Friday, May 27, 2011

The Answer to Fans Who Say, "Yankees Suck"

When you're averaging only 18,020 fans per game – which means they've gone from 29th in Major League Baseball, ahead of only the Florida Marlins, to 28th, as the Oakland Athletics have dropped – it's not a good idea to throw fans out of your stadium. Especially when he's an original season-ticket holder, not to mention a holder of 7 season tickets. Seven.

But that's what happened to Melton Little, a lawyer from Palmetto, Florida and a charter STH of the Tampa Bay Rays, who, really, were acting like an expansion team here.


Now, I am old enough to remember when saying that something sucks, instead of saying that it stinks, was definitely considered a profanity.

In his book Day By Day In New York Yankees History, Nathan Salant profiled the recently-completed World Championship season of 1978. He looked at the awful series the Yanks had that June at Fenway Park, and mentioned that the fans in Fenway's bleachers were yelling at the Yankees' biggest star, Mr. Reginald Martinez Jackson, yelling, "Reggie sucks!" Salant called this "One of the more printable mouthings, I might add."

Sounds like Sox fans haven't changed much in 31 years. My guess is that the less printable mouthings may have involved a certain four-letter word starting with F, and I don't mean "fair" or "foul." Or even "free," as in "free speech."

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, my formative years as a sports fan, you couldn't say, "You suck" or "(something) sucks" on television. I remember a couple of TV shows where the phrase "suck eggs" was used, but not "suck," because, at the time, it would be assumed that it meant a certain sex act. 

Not that I was aware of such an act at the time. In spite of the voluminous vocabulary of the teenage population of 1980s East Brunswick, New Jersey, I don't think I heard the term "cocksucker" until I saw Bull Durham for the 1st time. (Way to go, Crash.)

On October 14, 1982, in only its 3rd episode, Cheers aired an installment that starts with the Yankees beating the Red Sox 5-0 at Fenway in a game watched and the bar. A guy calling himself "Big Eddie" comes into the bar and winds them up for a few minutes. He recognizes Sam as a former Red Sox pitcher, and starts some good-natured banter. Sam's heard it all before ("What was it like, coming in with the bases loaded... and so were you?") and takes it in stride, but Carla (who, let's face it, was always in love with Sam) jumps on Eddie's back, grabs him by the ears, and starts slamming his head into the bar. (Refresh my memory: Which character was the alcoholic?)

He threatens to sue unless Sam fires Carla, so Sam sends Carla to an anger-management class, and Eddie tests her, starting by saying, "Boston stinks." Then, "This bar stinks." It gets worse until Sam finally says, "What more do you want, Eddie?" He gives up, and, having insulted the Bruins, is met by a Bruin, who, we presume, gives Eddie his comeuppance outside.

But the scriptwriters did not have him say "Boston sucks," but "Boston stinks." Which, to be honest, in some spots of the city, is much closer to the truth. (Oddly, the scriptwriter got one thing wrong: He has Eddie say the Yankees have won 23 World Series, 1 more than they actually had at the time.)

Big Eddie was played by Ron Karabatsos, who must've been cast because he looked like a typical loudmouth ethnic N'Yawkah. In fact, he was a cop in Union City, New Jersey and a pro wrestler calling himself the Golden Greek. He was also in the movies Prince of the City, Flashdance and Get Shorty. I can't find any reference to whether he is still alive (he looked about 45 when the episode aired, which would make him close to 75 now), but I can confirm that he appeared in a movie as recently as 2004.

(UPDATE: At this point, he was still alive. He died on April 17, 2012, just before his 79th birthday.)

In September 1988, as the AL East race went into its home stretch with 5 teams still in it – the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Detroit Tigers, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Toronto Blue Jays – I was at a Saturday afternoon game in which the Yanks beat the Tigers. When it was over, I tried to get back into the Subway, but River Avenue was jammed with fans trying to get into the bars to see the NBC Game of the Week, which had the Red Sox. Everybody was chanting, "Boston sucks!"

I remember thinking, "My God, this is what it's like when the Sox aren't even here? What’s it like when they are?" The Sox ended up winning the Division. Three years later, I found out what a September Yanks-Sox game at The Stadium was like, although the Yanks weren't in that race, but they did win the game.)

In 1990, CBS made a sitcom out of the John Hughes movie Uncle Buck, with Kevin Meaney taking the John Candy role. In the pilot, the little boy (Jacob Gelman, Macaulay Culkin in the movie) tells his uncle, "You suck!" As far as I know, this was the first time the phrase was used on mainstream TV. It hasn't stopped. Shortly thereafter, the Saturday Night Live sketch Wayne's World started, and continually used the word "sucked" to describe bad music, TV shows, movies, etc.


Did Melton Little deserve to get tossed from Tropicana Field for wearing a "Yankees Suck" T-shirt? No. He didn't even deserve this, although the sentiment is right:

Little says he bought the "Yankees Suck" T-shirt outside Fenway Park. That is certainly believable. Just as you can get "Boston Sucks" and "Mets Suck" T-shirts on River Avenue across from Yankee Stadium. There's even one that mocks the Bahston Ahccent: "Bahston Sawks Cack." (Oddly, in England, "cack" doesn't mean "cock," it means "shit.")

There's also a T-shirt that says, on the front, "Okay, Sox fans, you were right, there never was a Curse," and on the back, "The Red Sox just sucked for 86 years!"

I do not own any of these T-shirts. Personally, I like the city of Boston. The reason people say, "Boston Sucks" instead of, "Red Sox Suck" is probably the awkwardness of the X-to-S sound. Yes, I want to say that the Red Sox stink and suck, but that's harder to say. Besides, it's usually not true: They're usually good.

To wit: In exactly half of those seasons, 43 out of 86, the Sox were at least in the race until August. So they didn't suck in all 86 years.

Which brings to mind the opinion of Dan Shaughnessy, the great (if sometimes grating) sports columnist of the Boston Globe, who popularized (but did not originate) the idea of "The Curse of the Bambino." He's gone out of his way to say that, obviously, the Yankees don't suck, they're great. He still hates them, as any "good Red Sox fan" does, but he knows they don't suck.

That's the idea: Not that the Yankees suck (on anything), or that they stink, but that the fans who say so simply hate them.

During the 1st half of the Joe Torre Years, when the Yankees won 6 Pennants and 4 World Series in 8 years, when I heard "Yankees Suck," I said, "Yankees Suck Champagne."

Maybe that's it, the very simple response to anyone whose mouth or T-shirt says, "Yankees Suck": Win a 27th World Series. Or a 1st (or 2nd, etc.) Then you can talk about who sucks.

Simple as that, baby.

Until you win as much as the Yankees have, don't tell me my team sucks. You wanna say you hate the Yankees? Fine. You wanna say you hate Yankee Fans? Fine.

But saying that the Yankees suck, when you can't match their field performance, or their box-office performance?

Whose team really sucks? Not mine.

1 comment:

JS said...

Boston Sucks was originally chanted by capacity crowds at Yankee Stadium in the midst of the super contentious pennant race of 1977. In 1978, Joe Schatzle, Jr. Of Wappingers Falls invented the Boston Sucks t-shirt and sold them with groups of hawkers throughout the summer season on the street outside the Stadium. New York Magazine, as well as Schatzle's college newspaper published stories about him and his t-shirt.
For the August "Boston Masssacre" four-game sweep by the Yankees in Fenway Park, he and three friends of his Rhett Myers, Scott Woodruff and Craig Thompson went to Boston and sold 800 Yankees Suck t-shirts.
That is the origin.
Contrary to your posting, the slang "sucks" was well into the American vernacular, with little if any sexual connotation. Sure, that was part of it, but the word was well used long before CHEERS was even dreamed up. In the comedy SLAPSHOT with Paul Newman, a satire on pro hockey, Newman's team the Charlestown Chiefs become overnight winners by embracing thuggery on the ice, and on a road trip they are greeted in a rival town for a game by a mob of fans with one holding a cardboard sign "CHIEFS SUCK". That's probably the first instance in popular culture of the use of the slang SUCKS in a fairly big visual way. Considering that Newman as coach baits a rival goalie by taunting him that his wife sucks pussy, that she's s dyke, that shes a lesbian, the use of SUCKS seems rather mild.
Whoever wrote this post is too young to remember -- BOSTON SUCKS evolved spontaneously in the heat of the 1977 pennant race, and the next season the appearance of the first SUCKS souvenir was Joe Schatzle's BOSTON SUCKS t-shirt.