Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Axis Of Baseball Evil

As I came into work this morning, a friend reminded me of a conversation we had the week before by saying, "With the Yankees out, the Axis of Baseball Evil has fallen." And so it has.

You see, while the Powers That Be concern themselves with starting unwinnable foreign wars, stopping nuclear proliferation with harsh language and finding Supreme Court nominees who are even less qualified than you or I (but who do use words like 'cool' and 'the greatest' when writing to their boss), the rest of us can concern ourselves with simpler yet no less important things ... like which baseball teams to loathe. Hence the Axis of Baseball Evil, a term I coined (or more accurately appropriated from David Frum, who I still can't believe is related to the same woman who opened my eyes to the world) to describe the most hated teams in baseball right now. At least according to me, anyway.

So without further adieu, here are the three current members of the Axis of Baseball Evil, which member of the original Axis of Evil they most represent, why I chose them and finally, how they might be able to redeem themselves and fall off the list.

Atlanta Braves (Iran): Remember when Iran was the quietest member of the Axis of Evil? They weren't the WMD-wielding bogeymen with unstable leaders like Iraq and North Korea. Really, ever since Khomeni died, they've really lacked a presence on the world stage ... nobody could whip people into an embassy-storming frenzy like that guy. But even so, they've always been there, every year, providing certainty to the Middle East by making it even more uncertain.

That sums up Atlanta in a nutshell. They don't make a big splash by winning lots of World Series; they just show up, every year, like that one relative you always see at family gatherings but who wore out his/her welcome with the rest of you years earlier. (You know who you are. You bastard.) In this case, they show up at the top of the National League East standings, and anyone who roots for another team in that division (the notable exception being the Florida Marlins) hates them for it. This year, they teased us by wielding a much weaker team than in years past, tantalized us by starting off slow ... only to take advantage of a bunch of over-achieving rookies to hold off the fading Nat-spos and the surging Phillies. And win the East. Again.

Let me put it to you this way: If the Buffalo Bills had won the AFC East not four times, but fourteen, and you were a fan of the Pats, Jets, or Dolphins, wouldn't you consider putting a hit out on Jim Kelly? Get Marv Levy drunk the night before they play your team on the road? Run over Thurman Thomas's foot with your car? Lock Bruce Smith in a broom closet? Get Darryl Talley's teeth fixed without anaesthetic? I could substitute any one of those names with the Joneses (Chipper and Andruw), Bobby Cox, John Smoltz or David Justice and get a Cheshire-like smile to cross my haggard face. (It's all fantasy, mind you, but like all fantasy sports, it's more fun than real life.)

If the Braves somehow turn into the Milwaukee Brewers of the last fourteen years, they'll lose their spot in the Axis of Baseball Evil. But that seems as likely as Ted Turner becoming a media mogul again. (Knock on wood -- if Trump can come back, maybe Ted's toupee isn't far behind.)

New York Yankees (North Korea): The simplest way to justify comparing the Yankees to North Korea (or, as Nick Bakay did, to Darth Vader's Empire) is by way of analogy. Does anyone here seriously question whether Team America: World Police couldn't be remade as a baseball movie with Kim Jong Il being replaced by George Steinbrenner? It's basically BASEketball with puppets, but instead of Robert Vaughn or a megalomaniacal world leader, you have the megalomaniac of baseball trying to corner the market on every player the Red Sox even sniff at, throwing money around like a Republican Congressional leader and feeding Brian Cashman to a tank filled with sharks. Compared to some of the things George has done, none of this seems even remotely out of character for him. It's a great movie idea, and I hope Trey Parker and Matt Stone make it. All I ask is for a cushy executive director credit.

Need another reason to dislike them? The Yankees have without question been the dominant franchise in baseball history generally, and more recently of the last five years of the twentieth century. Sure, they haven't had much success recently (unless you count repeatedly winning their division or the AL wild card), but if you like an underdog (and I do) this alone will drive you nuts.

As for their players ... well, I have a soft spot in my heart for some of them (much as I do for some Braves players), but not much of one. Lou Gerhig, Joe Dimaggio and Mickey Mantle (much less Bernie Williams, Tim Raines and John Olerud) don't make up for Giambi, Sheffield and A-Rod (or Mariano Rivera, Rickey Henderson or Karim Garcia). There's no rhyme, reason or rationale as to why I hate these guys (although with people like Henderson and Sheffield, it's pretty obvious). It's not always the players themselves; just the fact they they play for the Yankees. For example, seeing former Nats-spo Randy Johnson in pinstripes taints my memory of watching Arizona steal the World Series from the Yankees in 2001. Well ... almost.

Anyone who doubts this pick is obviously a raving solopsist with delusions of grandeur ... or in other words, a Yankee fan. Short of forcing you to never leave New York, I can think of no greater punishment for any of you than having to live there. God be with you all.

I have no idea how the Yankees will ever lose this spot. Maybe once George retires to Florida, but given their history, somehow I doubt it. My guess is they'll find an even bigger megalomaniac to take over. (Trump?) Take my Milwaukee Brewers comment above, extend it from fourteen years to four hundred, and maybe we'll talk.

Boston Red Sox (Iraq): How easily our friend becomes our enemy ... just like Iraq. Twenty years ago, when secular Iraq fought Islamist Iran, we gave them money and weapons and egged them on. Then they invaded Kuwait, gassed their own people and tried to acquire WMD. The next thing you know, more Americans are occupying Iraq than are occupying seats at Paris bistros; more American eyes have seen Bagdad than have seen the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.

Much the same with the Red Sox. Last year, even I -- a son of St. Lousians -- rooted for the Sox over my beloved Cardinals. Perhaps it was the painful memory of Bill Buckner's face from 1986, or my unabashed hatred of their division rival, but I couldn't help myself. But now that they've won, appeared on Queer Eye, and lost to an equally miserable team in terms of a championship drought ... I can't stand them.

What's changed? In part, it's the attitude adopted by Boston's followers ... they're acting like Yankee fans. I can't explain it; I suppose it's envy/emulation of all thing New York, but why? Anyone who's ever been to both cities knows New York is a nice place to visit, whereas Boston is (by all accounts) a helluva place to live. (Which is more than I can say for the only other city I know that is equally envious of NYC.) That can't be it, can it?

So a friendly note to White Sox fans: if you win the Series this year, acting like you'll never lose another Series, glossing over your team's every weakness, lourding your victory over everyone within earshot and generally acting like louts is not the way to endear yourself to the rest of America. And if you see Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore wearing White Sox hats at New Comiskey, please feel free to exercise your Second Amendment rights in their general vicinity -- there isn't a jury in the land that would convict you.

It's also, as Grabia alludes to, the broken promise of one Bill Simmons, whose wit and writing prowess don't make up for his slavish love of the Pats and Red Sox. Last year, after the Sox won the Series, Simmons wrote a column in which he promised not to complain for five years about them, and referred to the 'post-Curse' Boston club as just another old East coast team with a bloated payroll. (Only one guess as to which 'other' team he's referring to, unless you're a Yankees fan, which means no amount of guessing will help you.)

So what did he do? Complain about the Red Sox and forget how bloated they are compared to most of the league other than the Yankees. And while I sincerely love his columns, no matter how much he makes me feel ignorant of pop culture, every mention of the Red Sox made my blood boil. I needed him to keep that promise, to adopt a mantle of modesty so I could still pretend that Boston was an underdog compared to the behemoth Yankees ... but every column he wrote on the subject killed that dream, and made me loathe the team even more. The fact that all of baseball (or more accurately, all of baseball media) were fixated on their rivalry made it easier to hate both Boston and New York.

So here I am again, like many people, mad about something ridiculous that I can't change even if I wanted to. Missing the playoffs for a couple of years by promoting Dale Sveum would make this team easier to love again, not to mention lead to a lot fewer close plays at home.

That being said ... I hate you, Bill Simmons (no matter how honest your assessment of the BoSox in your latest post). Sign my copy of your book?

I invite comments on this post, and any ideas for nominees to fill the spots that will soon be vacated by Boston and Atlanta. I'll beat Grabia to the punch by suggesting the St. Louis Cardinals -- they have the division-winning consistency of Atlanta, and the bloated payroll of Boston without being nearly as lovable (since they haven't been cursed by a talking pig or a billygoat). The only reason they're not on instead of the Braves is that they've gone longer without a World Series win, but win this year and all bets are off. Any other nominees?


At 10:59 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

Marvellous picks, each and every one. The only possible absentee is the $98 million LAAAAA.

But what of baseball's other great theme - an axis of incompetence? Obvious candidates include the Mets, Phillies and pre-DePodesta Dodgers, all of whom occupy the upper reaches of baseball's payrolls, but don't deliver a similar standard of performance.

At 12:16 PM, Blogger Kevin Kimmis said...

The Angels are a potential finalist as well, especially if they win the World Series again and insist on keeping their ridiculous name. But it's hard to hate a team with Vlad Guerrero and the Rally Monkey in their lineup.

As for your other suggestion ... that's another post, one which I'd be happy to work on with you.


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