Nationalize the Banks, the Yanks
Who's paying for this?
Once this one was paid for, they used it for a thousand years.
Blogs should be dashed off the top of the head, quick enough that you might regret it, but this one has been slow developing. I started thinking about this on Super Sunday—basically a national holiday—and now it’s New York Fashion Week and I’m sitting in the front row reading ESPN magazine just to confuse people, and I’m sort of missing football already. I am still boycotting the Knicks, and this A-Rod stuff has put me off counting the days until pitchers and catchers.
It was a great Super Bowl this year; for once the game was up to the spectacle of the occasion. Super Sunday is the day we celebrate America’s most essential sport, the violent one, the most feudal one, the one based on the acquisition of enemy real estate. It’s also the day where we deliberately celebrate advertising by watching the commercials as entertainment. We actually do this all year, but on Super Sunday everyone watches and discusses the ads. It’s almost as competitive as the game.
I was on the spot this year. All my in-laws are crazy Steelers fans and my kid will was wearing his Steelers jersey with "43" on the back, for Troy Polamalu. I liked the underdog Arizona Cardinals but I had to be on the down-low about it. Anyway, I have issues with the whole idea of team allegiance. Maybe it’s because I’m a Jets fan. It’s not easy being a Jets fan and suffering from the curse. Now they say that Joe Namath made a pact with the devil, and that’s why we haven’t been in a Super Bowl since 1969.
The team concept is a crucial part of the American way. Hell, it was a crucial part of the Roman way. Back in the days of the Circus Maximus the populus was divided among four factions: the Reds, the Greens, the Blues, and the Whites. I sometimes wonder if my irrational attachment to the New York Jets stems from some past life in the Julio-Claudian era when I supported the Greens over the Blues. (I mean, wouldn’t any rational New York fan support the Giants?)
Plebs just want to have fun.
Our choices in sports teams, at least for those of us who don’t live in one-team towns, are often irrational. Some think of the Giants and the Yankees as Manhattan’s teams, and the Jets and the Mets as the teams of the bridge-and-tunnel people. And yet here I am, that strange species that supports the Yankees, despite a near-life-long hatred of George Steinbrenner, and the Jets, despite a near lifetime of disappointment. What a strange emotional system rules the male heart. Team allegiance is not something to be understood by logic alone—it’s like religion or patriotism. It doesn’t come from the brain; it comes from the testicles.
I think most fans still root for the team nearest them, which gives the whole league system a sort of feudal aura, but I think we are moving toward a different system. With cable TV offering fans access to every game everywhere we are entering a world where you might pick a team based on character, colors, the players' personalities, maybe even the mascot. And today there are quite a few teams who have fans all over the country they play in, and all over the world. Think of soccer teams like England’s Arsenal or Italy’s Juventus (which is supported by almost one-third of all Italian fans), or Brazil's national team.
The Dallas Cowboys of the NFL used to style themselves “America’s team.” At least until many of the Cowboys were involved in scandals, some involving cocaine, and were jokingly referred to as “South America’s team.” Probably the first national team was the New York Yankees—who have been popular nationally, selling out stadiums across the country for decades.
The Yankees, of course, playing in the house that replaced the house that Ruth built, have a storied history that appeals to any baseball fan. Murderer’s Row—the 1927 Yanks lineup featuring Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, Tony Lazzari, Joe Dugan, and John Grabowski—produced 110 victories in a 154-game season, stayed in first place all year, and then swept the World Series. Then when I was a Cleveland Indians fan we would fill Cleveland Stadium to it’s 75,000 capacity to see the Yankees visit with the M & M boys, Mantle and Maris, plus Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Tony Kubek, and Elston Howard. Back in the day the Yankees were one of three New York baseball teams, but they were in a way America’s team. When rioting third world people screamed “Yankee go home!” it might have been United Fruit they were complaining about, or the CIA, but the image brought to mind was pinstripes. And today one finds Yankee fans around the country; there’s a natural consistency among the upwardly mobile, the tycoon wannabes, the winners, and the sociopaths. And then there is the Oakland Raiders, a team whose constituency is built on an idea—the pirate or marauder as philosophy, the eyepatch and the statement “Commitment to Excellence,” and the color black, which makes the team the brand of choice among non-Crip non-Blood gangbangers. And the fact that owner Al Davis is an outlaw who has fought with the league, and the team traditionally picked up outcast headcase players who had failed elsewhere and made them into winners. I have quite a few friends who are Raiders fans who have never lived in Oakland (some have never even been there), just based on their image.
The Roman racing factions were enormously popular, to the extent that they became politicized. The emperor was generally a partisan of the Blues or the Greens, and while the factions resembled today’s sports franchises, they eventually developed into almost paramilitary gangs or cults with political and even religious overtones. In 532 A.D. the Blues and the Greens united in an attempted coup against the emperor Justinian. Today that sounds silly, but give us another hundred years. Sport is changing. Local factions are becoming nationalized, as new TV technology allows us to watch any game anywhere.
Think of the Roman racing factions as Crips and Bloods on wheels.
In sports today it is extremely difficult for smaller cities to compete with larger cities. New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez earns more in a year than the entire roster of the Florida Marlins. One exceptional franchise is the Green Bay Packers, a National Football League team that is owned by its fans, with over 100,000 stockholders. The Packers have won three Super Bowls, and they are a small town that competes with cities of many millions, but they are run on a capitalist model. But how can they ever hope to compete with the socialist-capitalist teams of the megalopolises?
The New York Yankees just got financing from New York City in the form of $370.9 million in mostly tax-exempt bonds so they can finish up the new Yankee Stadium. The new debt is added on to the $968 million the city approved in 2006. Obviously the team needs the taxpayers help. The Yankees pay over $110 million a year in “luxury tax” and revenue sharing. And since last season ended, the team awarded contracts totaling $423.5 million for first baseman Mark Teixeira and pitchers C.C. Sabithia and A.J. Burnett. And you can’t pay for players like just by selling tickets. A box seat behind home plate will run you $2,500. No, that’s not for the season, that’s per game. That would be $202,500 on the year. But still there’s a national-government-sized shortfall.
They tell us that the new stadium will be good for the city and for local business, but part of the new Yankee Stadium project is the $91 million train station that has been awarded to a Chinese construction firm. Meanwhile the city is laying off teachers and cops. There’s something wrong here. P.Diddy is flying commercial but big-time sports is acting like Wall Street is still booming and the sky is no limit.
The New York Jets (who suck, by the way) have an interesting approach to their season tickets, charging fans who would continue buying them, like my friend who inherited his four tickets from his father (one of the team’s original season ticket holders), charging them $25,000 per seat just for the right to continue buying what they’ve always bought for $700 a game. (I’ll do the math. That’s $100,000 plus $28,000 including the exhibition games.) Which leaves him wondering, should I take the boys to the games this year or should I put them through college?
Now my kid likes the Yankees, and he’s young enough that I don’t think I should tell him the facts of life. Like the guy batting cleanup, whom the manager called A-Fraud, who makes $28,000,000 a year, and who took steroids during his Most Valuable Player Year. He’s eight. He doesn’t need to know what steroids are yet. I’m still trying to explain why he shouldn’t eat the Hershey’s chocolates sweetened with Maltitol that the babysitter gave him. I don’t think I can explain Alex Rodriguez to him, and why his presence on the Yanks sours my enthusiasm for the team, a team I was somehow able to stomach during the reign of George Steinbrenner, the beard-hating egomaniac convicted of felony obstruction of justice and 14 counts of illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon.
I think I’ll root for the Pirates this season. Their payroll is less than 20% that of the Yankees. The odds for them to win the World Series are 200 to 1. I liked those old-school hats they used to wear and the way they used to have Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” as the team song. Or maybe I’ll root for the Oakland A’s because they signed my man Jason Giambi, who had the class to apologize for his steroid use, and I think still has some good years ahead. Or maybe I’ll root for the Dodgers because they’re managed by Joe Torre who did right by the Yanks (and by whom the Yanks did wrong.) But it won’t be the New York Yankees I root for. They’re not even New York’s team. (That’s the Mets, for sure.) They’re Wall Street’s team. Maybe the Neo-Con team. Posada, Jeter, Rivera, and Matsui are still my guys, but maybe I’ll root for the Indians in memory of my childhood favorite and my favorite Indian, Saturnino Orestes Armas Minoso, better known as Minnie. He was the first black man to play for the White Sox, and he was my idol. I met him and Vic Power at Cleveland Airport on August 12, 1958, when I was a little kid. I loved first baseman Vic, too. He was the first Puerto Rican to play in the bigs. I’m sure it was that date because on that day Vic Power stole home twice, the last major leaguer to do so. And he and Minnie still had time to talk to a kid.
Ah, baseball. How I loved it. Maybe I will again, some day. But these are tough times. Sports need to change like everything else. The economy is still rough, even if the big leagues don’t realize it. Pandemic white-collar crime and misconduct sank the banks. The leagues are probably next. I urge President Obama to just nationalize those banks, and while he’s at it, why not nationalize the Yanks, and any other sports team that taxpayers have been paying for without representation.
Teams are a matter of taste.
Life is a matter of taste.
Some of us want taste and credibility.