How I Learned to Hate the Yankees
By JIM NICHOLS
I am a baseball fan. I liked playing it when I was young and have followed any major league team close to where I lived and could get on the radio. That would include the Kansas City Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Atlanta Braves, and now the Texas Rangers. There are certain lyrical qualities to baseball that are missing in other sports, a gracefulness melting with skill. One team I have always disliked, however, is the New York Yankees. I blame this on Edith Bernitz.
Edith had a massive cottonwood tree in her yard, and, at certain times of the year, the neighborhood was filled with almost-lighter-than-air billowy white seeds; they floated all directions it seemed to my five-year-old self.
Edie liked me. I had two good grandmothers, but Edie was like a third one for me. A boy at that age thinks any gray-haired woman who is nice is like a grandmother. Edie baked bread and since everyone seemed to have their windows open all the time, the aromas of the bread readily drifted down two doors to our house, and I had my mother’s permission to go down to Edie’s any time I wanted for a bread snack.
As an aside, our open windows were the key to my learning to tell time especially young. I could not read the clock in my room, but I kept track of when the school bells rang as I lay on my bed in the afternoon. The school was several blocks away, but apparently had loud bells that could be heard through the house windows. I memorized the bell sequence in the afternoon as the various recesses started and ended and how those bells coincided with the clock in my room. I was proud of myself.
Edie had a husband, Carl, who owned a large Lincoln automobile. He was gone during the day but parked it on the street at night rather than in the garage behind the house; this was different than all the rest of us and I thought it odd. He was not nearly so nice as Edie.
Other than eating warm bread and being in a non-threatening environment, I do not recall any specifics about our conversations—except for baseball. My dad was beginning to teach me about baseball mechanics, but Edie mostly wanted to talk about how she disliked the New York Yankees. There was no major league team in Kansas City at the time; there was a Triple A minor league team (the Kansas City Blues) that was a farm team in the Yankee organization. That may be connected to her dislike. Mostly, however, I remember that she disliked the Yankee manager, Casey Stengel. She called him Casey Stinker. To refer to someone as a “stinker” in those days was a serious insult.
Stengel was the Yankee manager for several years, including most of the 1950s when I was indoctrinated against the team by Edie. In retrospect, there was nothing rational about her dislike for him. Since at the time I was reading “See Spot Run”, I was not aware of the plethora of fascinating Stengel quotes, nor would I have appreciated them. “There are three things you can do in a baseball game; you can win, or you can lose, or it can rain.” “There comes a time in every man’s life, and I’ve had many of them.” “The secret of successful managing is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the four guys who haven’t made up their minds.”
Perhaps Edie thought he was a smart aleck. She said the Yankees hoarded the best players from other teams because they were so rich.
However, I trusted her, so I began to dislike the Yankees too. I did not understand how anyone could root for them.
My second-guessing began when I went to a Kansas City vs. Yankees game a few years later. Sitting in the stands near us was a dad and his two boys about my age. Judging from their shirts and hats, they were Yankees fans. To my surprise, they seemed like ordinary people. They drank Cokes and ate candy just like I did. They cheered for their team. When Stengel came out of the dugout, he walked like a regular guy.
Perhaps Edie was wrong with her intensity, but I still have some residual anti-Yankees prejudice.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain