Yankees Suck

Business poobahs sometimes refer to an entrepreneurial ecosystem, which I think of as a particularly fecund company that spawns numerous startups, many of which surpass the original. I know of countless companies in New England that came out of Digital Equipment Corp, for example, while one of the biggest progenitors of all is IBM. (Here’s an Inc. article I wrote on the phenomena.)

But, sheepishly, I must cite a story that appeared in the Boston Globe yesterday which made me realize that I too, created an industry, though it’s one that today I’m fairly ambivalent about. The story was about two enterprising guys who took the money from their t-shirt business selling Yankees Suck shirts, and then visiting another region with a fierce and bitter rivalry, namely Iraq.

At any rate, here’s a piece I wrote several years back, before the Red Sox won the World Series, and which never ran as a print piece. I did it as an NPR commentary. Unsaid in this piece is the fact that after writing The Startup Garden, many people would ask me if I ever started a business myself. The fact is, I did, and it succeeded. Here’s the story:

With Opening Day comes hope, and in Boston comes more than that. In Boston, and throughout these six leafy states called New England, Opening Day brings blind faith, renewal, cliches galore, and the prospect for salvation as our boys roll back four-score-and-four years of last place, middle place, and worst of all, the short end of four hellish Game Sevens. Opening Day brings the chance and the prayer that after more than a lifetime of not winning the World Series, the Red Sox will, this year, do it.

For me, of course, Opening Day brings another, less grandiose goal. I hope that this is the year that the fans will stop chanting “Yankees Suck.”

You’ve probably heard the phrase. If you’ve ever been to a Red Sox game you’ve heard the crowd pick up the chant when Derek Jeter strikes out or Manny Ramirez sends a Mussina fastball over the Green Monster. The problem is that the chant doesn’t stop there. It’s become somewhat of a yahoo mantra in this town. These days whenever the Red Sox win a game, whenever they even take a lead, the highest form of collective appreciation takes voice in the chant. When the Patriots won the Super Bowl last year, guess how the loutish clods at the parade expressed their joy? Well, it rhymes with Blankees Tuck. What’s next? After a conducting the BSO to a rousing rendition of Mahler’s Fourth, conductor Keith Lockhart climbs off the podium, throws his arms in the air, and screams “Yankees Suck” to the bluebloods at Symphony Hall?

Enough, already. It’s time to move on, to find a new way to give voice to our collective passion. Believe me, this is more than a simple plea for decency and civility, a hope for higher aspirations from my people. My hope for a G-rated (okay, PG would do) chant is personal, and selfish.

You see, I invented the phrase Yankees Suck.

In 1978 I was a 17-year-old high school senior who loved the Red Sox maybe more than girls. This was three years after the epic World Series of Carlton Fisk charming his homer fair, and a couple of years after watching the Yankees become World Champions once more. The Red Sox-Yankee rivalry was epic, heroic, rooted in deep tribal passions like a blood knot.

And one night early in the season, hearing folks curse the Yankees, the phrase just came to me. Sure, I won’t claim to be the first to ever say Yankees suck. But I was the first to put it on a t-shirt. My older sister and I printed up 300 t-shirts with the phrase on them. We obtained a permit from the city to sell wares. And when we took them out to sell at the first Yankees series, we sold every one that first night. And I felt a strange kind of pride well up within me when the chant was picked up by the boisterous crowd at Fenway. As waves of Yankees Suck came rolling over the folks, it felt like a huge roar of affirmation, an exciting, comforting, vindication of my hopes and passions.

By the time of the next series later that summer, there were more than five others selling shirts with the same phrase. We re-ordered, and did fine, but by then the phrase had entered the public domain, and was no longer mine. It didn’t matter to me. I felt much more ownership in seeing thousands of others wearing the shirts and chanting the chant. The phrase took, and has continued to root itself in the fan’s collective mind.

Twenty years have passed. The Yankees have won six world championships in that time. And the Red Sox? They’ve had several postseason appearances; and of course there was 1986, a World Series eternally characterized by Bill Buckner’s muffed grounder. In this time it feels that the curse has only settled deeper into the Red Sox psyche.

This year I’d like my fellow fans to quit the chowderhead chant. I’d like fans to see that to revel in the Yankees flaws is to cling to our flawed and frustrating past. Part of this sentiment has to do with my turning 40. Part of it has to do with my plans to take my ten-year-old daughter to the game this summer. But mostly this feeling has to do with the notion of a legacy. I’d like to be remembered by something other than giving voice to a mass feeling of frustration with the baseball gods and all they control in the cosmos.

I’d also like to help create a new attitude about this queer form of worship. All of it—the curse, the phrase, the legacy of schadenfreude—all must pass. Come Opening Day we remember our dark past and hope that change and triumph will come in the future made now. Yet Opening Day fools us. Each year we look to the first day of baseball as a clean slate, another chance to toss off history, change the past, and finally win. But in Boston we know all too well that every fresh chance carries the gene of failure; and that our hope to escape the past is mere folly. So I don’t want to forget the past. I’d just like it to not suck.

Posted by tom at August 9, 2006 10:42 AM
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