BOSTON -- When you haven’t played a meaningful game against a team since 1950, it’s easy to forgot how much pleasure can come from hating them. And where better than Boston could I go for a few lessons in loathing the New York Yankees?
“Today we are all Philadelphians,” Kevin Cullen, metro columnist for the Boston Globe, told me.
File this under: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Cullen was invoking Le Monde’s famous headline after Sept. 11, 2001. When it comes to Boston’s feelings about the Yankees, all is historic, nothing is understated. We’re talking about a rivalry that’s referred to as Athens versus Sparta, good versus the Evil Empire.
“Honesty,” said Hart Brachen who writes the pseudonymous Soxaholix blog, “the hate has been going on so long that it’s like the Hatfields and McCoys where nobody can even remember what started it.”
Philadelphia needs no pointers when it comes to disliking New York teams, but for decades the Yanks have been in another league, so to speak. Since the Whiz Kids loss in sweep to the Yankees nearly 60 years ago, the teams have not met when all was on the line until Wednesday’s World Series game. More often than not, the Yanks were playing and the Phils were watching on TV
I’ve come here in search of a Beantown bar that will welcome a traveling Philadelphian. Cullen recommended The Cornwall Tavern, which sits under the Citgo sign that lures the faithful to Fenway Park like rowdy moths with wicked accents. Because the Cornwall is near Boston University, which is known to accept more than a few New Yorkers, the bar tends to get a bit spirited during sporting events, Cullen advised. Got so bad that Cornwall's had to institute a 'no hats' rule. "In a baseball bar," says proprietor John Beale, "wearing hats is like wearing colors in a motorcycle bar."
This rivalry stretches back two centuries, but for all intents we can understanding it by starting in the 1919-1920 off season. That was when Harry Frazee sold a heavy-hitting pitcher named Babe Ruth to the damn Yankees. Until then the teams had traded championships. The Red Sox would not see another one for 86 years. The Yanks would celebrate 26 times.
This would be the makings of a one-sided fight, were it not for how close the Red Sox made it several years, only to come up agonizingly short. Or so countless literary types tell us, and tell us.
I talked with an Philly ex-pat up here, who has lived in Boston long enough to understand its tortured psyche. Jim Braude is a talk radio personality who's tacked Ali-Frazier and 1964 World Series Tickets onto his office wall. He explains the anti-New York sentiment.
"It's two things: little man syndrome and genes. Much of Boston could fit into co-op city in the Bronx. Enough said. And when you win two during which time the Yanks win none, and still have 54-year-olds in Ortiz jerseys yelling 'Yankees suck,' you realize there's nothing they can do about their condition."
Cullen says Philadelphians can appreciate how much of the ill will comes from feelings of municipal self-worth. “We hate the Yankees because they epitomize greatness and remind us of our own historical mediocrity, both as a team and as a town when compared to the great metropolis. New York loves a winner. We mistrust anyone who speaks so openly about trying to achieve greatness… We are deeply suspicious of ambition, which might in fact be a puritan hangover.
What's our problem? Must be that Quaker humility. Owen Wister, a Philadelphia writer whose 1902 western, “The Virginian,” became an instant best-seller, said people in his home town had “a classic instinct for disparagement.”
Here’s a reason to resent New York from my own childhood. I grew up just outside of Boston and didn't involve visiting the big city until I was nearly 20. (“Why would you go to New York when you have Boston and Cambridge right here?” my aunt Ethel once asked me.)
So it's freshman year of college, in Evanston, Illinois. Homecoming weekend, I remember, because my roommate’s mother was visiting from the Upper West Side. The three of us step into an elevator in our dorm, and there stands an older couple, husband and wife, who look as straight outta the prairie as anything Grant Wood painted.
My roommate’s mother asks them, “Are you from New York?”
Why not? It’s that New York sense that they are the world, that everything revolves around them, that they are deserving of it all, every season, year after year. God I need therapy.