Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Teams I Love to Hate

(NOTE: I wrote this before the 2012 NHL Eastern Conference Finals and the 2013 World Series. If I were to do this again, I may have to rearrange some of these.)

The Yankees took Game 1 of this series at Fenway, 4-1, as Chien-Ming Wang nearly pitched a no-hitter, and the Yankees got runs where they could.

Game 2 is Mike Mussina against Super Punk himself, Josh Beckett. Moose better have something. If he does, and we can wait Beckett out, I like our chances.

Update: The Yankees now say the story of a Red Sox T-shirt being buried beneath the concrete in the visitors' clubhouse at "the new Yankee Stadium" isn't true.

Now that I think about it, so what if it is? All that means is that the rest of the American League will walk all over the Red Sox. If that happens on the field, the Sox will be so far back in the standings that it won't matter what they do against the Yankees. It'll be like 1996 all over again.

All the "Evil Empire" stuff is wearing thin. After all, most of us hear those words and think "Soviet Union," not "Darth Vader." Besides, the Red Sox have shown themselves to be the ones on the Dark Side.

And how stupid is it? Sox fans hate the Yankees for spending so much money. Why would they compare the biggest capitalist in North American sports to a Communist country?

Yes, the Red Sox, their organization, and their fans are stupid. But are they the team that I hate the most?

After two disgraceful performances by the Devils, at home, against their arch-rivals, in the Playoffs -- this could be a sweep -- it only makes me hate the Rangers more.

But do I hate either of those teams more than I hate the Mets? Or my high school's arch-rivals?

I decided to quantify it, with a sorta-scientific rating system. I decided to leave out the high school rivals, since hardly anybody who might read this would care about "the Purple Bastards" anyway.

Here are the parameters:

* Is the team a rival, or the arch-rival, of my favorite team in that sport?

* Have they gotten in the way of my favorite team in that sport winning a championship?

* Have they inflicted a particularly painful loss on us?

* Are they smug? Corollary: Are they sanctimonious? Yeah, I know, this could also apply to the Yankees.

* Are their fans a bunch of schmucks?

* How often do I have to face these schmucks? This automatically "favors" local teams opposed to my own, although some teams' fans tend to travel well, while others pick up bandwagon fans. But looking at their ugly caps, T-shirts, jackets, etc. is one thing: Having to hear it from them is another. So I'm counting this one twice.

* Have I hated them for a long time?

* Has the current group of players, coaching staff, management or fans given me any reason to think less of them than their on-field performance may have earned?

* Is there a historical reason to hate them? As in, something they've done so bad (affecting my team or not) that gives reason to hate them 20, 50, even 100 years later?

* How important is the sport? For baseball, I decided to boost the scores by 25 percent; pro football, 20 percent; the NHL, since the home-State team still matters while the home-State NBA team won't even be in the home State in (we think) 3 years, 15 percent; the NBA, 10 percent; college football, 7 percent; and college basketball, 5 percent.

In the end, though, only one amateur team made the Top 10. If I'd had to include opponents of my old high school, there would have been at least 2 more, and one of these would likely have challenged for the top spot.

So here are the rankings. In the end, it was very close. The top 4 were separated by 4.25 points. The top 3, by 2.5. The top 2, but a quarter of a point.

10. New York Knicks. I have a confession to make: I may be the last person who cares about the Knicks-Nets matchup, at least until it actually does move to become an intracity affair. It's not even really a rivalry.

The reason the Knicks are on this list at all is because of 2 people. One is Pat Riley, who as Knicks coach in the 1990s went against his Laker achievements in the 1980s and emphasized rough play. If the late 1980s, early 1990s Detroit Pistons' "Motor City Bad Boys" were the Bruins of basketball (with apologies to UCLA), then the 1990s Knicks were the Flyers -- without the World Championships.

And Riley's tactics -- and, to be fair, Piston coach Chuck Daly's as well -- got copied by the rest of the league, so that 102-100 games began to fade away and 82-76 games became more common. This meant that there were two types of NBA games in the 1990s: Games with Michael Jordan, and games with lousy offense.

The other reason to hate the Knicks is John Starks. For a brief time, 1992 to 1994, it was a real rivalry, as the Nets had plenty of talent, too. Derrick Coleman. Kenny Anderson. Drazen Petrovic. Really good players. Perhaps as much talent on the court as the Knicks. Perhaps the most talent the Net franchise had ever had, including the ABA Championship teams of 1974 and '76.

Then, in a nationally-televised game midway through the '93 season, Anderson was going to the basket, and Starks clotheslined him. A pro "wrestling" move. Anderson landed hard on his arm and broke his wrist. Out for the season. The Nets still won the game, but became rather ordinary for the rest of the season. They faced the Knicks in the first round of the Playoffs and, in a best-of-five, got knocked out in four. Right after that, Petro was killed in a car crash.

The franchise was never the same: Anderson never fully recovered from his injury, and bounced from team to team; Coleman became a lazy, moody whiner who had to be dumped in 1995 after he was put on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline, "Waaaaaaaah!"; and the Nets' former disease of moronic draft picks returned, including Yinka Dare and Ed O'Bannon. They made the Playoffs again in '94, but not again until 2002, and in the intervening 7 seasons were as bad as a basketball team could be.

Now, Starks didn't cause all of that -- it's not a "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc" situation -- but he was still a jackass who ruined the best season the team was having since it entered the NBA 17 years earlier, and nobody -- outside of Houston Rockets fans -- was more pleased than I was when he turned out to be the goat of Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals.

And Knick fans still talk about Starks' dunk over Jordan? Excuse me, but who won 6 titles and who won none? You think Met fans still talk about Mike Piazza's homers off Roger Clemens? Well, actually, they do, but they're stupid. As you'll see later on in this list.

The current Knick management, led by James Dolan and Isiah Thomas, also boosts their rating. On the other hand, it also makes me sympathize with their fans somewhat. Whatever the Knicks organization or players have done, the fans have usually been good, and they don't deserve this crap. So I dropped the Knicks down to Number 10. As time passes, and I revise this list, I may remove them altogether.

9. Oakland Raiders. Actually, with my rating system, the Raiders ended up Number 6. But they really haven't done all that much in a generation. One trip to the Super Bowl, and one other trip to the AFC Title Game, since they won Super Bowl XVIII, which was 24 years ago.

Al Davis' thumbing his nose at authority, pissing off first Northern and then Southern California, acting as if the rules don't apply to him or his players, except when the rules support him and oppose his players, encouragement of dirty play from Ben Davidson in the Sixties to Jack Tatum in the Seventies, Lyle Alzado in the Eighties and Bill Romanowski in the Nineties, and several Raiders dying young because he looked the other way on steroids, to say nothing of the fans, who look like biker gangs from a postapocalyptic "fantasy" film such as the Mad Max series...

But do I really hate the Raiders more than the teams that ended up 10, 9, 8 and 7 on this list -- the Flyers, Knicks, Celtics and Penn State, respectively? No. But then, I don't root for a team in whose way the Raiders have frequently gotten: The Jets, the Miami Dolphins, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New England Patriots, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Denver Broncos, the San Diego Chargers, and their metro-area neighbors, first the San Francisco 49ers, then the Los Angeles Rams, now the 49ers again.

But it also shows something that the Raiders have pissed off that many teams' fans. So I tweaked the ratings system to keep the Raiders in the Top 10, but not halfway up it. And if they don't like that, then they can take these ratings and shove them halfway up their asses.

8. Philadelphia Flyers. The Broad Street Bullies aren't just relatively close (their arena, named the Wachovia Center this year but that's already its fourth name in 12 years, is just 65 miles from my home base), but they glamorized violence in the 1970s. They, not any team back in the 1942 to 1967 "Original Six" era, not any team before that, not even the Big Bad Boston Bruins earlier in the 1970s, did as much to give hockey an image as a sport where fighting is not only allowed, but encouraged.

Also... Black and orange? It doesn't look good on those preppies at Princeton, and it doesn't look good on the Broad Street Bozos.

7. Boston Celtics. They probably wouldn't make the Top 10 if it wasn't for their great regular season, which has made people pay serious attention to the Celtics for the first time in a generation and brought all the fair-weather fans out of their spider-holes.

A year ago, nobody in New England would admit there were any teams besides the Red Sox, the Patriots and UConn basketball. Now, suddenly, they're all saying the Celts will win Title 17. I smell a choke. It may not happen until they face the Detroit Pistons in the East Finals, but the C's won't make it. (UPDATE: I was wrong, they did.)

6. Pennsylvania State Nittany Lions, football edition. This is the only amateur team to make the list, and it's all because of one person: Joe Paterno. Known in "Happy Valley" as Joe Pa and Saint Joseph. Known on this blog as Ratface.

He's a wonderful human being who donated to the university library? Don't give me that: Al Capone gave to charity. So does Rupert Murdoch. So does another truly evil Pennsylvanian, Richard Mellon Scaife. Paterno's acolytes claim he does it with class. But in the 1990s and 2000s, he's shielded a few players accused of various crimes, who've gotten off because he's their -- pardon me -- character witness.

And to top it off, he's a Republican. A big donor to right-wing candidates. And yet, when his son ran for Congress as a Republican, he got his clock cleaned at the polls. Which goes to show one thing. I'm not certain whether that one thing is that politics trumps sports or that Central Pennsylvania voters are capable of separating the achievements of the father from the record of the son, as New Jersey voters did in a Senate election, dumping Republican State Senator Tom Kean Jr., who wouldn't have even gotten the nomination had his father not been former Governor Tom Kean Sr. But it shows that the lionization of Paterno has its limits.

When he finally retires... or is forced out by a Penn State administration growing a spine... or, most likely, dies in office... will the Nittany Lions still be on this list? It may be moot, since Ol' Ratface may outlive us all, including me.

(UPDATE: No one could have foreseen how Paterno's reign in Happy Valley would end. No one, that is, except Jerry Sandusky. And he probably thought Paterno would find a way to save him. In the end, Paterno couldn't even save himself.)

5. Los Angeles Dodgers. In Brooklyn, they were a lovable, successful though often disappointing team. A team of nobility, with Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and Don Newcombe. Dem Bums. In Los Angeles, they're just bums.

Walter O'Malley is one of the great villains in the history of sports. (See December 2007: "Walter O'Malley Does NOT Belong In the Baseball Hall of Fame.") Don Drysdale was a headhunting punk. Tommy Lasorda was (and, still alive at this writing, probably still is) a pompous gasbag. News flash, Tommy: There is no Big Dodger in the Sky. God is a Yankee Fan. Steve Garvey was pushed on us as Mr. Perfect, and it turned out he was far from it.

That the Dodgers are this high on the list is due to 3 reasons: The move, screwing Brooklyn, now 50 years old; the networks pushing them on us as "America's Team," the way the NFL did with the Dallas Cowboys, even though the Dodgers themselves, at the least, had enough class to not use the term; and the 1981 World Series. If the Yankees had won that one, the Dodgers would still be on this list, but in the 2nd half, not the 1st.

4. Dallas Cowboys. I have a DVD about the Philadelphia Eagles, and on it, WIP morning-show host Angelo Cataldi says, "I've seen it. I've seen fathers come up to me in these pregame shows in the tent outside the Vet. And they've got kids three, four, five years old, and these kids know, like, six words. And two of them, taught to them by their fathers, are, 'Dallas Sucks!'"

Then the next clip is Cataldi, doing the pregame show from a tent outside Veterans Stadium, starting that very chant!

But there are more people who hate the Cowboys than, probably, any other U.S.-based sports team except the Yankees. And the Cowboys haven't won as often. OK, they've won a lot, but not nearly as often in the postseason.

What makes fans from East Rutherford to South Philly to D.C. to Green Bay to Candlestick Point all hate one team this much? It's the "America's Team" stuff. It's the hypocrisy of being called "God's Team" while the self-righteous Tom Landry overlooks his players' drug use and other crimes. It's CBS showing them so much in the Seventies and Eighties that they were nicknamed the Cowboys Broadcasting System. (Much as NBC is now called the Notredame Broadcasting Company.)

It's fair-weather fans in rotten-weather cities switching to the Cowboys when their hometown team falls apart. It's oil. It's insurance. It's banking, all big industries in Dallas. It's radical right-wing politics, from oilman H.L. Hunt bankrolling the John Birch Society to the Dallas Morning News printing a "WANTED" for "treason" poster for JFK the morning before he was killed there to Dick Armey leading the Republican hate-the-poor crusade of the mid-1990s.

All this thrives in Dallas, to the point where the rest of Texas hates them, too. Houston? Austin? San Antonio? Even those cities will yell, "DALLAS SUCKS!" It's not all because of the Cowboys, but it's a pretty good reason for it!

3. Boston Red Sox. If the Yankees and Red Sox were playing in the same city, like the Dodgers and Giants used to, and were playing each other umpteen times a season instead of the few games the Yanks and Mets play a season, they'd be Number 1.

And while there were a lot of fans who really had waited for a long time, and whose standard for defeat was 1986, 1978, 1975, 1967, even 1949, '48 and '46, rather than these Chowdaheads who may have been in junior high in 1999 and high school or college in 2003, and made drunken spectacles of themselves in 2004 and did not deserve their titles, no Sox fan deserved 2007.

And the management and players are low-class as well, trying to claim for themselves the benefits of being "favorites" and the benefits of being "underdogs" as well, while whining about the drawbacks of both. Yeah, I know, David Ortiz is a good guy. Oh, really? Then why doesn't he tell his teammates to knock off the purpose pitches? And the fight-picking? And the stupid dancing? And why doesn't he tell Manny Ramirez to grow up? Well, that last one may be a lost cause.

But there's plenty of reason to hate the Red Sox. Even if you're not a Yankee Fan.

2. New York Rangers. RANGERS SUCK.

Yeah, this is due to the proximity not just to me but, even closer (though the move to Newark makes it a little longer) to the Devils. But most of it is due not even to the difficulty the Devils have had beating the Rangers in the Playoffs -- losing in seven games in 1992 and '94, and in five games in '97, before finally sweeping the Broadway Boozehounds in 2006, now down 0-2 in 2008 -- but to the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals.

Ol' Lex Luthor, on the verge of becoming the most spectacularly failed athlete in New York Tri-State Area history, down 3 games to 2 with Game 6 on opposing ice, guarantees a win. Even Joe Namath, guaranteeing victory in Super Bowl III a quarter of a century earlier, wasn't under that kind of pressure.

You'd think that, after Messier scored 2 goals, the Devils would try hitting him, slamming him into the boards. Instead, they let him score a 3rd goal. Then came Game 7, and Stephane Matteau became to area hockey what Bobby Thomson is to area baseball. That hurt. A lot.

Since then, the Devils have won 3 Stanley Cups (including the year after that heartbreak, proving their character), and have been a threat to win it every season, while the Rangers have made the Conference Finals only once (thanks to the Devils' disappearing act in '97) and have wasted millions of dollars.

But the current Rangers, who've already flopped badly in 2006 and '07, have plenty of guys worth the hate. Jaromir Jagr. Sean Avery, a cheap-shotter extraordinaire and maybe the most hated player in the game. And ex-Devil, now traitor, Scott Gomez. If there's one thing Devils and Islanders fans agree on, it's this: RANGERS SUCK!

And speaking of the Isles, Ranger fans better stop with the Denis Potvin thing. Even the victim, Ulf Nilsson, said it was a clean hit. Potvin wasn't suspended, or fined, or even penalized, and the Rangers were never going to win that Cup anyway. It was 1979, and the Montreal Canadiens were just too good. So grow up.

1. New York Mets. The most obnoxious fans of all, and they have not earned it. Not by a long shot. 

New York is not "a National League town" -- as if that's something to aspire to! The Mets have bought their chokes as much as the Yanks have "bought their championships." The Mets' chokes have been worse than anything that's happened to the Yankees. The '86 Mets would've been pounded by the Yankees of '27, '36, '53, '61, '78 or '98. And in the one matchup that mattered most, the 2000 World Series, the Yanks won in five, clinching at Shea Stadium.

And yet, as the despised, ridiculed, but that-time-right John Rocker put it, "How many times do you have to beat a team before its fans shut up?" I still don't know, Johnny boy.

He also said, "I would say the majority of Mets fans aren't even humans. They're more like Neanderthals." I think Rocker owes Neanderthals an apology. After all, "26 > 2" and "1 > 0" -- meaning the 2000 Series -- is so easy to figure out, a caveman could do it. But not a Met fan. Not one of the Flushing Heathen.

It's not so much that the Mets are the team I've hated longer than any other. It's that their fans are the fans who've ticked me off the most. And for what? Do 1969 and 1986 really mean more than all the Yankees have accomplished? Only a moron would think so.

They have a right to love their team. But until their team can beat the Yankees in a World Series, their team will always be Number 1 on this list, Number 2 in New York baseball; they will never "take over New York" (or New Jersey); and they have nothing to say. Anything one of the Flushing Heathen can say is moot, because when they had the chance they'd been wishing, hoping, even praying for since 1962, when they finally got it in 2000, the result was clear, and cannot be reversed: "Yankees win! Theeeeeeee Yankees win!"

That's the real reason to build a new ballpark and get out of Shea: So Met fans can go to a ballpark where their team can play ball on a field where the team they hate more than I hate the Mets has never won a World Series.

Not that they'll ever win a World Series at Citi Field. The Curse of Kevin Mitchell lives.

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