Just Saying: Battle of the titans

Our columnist, wearing his heart on his head.
Our columnist, wearing his heart on his head.

Ever since we put down stakes in Manhattan 20 years ago, I have worn my Red Sox hat throughout the baseball season.

In this white-hot enclave of Yankees’ mania my displaying the colors of their arch enemy has gone largely ignored.

Once, while standing in line outside our favorite jazz club, the guy at the door with the clipboard noticed the hat and announced that no Red Sox fans would be allowed inside. It was of course a joke but I felt compelled to respond by calling out the words “two thousand four,” a reference to the year of the Yankees’ immortal choke-a-thon in the post season when they lost four in a row to the Sox who went on to their first World Series title since 1918. (They won the series in four straight.)

The clipboard guy had no riposte. No Yankee fan does.

My buddy Frank, the night manager at the supermarket around the corner, would routinely call out when he was manning the express checkout, “Please step down, Yankee fans only!”

There have been several silent disparagements over the years when Yankees fans would see the hat, look me in the eye and shake their heads, apparently in pity. Far more commonplace are the fist bumps and remarks of Red Sox fans, who seem to be present in the city in striking numbers.

We recently went to a Yankees-Sox contest at the stadium in the Bronx and the subway was awash with Sox fans, many with far more elaborate team regalia than a mere hat. Once seated at the stadium, we saw Sox red sprinkled everywhere, although we were surrounded by Yankee fans, notably an amazingly corpulent man who brandished a “Boston Sucks” button on his alarmingly taut sport coat in the row behind us. (Oddly, at Fenway Park in Boston, you see very few Yankees fans.)

We were in row 11 when the rain came, a pleasant silvery curtain that forced the members of row 10 to abandon ship but barely touched row 11. We held out for a while during the rain delay but bailed and watched the end of the game at the apartment. The Sox lost.

A couple of weeks ago, we were coming back from a memorial service in Washington, D.C. and joined the scrum for a taxi outside Penn Station. Once I got situated, two things became apparent: Our cabbie was wearing a Yankees hat and he had the Yankees game on the radio. During the season I am drowning in Yankees hats in the city and on the Island.

But being captive to the Yankees radio broadcast must be avoided at all costs. That is because John Sterling will be calling the game.

For starters, Sterling has an oleaginous voice that sounds like a satire of a broadcaster’s voice. But that’s just the beginning. He is routinely thought of as the worst big-time baseball announcer on air. He has intolerable verbal mannerisms that litter his broadcasts and is a notorious homer (an unrepentant Yankees flack).

He’s fond of nicknames and has an irritating home run call. But more fundamentally, he gets things wrong. He frequently misinterprets the action on the field and websites track his foolishness with glee. He has a partner in the booth, Suzyn Waldman, but she rarely gets a word in edgewise as Sterling hogs the air time.

It is hard to understand how a Yankees fan would choose to listen to Sterling. Of course in a cab, you don’t have a choice. I mention this to the cabbie.

“I love John Sterling, mon! Know why? Because he drives people like you crazy!”

I had to admire this point of view. Years ago the Boston Celtics had craggy, raspy Johnny Most calling the games and he was considered the dean of homer broadcasters in basketball. I loved Johnny Most and thought his detractors were crybabies.

I actually enjoy watching the Yankees on TV with the cerebral, articulate Michael Kay behind the mic. I mention this to the cabbie.

“Oh Michael Kay is too calm, mon!” he said. “He would never bother a guy like you! That is why we need John Sterling!”

When we started this discussion the Yanks were down four zip to the Angels in the sixth. But they pulled within one as we motored up Madison Avenue.

“I think you are good luck, mon!” the cabbie said joyfully.

I have a strict policy on the Yankees. I do not hate them; I simply want them to lose every game. And this year, with a lineup of mashers and behemoths, they aren’t losing very often.

As we approached our apartment building, the cabbie chortled, “I think you should stay in the car, mon!”

I could not deny that my Sox hat and my distaste for Sterling, curdling in this cab, seemed to be having an effect. We came to a stop as the Yankees tied it up.

“I will not let you out of the cab, mon!” he guffawed.

After getting the bags from the trunk the cabbie and I heartily shook hands as Jane and I headed to the lobby.

“I’m begging you. Can you get back in the cab for just a few minutes, mon?” he called out, beaming from ear to ear.

As we entered the building, the doorman mumbled to no one in particular, “How ‘bout that, the Yankees just pulled ahead.”