Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pride of the Yankees

Pride of the Yankees
seen on TV @ TCM

Did you know there's a Y-nk--s fragrance? I've been seeing subway ads for it lately and every time I do, I wonder who thought it was a good idea and why would anyone choose to wear it? I imagine it smelling of sweatsocks, tobacco, and whatever else the inside of a professional baseball player's locker smells like. Call it Eau de Jock Strap.

There was a time, still within living memory, when the Team From the Bronx was the only team in town. And while I'm grateful that this period ended, since the Mets came along in 1962 to fill the void left by the Dodgers and Giants (50th anniversary this year, by the way - just sayin'), sometimes I wonder what it would've been like growing up with only one ball club. Indeed, when it comes to sports, New York is greedy; we have to have two of everything (the Nets will return to this side of the Hudson this fall in a new arena in Brooklyn). I never questioned the need for this until I spent a year in Columbus, a smaller town where everyone - and I do mean everyone - gets behind one team: the football Buckeyes of Ohio State U. 

It was a very different feeling. Having a single team in a single sport unites the town in a manner unlike here in New York, where there are always gonna be divided loyalties. Let's face it, anyone who says they like both the Team From the Bronx and the Mets equally are not real New York baseball fans. (I suppose a similar argument could be made for the Giants/Jets and Rangers/Islanders, but I wouldn't know for sure.)

More than any other sport, baseball has been a hugely integral part of New York's identity, and yes, the Team From the Bronx is largely responsible for that, but the Mets, Giants and Dodgers were and are also part of that identity too (I've touched before on what makes the Mets distinct from their crosstown rivals). But what if New York remained a one-team town after the Giants and Dodgers left?

Would it have been so bad to eventually get behind one team, the team with more championships than anyone else? Sure, it would've been wrenching at first to be forced to shift loyalties after rooting against them for so long - I know how it would make me feel - but once the reality set in, I imagine that eventually I'd have to concede that any team is better than no team. (Actually, now that we've got minor league teams within the five boroughs as well, that'd be a compromise I could live with...)

These days, however, sports teams change cities at an alarming rate, as greedy owners stick up their host cities for money to build ultra-modern arenas. The Team From the Bronx held up Y-nk-- Stadium for ransom too, demanding the capital necessary to make a new ballpark, and because no one can conceive New York without the Team From the Bronx, they got it, though not without a drawback or two (for instance, parking space that no one uses).

It's pointless to speculate on what a one-team-per-sport New York would be like, I know, but with the imminent return of the Nets this fall, it's been on my mind a bit lately, and I've wanted to get it off my chest.

So: about that Lou Gehrig biopic from the 40s. You know the one. I used to see this on TV every so often around the start of baseball season, and of course, because I knew my baseball history, I knew who Gehrig was. Watching it the other day, I was gratified that I now know who Teresa Wright, Walter Brennan and Dan Duryea were in addition to, of course, Gary Cooper, and could better appreciate their performances as well (especially Brennan).

Still, the movie doesn't hold up as well for me anymore. For instance, there are places where the action stops dead (why did we need to see that dance number?). The narrative is not as dramatic as it could be. The drama should come from Gehrig's slow realization that he can't perform as well as he used to because of his neurological condition, but in my opinion this gets the short shrift because the movie is so eager to show you the whole of Gehrig's life, which, prior to his illness, is less dramatic.

The worst part, though, is how they can't even be bothered to explicitly tell you why Gehrig can't play ball anymore, never naming amyotrophic lateral sclerosis even once, which I find a little offensive, actually. It minimizes the disease and keeps it at a safe distance for no good reason and makes it less real, and by so doing cheapens Gehrig's life a little bit. I realize a lot of people love this movie, but that's just how I see it.

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