When I heard that Kevin Youkilis had agreed to a one-year contract with the Yankees, I tweeted this on @BallparkEGuides: “Just a thought…can you imagine a Red Sox fan changing their allegiance as easily as Youkilis or Johnny Damon did?”
Since free agency especially, many star players who gained fame in Fenway Park became stormtroopers for the “Evil Empire”, bringing back the still painful memory of the sale of Babe Ruth in 1919. Luis Tiant, Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Johnny Damon and now Kevin Youkilis were all stars who became members of the hated Yankees, after reaching iconic status in Beantown.
In the other direction? The only name that comes to mind is Mike Torrez, who gave up the home run to Bucky <very bad expletive> Dent in the one game playoff at Fenway in 1978. I can’t think offhand of any other Yankee stars that went to Fenway once they became household names.
To put this in perspective, try picturing that. Imagine if Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage, Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams and Robinson Cano all became Red Sox players later in their careers—and for good measure, went on to win the World Series in some cases. How might Yankees fans handle that?
I don’t think anyone thinks twice about players doing it. Free agents usually sign with the highest bidder, and the Yankees have the resources to be the highest bidder if they want to be. So of course the likes of Clemens, Boggs and Damon end up in the Bronx.
I don’t necessarily begrudge them that. But it’s curious to me. Playing for so many years for the Red Sox, there’s no way a player can’t be aware of how locals feel about the Yankees, even New Yorkers in general. You can’t avoid knowing the stories, the history of the Curse, key games throughout the years that until 2004 always seemed to go in favor of the pinstripes.
As a player you have to constantly hear “Yankees suck” chants, pass by the Yankee Hater T-shirts in the ballpark, or see the anti-Yankees stickers on a good percentage of New England cars.
Yet after years of being embraced and revered by the Fenway faithful, after years of hearing the cheers in America’s favorite ballpark 81 nights a year, after being declared royalty in New England, a player can sign on with the object of the region’s derision, without apparently a second thought.
How many Red Sox fans would switch to being Yankees fans to a) be on the side of a perennial winner, or b) because they were offered a substantial amount of money?
I asked two passionate Sox fans that I know. One said he could put a cap on and pretend to be a Yankees fan, but he could not live in New England with everyone knowing he switched, and he couldn’t be a true Yankees fan for any price. (He believes that Youkilis, like Clemens and Boggs before him, is a traitor.) Another replied to me that for $10 million, he would put on the Yankees jersey, give the money to his wife, and put a bullet in his head.
So I posed the question in the Baseball Fever forum: Would you become a Yankees fan for a million dollars? Ten million? Is there an amount of money you would accept to become a dedicated, pinstripes wearing, Jeter-worshipping Yankees fan, with the only catch being that your switch was public and everyone, including all of New England, knew about it?
You have to appear at a press conference with millions watching and put on your Yankees jersey. Is there an amount of money you would take to do that?
With a follow-up question: what do you think the reaction of all of your Red Sox fan friends and family would be to your changing teams for money?
Here are some of the answers I received:
“Wow, talk about an indecent proposal! (Insert Kurt chortling here.) I'm glad you clarified yourself as an O's fan, otherwise I'd think you were a sadistic Yankee fan (is there another kind?)...$10M??? It's just like your co-worker said. . . I could probably go through the motions, but my heart wouldn't be in it.”
“I'd take the money. Nothing in the conditions that says I can't wink when I say I'm a Yankee fan.”
As an Orioles fan from birth, I wonder if I could trade my own allegiance for financial security. At first I think I would be stupid not to. It's just a baseball team, and it’s not like the Orioles have done much to reward my dedication lately, although the 2012 season did bring me a lot of excitement.
If switching to the Dark Side paid off my house, allowed me to retire and spend my time doing whatever I wanted, and enabled me to buy a house on the Jersey shore, I would be a fool not to sign on and don the pinstripe jersey.
Then I think, could I really be one of “them”? Could I really go to a Yankees game at Camden Yards and cheer when A-Rod hits a home run?
I don’t mean any disrespect to Yankees fans. Most all of the ones I’ve met in my life are wonderful people. (As are Mets fans, for some reason. The only fans I’ve consistently had troubles with are Indians fans, and I’m sure that’s a fluke thing.)
But for me to switch would make me that most dishonorable and obnoxious of sports fans...the frontrunner. Worse, I’d have done it for money. That’s not a small thing, is it?
I’d be giving up Camden Yards as my home ballpark. I’d be giving up Cal Ripken Jr.—and appreciating how important his father was to the success of the Orioles for years. Brooks Robinson. Eddie Murray. Jim Palmer. Earl Weaver. Heroes lesser known outside of Baltimore…Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, Rich Dauer, Don “Fullpack” Stanhouse.
Orange and black. The warehouse. The cartoon bird. Polock Johnny’s and Natty Boh. The Orioles Magic of the 1970s and the unforgettable come-from-behind wins at Memorial Stadium.
The 1983 World Series, when my buddy Chuck and I were the only Orioles fans in a Philadelphia area high school and almost got our asses kicked. The “O!” during the national anthem, and “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” in the 7th inning stretch.
What would Wild Bill Hagy think?
My team’s greatest players would now include the man whose supposedly unbreakable consecutive games record was broken, and no longer the man that broke it to the emotional delight of millions. My team would include guys I rooted against my whole life...Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Alex Rodriguez.
All of the wonderful experiences of seeing the Orioles win—and lose. It’s not just rooting for a sports team. It’s a part of my life. Even for a lifetime of financial security, I would feel like I sold a part of my soul. I hardly owe my devotion to a baseball team, but that isn’t the point.
Not everything has a price, even something as superficially meaningless on the surface as one’s favorite baseball team. Being a fan is a small part of one’s identity.
And we’re just fans, not the players in the grind day after day at the ballpark. It can’t be so easy for players to switch, can it? How easy was it for Mike Mussina after so many successful years in Baltimore? (I loved Moose as an Oriole, and I’m happy that he never won a Series in pinstripes.)
Finally, there’s the matter of the example being set. What if it became common, and socially acceptable, for fans to switch teams as easily as players do for the right price? Would the Royals or Pirates or Padres still have fans? Would they even be able to exist?
There must have been nothing in the world like 2004 for Red Sox fans. To see that sign at Fenway in the World Series asking “HEY NY, HOW’S THE VIEW?” For so many Red Sox fans, the magical ending of the Curse in 2004 was so utterly worth all the heartbreak and then some. What if a Sox fan became fed up after the miserable ending in 2003 and changed his allegiance to the Yankees?
For a Sox fan to leave would be to say that the 2004 season, Fisk’s home run, the heroics of Williams and Yastrzemski and Pesky, the Green Monster and Yawkey Way and grandstand seats of Fenway Park and Sweet Caroline didn’t matter as much as one spent his life claiming it did.
Feel free to disagree with me if you want. But think about it when you see "Youuuuuuuk" in a gray uniform that says NEW YORK.
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