© 2002 by Steve Zemmelman

It seemed that all of New York, and much of the rest of America, wanted the Yankees to win the World Series last year. A series victory would have given New Yorkers something to cheer about and restore something they lost in the horrible September 11 terrorist attack on the city. The folks I knew who did not want the Yankees were perennial Yankee-haters who always rooted against them, no matter what. Maybe if the Nazi party fielded a team, these guys would root for the Yankees but short of that, I don’t think it’s possible. When the Yanks pulled ahead three games to two, it seemed New York was on the verge of redemption. The world was a step away from re-claiming something of the comforting and familiar. In October, the leaves fall and the Yankees win the World Series. We have gotten used to that. But tragedy struck again, this time in the metaphorical world of baseball. Just when I had realized how great a job it is to be mayor of New York if you’re a Yankee fan, the series went to Arizona for the last two games. Showing grit and comeback style I thought was unique to the Yankees, the Diamondbacks won one game to even it up and then the final unbelievable bottom of the ninth victory in game seven. In our house we were stunned and disappointed.

I thought about the Yankees’ loss for days afterwards. Of course, it was not nearly as penetrating as the terrorist attacks but somehow the stunning and shocking nature of their defeat stayed with me in an unusually poignant way. Perhaps I was already more susceptible to experiencing shock given what was going on in the collective psyche at the time. In my usual style of coping with emotion, I attempted to think about what it could possibly mean. The Yankees had won four of the last five world series and had a well seasoned group of veterans who would not get rattled by the pressures of playing in a world series. The Diamondbacks were inexperienced in the post season and the team rested on the abilities of two overworked pitchers. I wanted the Yankees to win to help mend New York. A Yankee victory this time would have made things better, restored a sense that the city would rise from the ashes and that its essential greatness would prevail. I realized that, in a way, I wanted them to win because I thought a Yankee victory would help me believe a part of me had been restored, as well, some part that had been shaken at my core two months earlier. I suppose I wanted to once again experience a sense of pride and triumph in the finesse and domination, which, for me, is part of what the Yankees symbolize.

However, where my thoughts ultimately led me was to a realization that there was something necessary, perhaps even “right,” about this loss of the Fall Classic by the Bronx Bombers. Not because the D-backs are the better team but because somehow, in the world beyond sports and in my own mind, there was no need for a reminder that things would revert to business as usual. Despite politicians’ shallow reassurances and encouragement that normality prevail, it seems important that this not occur. If there is anything to be gained from the tragedy in September it will come from things not returning to the status quo. We cannot forget what occurred and we should not allow ourselves to return to the pre-existing state of collective blindness. We are living in a new world where things are not likely to follow the old order. Realize this, accommodate to it, and wecontinue to grow and develop. Deny it, attempt to simply restore the former sense of national impenetrability, and we ignore the opportunity to change which the tragic terrorist attacks thrust upon us.

Baseball will endure. As surely as the melting of the snow, spring training will begin in mid-February and the 2002 baseball season will begin about a month later. With their deep pockets, the Yankees have already bought Most Valuable Player Jason Giambi and other talent in the off season to fill in the gaps left by the retiring O’Neill and the shifts to other teams by free agents Martinez, Brocius and others. They may even assemble a superior team next year and become more dominant. And next fall, the aura of the Yankees in the post season will again most likely have to be reckoned with. There is no mistake in thinking there is something special about Yankee dynasties and Yankee destiny. There are limitations to sports as metaphor, but those of us who witnessed that stunning loss may be reminded that no one and nothing is permanent or invulnerable, a valuable lesson that can not only help us but can also keep us more related to the rest of the world.

Steve Zemmelman
San Francisco, California
November 18, 2001

Please do not copy or quote without permission of the author.