Friday, November 6, 2009

Can I Congratulate the Yankees?

This one is hard. But not as difficult as it used to be. Back in the dark days B.C.E. (Before the Curse was Extinguished), in otherwords, pre 2004, it was much harder to smile in the face of Only Yankee Victories Every Year (acronym O.Y. V.E.Y.).

Now I can look on the bright side. For this century, at least, the Sox still have one more championship (counting 2001 as the first year of the new century), even though the Yankees still far outspend even the Bosox every year. My son Ethan has succinctly explained in a recent column why baseball's lack of a salary cap has become a joke. As he wrote,

"Let’s be frank for a moment. Baseball is dying a slow death as America’s pastime. The Super Bowl has already passed the World Series as the year’s premier sporting event. Regular season and playoff ratings were lower than ever this year. TBS is broadcasting playoff games, for heaven’s sake. TBS!"

In this regard, the Red Sox are every bit as culpable as the Yankees, even though they don't spend as much. The TV ratings speak for themselves, despite a healthy jump for the World Series (but even then, the best rating resulted from an NFL doubleheader lead-in that scored even higher).

So I have less pain watching the Yankees triumph now than I did following other pinstriped victories. There is no spectre of Wade Boggs on horseback or Roger Clemens being, well, Roger Clemens. There is no Bucky ("Mazal Tov") Dent hitting homers over the Wall or Aaron Boone ruining my one and only playoff visit to the old Yankee Stadium.

I no longer have to entertain vast theological questions about why God causes bad things to happen to good Bostonians. The Curse was eclipsed so long ago that kids now don't even know it existed. It's somewhat analogous to how today's younger generation never knew of a Jewish people without a state of Israel. We take our good fortune for granted.

So there is nothing holding me back from issuing at least a 3/4 - hearted Mazal Tov. And there are several good reasons to do it.

1) Because a number of people whom I love and admire are Yankee fanatics. If I'm going to work and live in Yankeeland, that's just something I have to accept. I actually feel good for at least some of them today.

2) Because I've gotten lots of mileage out of this rivalry. I do many bar mitzvahs and 13 is when baseball interest peaks, just after firetrucks and Barbie and just before attention turns to, well, other things. So my inner child is cryogenically forzen at 13, and as long as the Rivalry thrives, I've got instant material. If the Yankees had gone many more years without winning, things would have begun to get boring.

3) Because of Mel Allen, z'l, whose grave I visit in our cemetery all the time. He was the ultimate mensch.

4) Because Yankee fans have been so sensitive to their opponents over the years. Look at the paternal love given to Pedro Martinez!

5) Because it's the right thing to do. When your opponent wins, you rise above it and congratulate him. It's what we call "derech eretz." As Rabbi Joseph Telushkin has written in his magnum opus on Jewish ethics:

"An ancient rabbinic text teaches, kadmah derech eretz et ha-Torah, 'the commandment of good manners [i.e, considerate behavior] preceded the Torah' (Leviticus Rabbah 9:3). The Rabbis explain that while the Torah's commandments were revealed and became binding only at the time of the revelation at Mount Sinai, the obligation to act with courtesy and civility toward others originated with Adam and the creation of humanity. God could imagine humankind existing for thousands of years without the Torah, but He could not imagine human beings existing without the need for civility."

6) Because defeat is a prerequisite for victory, and acceptance of defeat a necessary stage of maturity. A win is meaningless without prior defeat.

Rabbi Soleveitchik, a.k.a. The Rav, put it this way:

"Man, in Judaism, was created for both victory and defeat - he is both king and saint. He must know how to fight for victory and also how to suffer defeat."

"Modern man is frustrated and perplexed because he cannot take defeat. He is simply incapable of retreating humbly. Modern man boasts quite often that he has never lost a war. He forgets that defeat is built into the very structure of victory, that there is, in fact, no total victory; man is finite, so is his victory. Whatever is finite is imperfect; so is man's triumph."

Losing is good for the soul.

"...the readiness to accept defeat purges the uncontrollable lust for victory."

So not only do I congratulate the Yankees, I THANK them. And I thank the Angels too, for making my October good and miserable. Great and miserable, in fact.

NEXT year's Red Sox championship will be all the sweeter for having had to follow this year's Yankee win.

So as a charter member of the O.Y. V.E.Y. club, I say "mazal tov" to the Bombers!

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