Sometimes it isn’t a simple choice which team to root for. For the last many years, I have been a passionate fan of the Giants, Mets and Red Sox. I have taken heat from a few (mainly one) friends for liking multiple teams; other people either understand or agree that it is possible to cheer on more than one team, or at least understand how your loyalties can change over time, based on circumstances. It is not possible that there aren’t Chicagoans who like the Cubs and the White Sox, Bay Area folks who love either the Giants or A’s and can stomach the other, Los Angelinos who similarly alternately cheer and tolerate both the Dodgers and Angels (remember, the LA Angles of Anaheim) and at least 3 New Yorkers who like the Mets and Yankees (yes, I said Mets first).
Maybe you are a Phillies fan who moved to Florida and now watches the Rays. Perhaps you are a Rangers fan who relocated to San Diego and likes the Padres. There are all kinds of reasons that people switch teams, or develop several loyalties, those nasty friends of mine notwithstanding. It is difficult and curious to be a passionate fan of more than one team in a division, but aside from that, why not?
I was born in New York, and when I was old enough to understand more about baseball than catch and throw and swing, you know, how to root for a team, the only team in town was the Yankees. If you love baseball, and grew up in New York in the late 50s, how can you not have loved Mickey Mantle? Willie Mays, sandy Koufax, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente, Billy Williams, the same thing would apply if you grew up in the cities in which these guys laced up their cleats.
As a Long Islander, I naturally became a Mets fan when they started play, but in those days, maybe because I was just a kid, it did not occur to me that it was not permissible to like BOTH local teams. So, I continued on liking the Yankees, cheering for them during their bad years, when guys I loved, like Mel Stottlemyre and Horace Clarke, met cruel fates. Then, Mantle retired, Steinbrenner took over, the Yankees resumed their dominance and suddenly, my interest in the Yankees ceased.
Why I began to like Boston, then hardly a superpower, is not quite clear to me. The only thing I can think of is that my dad had met Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, and thought he was a wonderful man (before he knew that Yawkey was a racist!). Still naïve, I did not even know at that time, or just don’t recall, of the fierce rivalry between the New York and Boston teams. I certainly remember being an ardent Sox fan in early ’75 when I later watched Fisk wave that home run ball fair. By this time I had moved to San Francisco, and why not like two teams, one from each league. Where was the problem?
Well, my first dose of this dilemma, which team to root for, came in 1986, before I even had become a Giants fan, although I was into my 12th year of San Francisco residency. Mets and Red Sox, the first time loyalties were being challenged. The Mets were my #1 team, the Sox an adopted team. It should have been an easy call, Let’s Go Mets, but it wasn’t that easy at all. The Mets had not won or been in a World Series for 13 years, but the Sox, the poor, poor pitiful Sox (Warren Zevon) had not won in decades. Would I have been ok with either team winning? Did I have a choice? But which was my preference, who did I really want to see hoist that trophy? Doc, Straw, Darling, Kid Carter et al, or Clemens, (this was before I grew to despise this guy), Rice, Dewey Evans, and, yeah, Buckner, avenging all the frustrations of the Splendid Splinter, Yaz, Tiant, Fisk and Tony C? It is 29 years ago, so I don’t really remember how I felt after the Mets pulled it off in Game 7; I probably was elated. But like anyone else who saw it, I do remember the Game 6 fiasco, having a margarita with my wife Lynn at Carlos Goldstein’s, hoping the game would go forever. Those were my teams, and it was my Sophie’s Choice, my hometown Mets, who had won the series 17 years before, or the Sox, who had not won it, well, you know that deal.
A decade passed, we had raised two rabid Giants fans, so my love and interest in this team grew. I could still say my now THREE teams were not really in conflict, one AL team and two NL teams in different divisions. When the Giants and Mets played each other, six times a year, I tended to root for the team that needed the wins most in order to be in contention. And then, of course, it happened, 2000, the unlikely scenario unfolded, the Mets v. Giants in the National League Championship Series. I was in a real quandary. Now it had been 14 years since the Mets had won, certainly not an unreasonable length of time, and the Giants, my new love, who had not won in, well not quite as long as the Sox, but almost five decades. The decision was made when Rachel and David essentially said: “Okay old man, it is time to decide which side of the line you stand on”. I made my decision to hope for the Giants, knowing that I would be okay regardless who won. It was not an easy or comfortable choice. I am sure my kids knew that I was not all that upset when the Mets went to the World Series. Needless to say, there was no questioning who I was pulling for in that series, Mets vs. Yankees. I lost, I mean the Mets lost.
2007, the Red Sox, fairly fresh off their curse-breaking World Series win in 2004, were playing the Rockies, who had never been to, much less prevailed in, baseball’s ultimate event. I was a Sox fan, playing a team that I really had no ill feelings for; not wanting to be greedy about my team winning again so soon, I decided I would be ok if the Rockies took it all. That did not happen and I did not have to feel guilty for betraying my team.
Time and age has changed my perspective on things. My baseball landscape used to be littered with all the teams I “hated”. The Yankees, the Dodgers (remember, I am a New Yorker living in SF, how could this NOT be the case – all due respect given to my brother Kevin) and the Cardinals, because they were ALWAYS a nemesis to the Mets and Giants. I hated the Pirates and Reds and Astros and Padres (they of the trio of John Birch Society member pitchers) for a variety of reasons. Time has mellowed me. I have figured out that it is not worth the time and energy to hate baseball teams. It is just a game. Why would I hate the Padres, despite the reason I gave above, when they were the lifetime team of one of the great players and great guys of all-time, Tony Gwynn? So, I have started to like the Pirates, for their fan base, because they were so bad for so long, because they traded every prospect until they finally said NO, we are NOT trading Andrew McCutchen. The same is true with the Astros who played the Mets in that incredible 1986 playoff series with that epic 16-inning game. What’s not to like now? They were a doormat, and now they are suddenly good, I wished them well in the 2015 playoffs. Teams that I have been indifferent to, like the Royals and Rays, I just start rooting for them to have their moment in the sun. Not so much when they are playing one of my teams, but it is okay.
Now, I will admit, that sometimes I try too hard to be egalitarian, a little too willing to sacrifice my favorites in the name of brotherhood. Last year, with the Giants going for their third championship in five years, I tried to convince myself that I was ok if the Royals won. I mean, I have friends from Kansas City, the team never bothered me, they had been irrelevant for so long, and they had a shockingly surprising season like their series opponents. As I watched Game 6 in a bar with Rachel and her boyfriend Johannes, the game in which the Royals obliterated the Giants, I tried to keep that open, generous philosophy alive. The next night, I watched the game with Lynn in a hotel room in, of all places, Salt Lake City, because we could not find a restaurant that had the game on. I tried to keep this spirit going, until, in the last of the ninth, when Alex Gordon hit the single that Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez misplayed into a triple, and my heart plummeted down to my toes at the sight of Gordon turning at third, considering going home, this game slipping away. Of course, the Giants went on to win, and I could carry on this generous charade of not caring………..at least until now, as I come clean while I write this article.
So, here we are, the 2015 playoffs. The (only) three teams I still will never like fell early. Teams I was always indifferent to, or previously didn’t like, made it, and I was happy. And then came my latest dilemma. The Cubs beat the Cardinals, and the Mets beat the Dodgers, setting up a confrontation between my beloved, beleaguered Mets, and the team that NO ONE (well, except maybe White Sox and Cardinals fans) can possibly root against. I mean the Cubs, who are cursed (listen to Chuck Brodsky’s great song “Curse of the Billy Goat”). I didn’t know where to go. Both teams have been irrelevant for long stretches over many decades. I will always love my hometown Mets, this edition featuring an incredible young and power –packed pitching staff who score just enough runs. They have my second favorite player today, David Wright. But oh, the Cubs. Lynn’s family is from Chicago, and they are all starved for a championship. What a story they are, with talented rookies Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. Starlin Castro resurrected his season and Jake Arietta became the best pitcher on the planet. And, again, those poor, sad, starving, lovable fans. What was does one do?
Well, it’s over. The Mets swept the Cubs, it was not close. I can feel good about posting on Facebook that I would have been ok if they beat the Mets, I would have survived. Most of my friends wouldn’t have believed it. It would have been true, kind of. So in the end, it was my Mets, who last won in 1986 vs. the Royals, who last won in 1985. It is essentially the same period of drought, not unreasonable by the standard of each team every 30 years. So, I will say I was okay with either team winning, but not really.