There are many fall-time rituals: road-trips to view colorful foliage, pumpkin sculpture and surgery, undressing for Halloween, griping endlessly about the wet and gloomy weather in the North-East, dreading the setting forward of the clocks as Daylight Savings Time runs out, going back to school and college, football watching on Sundays (and Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays). If you are a New York Yankees fan, there is another set of fall rituals to anticipate and respond to: the disappointment or elation associated with the baseball post-season, reading speculation about Yankees personnel moves, written by New York journalists before the post-season has ended, and lastly, most inevitably, death and taxes be damned, either schadenfreude or derision, emanating from non-fans of the Yankees, directed at the Yankees for an early post-season exit, perhaps in the American League Division Series, the American League Championship Series, or even better, the World Series, or alternatively, mockery at the Yankees for having ‘bought another title’ and leased out the Death Star for yet another year.
This year, the Yankees are down 0-3 in the American League Championship Series. Without exaggeration, it may be said the only reason they are alive is because, last night, baseball’s managers, in a fit of excessive caution, decided to postpone Game Four even though it had not started raining. Meanwhile, Yankees-detractors are already gleefully anticipating the fall of the Evil Witch (or Empire, take your pick), and New York journalists have started their favorite pastime of Cashman-advising and Cashman-secondguessing. (One of the favorite themes in this activity, besides bemoaning trades and acquisitions, is pointing out how well former Yankees are doing against the Yankees. Imagine that! A professional player went to work elsewhere in the same league and is now doing well against the Yankees. Mindblowing. Surely, he should obligingly do badly once he leaves the Yankees?)
Come fall, the Yankees are not so much a sports team as a rather obliging data set for hypothesis confirmation: the Yankees are always proving something, always providing positive data for one kind of sports science thesis or the other. Thus: the Yankees are proof that you can ‘buy’ titles because, er, they can hire, based on major league baseball’s market rates, the league’s ‘best’ players. Or: the Yankees are proof that money cannot buy titles. Perhaps those supposedly ‘best’ players weren’t the ‘best’ players? Who knows, sometimes market price indicators aren’t accurate. (By way of example, here is a representative sample, faithfully trotted out, on cue, with metronomic regularity, supposedly by a human, but its template-like format seems to suggest a blog-comment issuing bot.)
Anti-Yankee fervor is most similar, in its bare details, to the passion that animates those who claim their devotion to college sports is based on its steadfast commitment to a pristine amateurism. That comparison should provide us a clue to resolving the mystery of how the same team manages, every year, to prove two radically dissimilar hypotheses about professional sports. Michael Novak suggested sports were like religions in the kind of romantic fervor they elicited from their adherents. But ‘romantic fervor’ is permeated with a peculiar irrationality, as is religious discourse and disputation.
The sound you hear all around you isn’t just that of rustling leaves; it’s also the faithful dropping to their knees.