Learn to Love the Hate
July 31, 2006
With the Yankees acquiring yet another All-Star outfielder in Bobby Abreu just before the trade deadline to add to their growing list of stars, many fans become enraged about this time of year because it's always a battle of haves vs. have nots. Instead of being a game between buyers and sellers and which team can fit a player under the salary cap, the MLB trading deadline has become a game of which small handful of teams with deep pockets are willing to mortgage a small portion of the future and take on some overpaid talent to win now. Embrace it, don't hate it.
Now that Abreu is a Yankee, it gives you, the fan, one more reason to root against New York. There is nothing worse in sports than apathy, and NFL fans won't admit it, but their league is headed that way. Mediocrity in professional sports can lead to short term excitement for individual cities, but in the long run, leagues need a bad guy, a team that wears the black hat, a Goliath. Who do you root for or against in a land of Davids?
In football and basketball, it's getting harder and harder to hate the Cowboys and Lakers of the sports world because they are now playing on the same level as the Panthers and Hawks. Sure, some franchises (refer back to the aforementioned Hawks) continue to fail but only through lack of management smarts rather than lack of cash. That just makes us feel sorry for them, or perhaps feel nothing for them at all.
Last year's Super Bowl Steelers team was simply not a team you could hate. They didn't beat your team to the punch on high priced free agents or outspend you on the way to the playoffs. They just played well. The same can be said for the Patriots of the past decade. New England built their team through intelligent drafting, management, and coaching. Bor-ing! How can you hate a team like that? You can't because next year it will be some other city celebrating and you will have already forgotten about New England and Pittsburgh.
We are having an identity crisis in professional sports, but baseball remains steeped in tradition despite its modern ventures into things like the Wild Card and six divisions. In fact, baseball's inequalities are what keep the game pure.
It's still great fun to be an Orioles fan and hate the Yankees and Red Sox, knowing that no matter how much your team spends, you'll never match them in the pocketbook. Why is that fun? Because when your team DOES win, it becomes that much sweeter. You know your team earned it if they were able to get past the free spending Yankees and Red Sox. Winning should be special, and baseball still delivers in that aspect. The NFL has become a league of "Whose turn is it this year to surprise everyone, only to return to mediocrity next year?" In baseball, it's the Yankees title to lose, and when the Marlins defeat them in the Bronx for a World Series title, it really is something special. Suddenly, Yankees haters become temporary Marlins fans and it brings emotion to the game. I can only imagine it would be just as fun being a Yankees fan, knowing everyone hates you. What better satisfaction than to rub your success in everyone else's face.
For the same reason professional wrestling doesn't just trot out a bunch of guys in black tights, MLB needs its heroes and villains. We need Barry Bonds, A.J. Pierzynski, and the Yankees as much as we need a surprising playoff run by the Detroit Tigers or a playoff push by the incredibly frugal Marlins. If you don't have anyone to "stick it" to, then there's no point in having a rooting interest. The players will always have an interest to win, but as long as our dollars pay for their salaries, we need to be involved as well.
Spreading out the talent and limiting the checkbooks might give the Pirates, Royals, and others a better chance, but it wouldn't be as special. And don't think winning without money is impossible. Ask the Oakland A's or the Minnesota Twins about winning on a budget and they can tell you how sweet it would be to knock off the likes of ARod, Jeter, Giambi, Sheffield, Damon, Matsui, Abreu, Posada, Mussina, and the Big Unit en route to the World Series. So the next time you are in New York and you pass George Steinbrenner and his fat wallet, tell him that baseball thanks him. Then steal his black hat.