By Tom Lamia
We all know how divisive a simple, red baseball cap can be these days. But there has long been another hat that can raise just as much controversy.
As I write this, the Yankees and Red Sox are still alive in the race to the World Series. The rivalry between these teams is well known and deeply felt. In the West Village, there always seemed an even balance between Yankees caps and Red Sox caps, but in Maine there is an acute shortage of Yankee fans. Red Sox caps are everywhere, as the Red Sox are New England’s team. Yankees caps are rare, so I stand out. My cap is navy blue, with the trademarked Yankees logo—a white interlocked ‘N’ and ‘Y.’ It is pretty much alone among a sea of Red Sox caps. Feelings run high this time of year.
In the 22 seasons from 1995 through 2016, one of these two teams won the American League (AL) East championship 17 times. It is said that they hate each other, but they don’t. Their fans, however, often do.
Over the years, there have been ups and downs, which all teams face, but the glee or despair is most keenly felt when one is up and the other down. It is a rivalry that evokes the most serious emotions. Bitter ethnic and territorial enmity, such as between the Kurds and Turks may be comparable. All of New England claims and nurtures the Red Sox. Greater New York lines up behind the Yankees.
The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 for the first time since 1918, breaking the ‘Curse of the Bambino.’ (Babe Ruth was traded by the Red Sox to the Yankees in 1919, after which came the baseball apocalypse—no World Series victories.)
The Red Sox tied with the Yankees for the AL East Championship in 1978, but lost the tiebreaker game on a three-run home run by Bucky [expletive] Dent. History repeated in the 11th inning of the 7th game of the 2003 AL Championship when Aaron [expletive] Boone homered to end the game. Sandwiched between was the 1986 World Series: The Red Sox were on the verge of winning against the Mets only to have a weak ground ball go through Billy Buckner’s legs for a cataclysmic error and a Red Sox loss. The evidence was clear: The Red Sox were cursed and the Yankees, primarily, were the evil cause.
Then came 2004 and the Red Sox championship, made sweeter by its being at the expense of the Yankees. A further World Series victory followed in 2007. Meanwhile, the Yankees had lost in the playoffs every year since 2000. Was it safe to rub it in? No. The Red Sox’s star players began to act like delinquents, the beloved Manager could not seem to control them, and the brilliant young General Manager who had built the team made some trades that did not turn out well. By 2011, the Red Sox were enmeshed in scandal and management turmoil.
The beloved Manager, Tito Francona, was shown the door in 2011. The brilliant young General Manager, Theo Epstein, quit before he could be fired that same year. Last year, both were in the World Series, Francona as Manager of the AL Champion Cleveland Indians and Epstein as General Manager of the National League Champion Chicago Cubs. The Cubs won their first World Series since 1906, a drought even longer than the Red Sox’s agony of 86 years. The Indians now have the longest dry spell—68 years. With all of this, can any baseball fan be faulted for thinking that the supernatural is involved?
After the debacle of 2011, the Red Sox finished dead last in three out of the next four seasons. So, even the joy of breaking the curse has come with thorns. Albeit both teams must be respected: The Yankees won the World Series in 2009 and the Red Sox in 2013.
This is my way of explaining how wearing a Yankees cap out in the open here in Maine can excite certain primordial emotions among my fellow townspeople. So, before going out in public, I put on my Yankees cap and prepare myself for conversations with strangers. Out of every 1,000 or so conversations, a few are hostile—“You better not be wearing that cap around here.” At least two have been guardedly friendly. At the supermarket one recent Sunday, the checkout girl quietly said, “I like your hat. That’s my team, too.” She offered a further explanation, “I’m from New Jersey.” The rest have been jocular friendly. It is a way to get to know people and to appreciate that these bitter rivalries and partisan divides can be bridged.
I have not seen a Trump cap here, not one. They must all be upstate. I wonder, when I do see one, can I be jocular friendly? I hope so.