Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Like the vast majority of folks here in Philly, I grew up with a certain intense dislike for New York sports teams, even though the vast majority of the time they were not the biggest rivals of our local Philadelphia pro teams. One thing that I can tell you for sure, World Series against the Yankees or whatever, I don't hate New York.
The Phillies became regular contenders during my pre-teen and teenage years, but the Mets were rarely a good team in those days. The main rivals for the Phillies were the Pittsburgh Pirates, who played in the NL East division at that time. It seemed as if the Phils and Bucs were battling every year between 1975 and 1980 for the supremacy of the division.
The Yankees, once baseball's glorious dynasty, had fallen on hard times as of the mid-70's, but they began to emerge again as contenders at the same time as the Phillies. Though the Phils and Yanks made the playoffs in both 1977 and 1978, the Phils and Yanks would never meet. The Phils lost in the NL playoffs to the Dodgers despite being favored both seasons, and there was no Inter-League play during the regular season in those days.
Over the next couple of decades, baseball changed it's divisional format, and the Pirates moved away to the new Central Division, effectively killing the once-great intra-state rivalry with the Phils. But the Phillies and Mets still did not develop much of a rivalry because the two teams were almost never good in the same seasons. That truly ended in 2007 and 2008 when the Phils ran down the favored Mets from behind to take the NL East crown both years, winning the World Series a year ago.
In other sports there have been more bitter rivalries. As the 'Broad Street Bullies' version of the Flyers developed into Stanley Cup contenders in the 1970's, the Rangers and Islanders each turned out to be frequent playoff opponents. In football, the Giants and Eagles have had a spirited rivalry, highlighted by the Birds "Miracle in the Meadowlands" victory.
Again though, those rivalries have not been the primary focus of Eagles or Flyers fans. There is no hiding the glee that Birds fans take at beating the Dallas Cowboys, even in seasons when the Eagles may not be contenders, which has not been often over the past decade. And right now the Flyers simply do not have a primary heated rivalry going. The Devils and Penguins have filled the role, but it seems to change with each season on the ice.
New York's other sports teams have never been true rivals of the Philly teams, or at least not for a long time. Even when the Sixers and Knicks were both good, it always was the Sixers-Celtics rivalry that was far more prominent. The Jets and Nets? Forget about it. Even these Yankees have never been Philly rivals, despite the teams having met in one World Series previously.
That previous World Series meeting was in 1950, between Philly's lovable "Whiz Kids" bunch led by Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts and the Yankee dynasty of the day which was led in that incarnation by Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford. The Yanks swept those Phils, winning each of the first three games by just one run. But while the Yanks continued their dynasty, those Phils never returned to the Series.
So with all of this, it has been hard for me personally to work up much of a sports hatred for New York, outside of those 1970's Rangers and the recent year Mets rivalry. Some say that Philly has an inferiority complex about New York due to the Big Apple's population size and it's financial, cultural, and artistic importance combined with being so close in proximity to The City of Brotherly Love, but I never got that feeling.
After the attacks of September 11th, 2001, I promised myself that I would never again "hate" New York, and would never express hatred towards the city or it's people in a sports context or any other. My genuine feeling is that New York City is completely representative of everything that makes America great, and I will not allow some sports rivalry to change that feeling. But that's me. I know and accept that every Philly fan is not going to be quite so magnanimous.
None of this is to say that I'm going so far as to slap on an "I Love NY" button. I hope that the Phils sweep the Yanks, and in fact am now picking the Phillies to win the World Series in five games. But I am glad that it is the Yanks we are facing, not because it's New York, but because their team was the best in the AL this season, just as Tampa was the best in the AL last season. You always want to beat the best in order to be called the best.
The Yankees play the game similar to the way our Phillies play it: hard for 9 innings with a no-quit attitude. You may not like Alex Rodriguez, but you must acknowledge that he is one of the three best baseball players of the past decade. In Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and A.J. Burnett they have some of the most talented players in the game.
To me, this World Series is only about the Yankees insofar as they make for a more interesting opponent. It is more about rooting on an extremely exciting, talented, and lovable band of Phillies players. Chase, Chooch, JRoll, JayDub, Lights-Out, Rauuuuul, the Flyin Hawaiian, the Big Piece, Hollywood and the rest have legitimately won the hearts of this sports-crazed city. This is about rooting them on and cheering their exploits, not rooting against anyone else. It really doesn't matter who is lined up across the diamond, the story is on our side.
So I am rooting hard against the New York Yankees this week, and rooting for my own beloved Philadelphia Phillies to bring home their 2nd consecutive World Series championship. But I'll leave it to the idiots at the New York Post and the crazies in the Yankee Stadium stands the next two nights to do the hating. My belief is that when the Series returns to Philly for the weekend, there is gonna be a whole lot more love for the Fightin' Phils expressed than hatred for any New York team.