For more than 30 years, I have worked on social and economic justice issues. From supporting nursing-home residents in Ohio and New York to working for new immigrants in Minnesota, I have been committed to social change for some of the most vulnerable people in the United States. In so many cases, my work supports the underdogs — those whom the United States ignores and neglects. As part of my Jewish heritage and values and as director of Jewish Community Action, I work for equality, fairness, and access for all members of the community.
So, how does someone with that background, who has lived in Minnesota for more than 24 years, still root for the hated evil empire, the New York Yankees? I must confess that I root for the Twins whenever they play every other team in the league, and I rooted for them faithfully in the 1987 and 1991 post season and World Series. In fact, the first dog our family owned in the late 1980s was named Puckster for Kirby Puckett. So, once again, how do I continue to stay so committed to the New York Yankees?
Let me be clear: I was not a George Steinbrenner fan, despite all of the great players he brought to New York. There have been stars the Yankees have recruited whom I never liked very much, such as Roger Clemens and even their current star, A-Rod (although I must confess that I still cheer when he hits a home run).
I was born in the Bronx and lived on the Grand Concourse for the first four years of my life. My family lived just 20 blocks away from Yankee Stadium. We moved a few miles north to Yonkers when I was only 4, but my family always loved the New York Yankees, including everyone in my extended family. My father told me stories of seeing Babe Ruth (yes the immortal Bambino) in person when he was a child, along with Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and the other members of “murderer’s row.”
The great debate
As I became a Yankees fan, I heard stories about Joe DiMaggio and other great moments in Yankee history. The great debate back then was who is the best center fielder: Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays or DiMaggio. Of course, my father insisted it was DiMaggio, and I was certain it was Mantle.
Perhaps no one helped me become a lover of the Yankees more than Mantle. When I was a little boy, my older cousin Barry used to cheer, “Come on Mick, hit one for Vic.” I remember watching Mickey hit his 500th home run as I sat on the couch with my mother, father, sister, aunt and grandmother in a Bronx apartment, listening as Joe Garagiola, the Yankee announcer, say: “There she goes.” I attended Mickey’s 5 for 5 game with two home runs in 1966 and the first two Yankee bat days, including the one when Mickey hit a triple into the monuments (when they were still on the field) and 70,000 people cheered. Many years later, I saw another Yankee great, Thurman Munson, homer in the playoffs.
The Yankees are part of my identity. My father passed away more than 19 years ago, and my mother 2 years ago. My sister and cousins, whom I grew up with, live all over the country. But when the Yankees play in the postseason, it is as if I am with all of them. And, when they win, I have this picture of my father smiling. It feels as though I have the Yankees’ pinstripes in my blood.
Yankee pinstripes in the blood
I understand why so many people dislike the Yankees. They throw their money around, they act arrogant, and they seem to follow their own rules. Yet, more than 40 years after Mickey and Whitey Ford retired from baseball, they still have wonderful players like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, who play the game with as much class as my heroes from the past. They appreciate the great pastime and honor the tradition of a great baseball team.
So, forgive me as I root for the Yankees again, despite all of their money and championships. But know that if this is not their year, I’ll be rooting for the Twins against all other opponents.
Vic Rosenthal, is the executive director of Jewish Community Action.