla. — There's just something about the New York Yankees that makes the blood of true Baltimoreans boil.

Maybe it's the fact that they win too much.

Maybe it's the fact that they spend too much.

Maybe it's the fact that they won't apologize for being the big dog in the Big Apple with the biggest wallet.

It's all of those things, but there's really something much more basic going on that transcends the dynamic between the Orioles and the division rival that seems to get under their skin more than any other. It's really more about the attitude the Yankees project and the way it is perceived by a blue-collar town that isn't willing to kiss anybody's ring.

That's why a relatively innocent comment by Yankees general manager Brian Cashman recently had the Oriole Internet message boards buzzing and members of the Orioles organization quietly seething.

Cashman was quoted in the New York Post pointing out that the Orioles' 2012 playoff season was "an anomaly," based on their poor run differential, and referring to the Orioles' third-place finish last year as "a market correction."

If you're not a stat geek, run differential is just what it sounds like — the number of runs a team gives up subtracted from the number of runs it scores. The Orioles were a meager plus-7 in 2012 but made the playoffs because of their otherworldly records in one-run and extra-inning games. The Yankees won two more regular-season games that year before meeting the Orioles in the playoffs, and their run differential was plus-136.

Let's be honest. Every one of us knew that the Orioles were not going to come back last year and match that major league-record 29-9 mark in one-run games and, really, nobody wins 16 straight games in extra innings.

Though Cashman was trying to explain why his own team underperformed last year and put it in a divisional context, it landed here sounding as if he were saying that the Orioles were a fluke in 2012 and that they were exposed last year as a third-place team.

Fluke is a strong and dismissive word, but the word he actually used — "anomaly" — is probably accurate from a statistical standpoint.

And, if Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane had said exactly the same thing in the Oakland Tribune, it probably would not have resonated inside the Orioles spring clubhouse and front office the way it did coming from New York.

Let's not get carried away here. Even if Cashman had meant it in the worst way, it wasn't going to spark a beanball war in Tuesday night's exhibition game between the Yankees and Orioles at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

If you ask the players, they'll tell you their dislike for the Yankees is a competitive thing, based on the on-field rivalry and how successful the Yankees have been over the past couple of decades. If you go into the stands during a regular-season Orioles-Yankees game at Camden Yards, the fans in the orange shirts talk about Yankees arrogance.

The dislike for all things pinstriped seems more intense now, perhaps because of all the recent years when the Yankees were an automatic playoff team and the Orioles were one of the worst teams in baseball, but the rivalry — which is much more pronounced on the Baltimore end — and the local resentment of New York is not a new thing.

"They were always the Yankees," said Orioles pitching great Scott McGregor, who started his career in the Yankees organization. "Everywhere they went, they had a fan base, just like the Red Sox Nation now, it was always the Yankees. I think people just hated the fact that they were always everybody's favorite. And they won all the time. That's probably the reason — 27championships — and they've always had the money. They've always had the money and they were always able to get the best players, so it's probably that more than anything else."

Of course, the sports rivalry between the two cities goes way beyond these two teams. The old Colts defeated the New York Giants in "The Greatest Game Ever Played" and the Ravens blew out the Giants in the January 2001 Super Bowl, but Baltimore will never live down 1969, when the New York Jets beat the Colts to pull the biggest upset in Super Bowl history and the "Amazin'" Mets knocked off the 109-win Orioles in an equally shocking World Series. The Knicks also swept the old Bullets out of the NBA playoffs that year.

It might never get that intense again, but things seem to be heating up now that the Orioles are winning and have waded back into the free-agent market in a significant way.

Indeed, the Yankees represent everything Orioles fans love to hate, but what would we do without them?

pschmuck@baltsun.com

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog, and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at 9 a.m. Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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