How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Yankees

October 6, 2010 — by John Lally1

John Lally's triumphant return to White Hart Lane.

“Why are we watching this again?” was the perfectly valid question my wife posed to me half way through Four Days in October, ESPN’s documentary about the Red Sox improbable come back in the 2004 ALCS.  Why, indeed, would two big Yankees fans be watching this again? It was my fault. “It’s the Tottenham fan in me that has to watch it” was my only defence.  To me, it made sense.

The fact that I’m a Yankees fan, who’s not from New York, is something that always had bothered me to some degree.  I felt akin to the legions of Manchester United fans there are across the globe, glory hunters attracted to the name and the success, but once you have your team, it’s your team.  I started following baseball with the 1996 World Series, so I didn’t have a choice of 30 teams, I had 2: Atlanta Braves or the New York Yankees.   New York, the city, had always been of interest to me, so I was drawn to them. Futhermore they were the underdogs – the Braves were the reigning World Series Champions, the Yankees hadn’t won since 1978.  A team with great history that hadn’t won anything of significance in my lifetime? Sounds like my kind of team – so I sided with the Yankees.  Of course, they won – which was great. And then again 2 years later, and in 1999, and in 2000.  It started to feel a little easy: baseball – a game where they play 162 regular season games and then the Yankees win the World Series.

I paid my dues as a fan over those first years – watching games that started at 1am in the UK and finished as dawn was breaking. Trips I made to New York incorporated when possible a trip to the Stadium for a game and I considered myself to be a “proper” fan.  Once I moved to New York, I was able to watch most the games at a reasonable hour and go to them much more regularly.  Less than 2 months after I started dating my wife, we went to our first game together and have continued to share our Yankees fandom together ever since.  However, the rivalry with the Red Sox was a sore point to me, as Boston was the team most similar to Tottenham.  Both teams were constantly beaten by their hated rivals.  Year after year, no matter how good their chances seemed, something would happen to perpetuate the underachievement.  Maybe the lack of success had lasted longer for Red Sox fans, but when you’re born in 1981 it doesn’t really make too much difference if your last title was in 1961 or 1918, it was history. Even sportswriter and Red Sox fanatic Bill Simmons saw the alliance and picked Tottenham as his Premiership team back in 2006

The difference is though, 2004 happened.  Don’t get me wrong, those four days were hell as a Yankees fan. At 3-0 up in the series, I was far from convinced it was over.  I had the foresight of a lifelong love of Tottenham to know that my teams hadn’t won until the final pitch had been thrown or the final whistle blown.  I mean, the Yankees had lost in 2001 with Rivera on the mound on game 7, that wasn’t meant to happen – and the more I read and heard the statistic that no team had come back from that position in the history of baseball, the more it seemed inevitable.  And so, before Dave Roberts stole second, or Ortiz ripPED (sorry, had to get one jab in) those walk off hits or the bloody sock or Johnny Damon, I knew what was coming.  Yes, it sucked to lose to them, and even worse for it to be so historic, but looking back, it’s hard to admit, but I’m glad it happened.  No longer can Red Sox Nation be the poor, put upon hard luck story.

I don’t feel any kinship with their failure, because they can no longer understand the pain of Spurs fans. Their biggest rival didn’t use collusion and bribery to ensure that they were “elected” into the top flight while they were demoted, like Arsenal did in 1919 (and have never been relegated since, not like I’m bitter or anything but…). They just sold a great player because their owner wanted the money to put on a Broadway show, every team has sold a great player for money.  Maybe Spurs never had the equivalent of Babe Ruth to sell but still…no curse to see here.  Okay Boston spent years losing to the Yankees, but they wiped that out in historic fashion.  Until Tottenham win the league, beating out Arsenal on the last day of the season in dramatic fashion, we don’t have that redemption.  The Red Sox aren’t like Tottenham, they’re like Arsenal themselves in 1989 – last gasp dramatics to overcome years of failure to win the title. And as a Tottenham and a Yankees fan, that comparison, rather than the one you could have made prior to the 2004 ALCS, suits me just fine.

They won, we still haven’t. Maybe if/when we do, I’ll understand what their true fans go through now – the new fans, the expectations, losses being just about getting beaten and not some cosmic pattern of failure. As for Tottenham, we’re the Chicago Cubs or the Brooklyn Dodgers – but crucially, we’re not the Red Sox.