My response to Matthew Berry, five years later

In February 2010, I was a freshman at Boston College. One day, ESPN fantasy “expert” Matthew Berry came to give a talk on campus. I attended, because it was something to do and a chance to meet a semi-famous person from ESPN.

The esteemed Matthew Berry walked into the room to a nice round of applause, and the first thing he said was:

Hi, I’m Matthew Berry, and I hate the Yankees.

Everyone exploded into applause, with hoots and hollers and loud clapping all around. This is what happens when you go to school in Boston. Meanwhile, I sat and looked at the floor.

Berry spoke for an hour. I don’t remember much of what he said, other than the fact that he came across as a big, pretentious jerk.

At the end of his talk, he opened it up for questions. I immediately raised my hand. I was the first person to ask a question.

So I asked: Why do you hate the Yankees?

He gave a rambling answer about their arrogance and their bloated payroll and then he moved on.

The next day, while I was sitting in class, I got multiple texts from friends. Go to ESPN.com! So I did, and wouldn’t you know it, Matthew Berry wrote a column about why he hates the Yankees. He even referenced me!

After I gave my talk, during the Q-and-A session a young man asked me, very simply, why I hated the Yankees.

I was famous!

And then I read the column. And I don’t want to be hyperbolic here, but it was the worst thing I’ve ever read. Here’s the link, if you’re so inclined to read it. And even though it’s been five years, I’d like to go through some of Matthew Berry’s comments, line-by-line. Consider this my official response:

Hi Matt, Jeff here. OK, so you start out by saying that one time you went to a Yankee game and sat near some bratty kids with no parents in sight.

Apparently, they were just dumped there or something. I know baseball is America’s pastime and kids are cute, but let me tell you something, and I’m not gonna lie. These kids were superannoying.

I’m sorry you had to deal with that, I really am. I’ve sat near annoying people in New York and also Boston and Los Angeles and Philadelphia and lots of other places.

My life philosophy is generally people are good, but sometimes when I go to sporting events and look around at the loud, drunk, annoying people around me, I start to reconsider. So I know where you’re coming from.

They were discussing foul balls and bragging to one another about how many they had. This one had five, this one had three, a third had four, so on and so on.

Well, bragging is never good, but that’s what kids do sometimes. Then what did they do?

“Throw us a ball! Give us a ball! Hey, mister, we want a ball! Give us a ball! Hey, throw the ball here! We want a ball! Please, mister, throw us a ball!” On and on they went. “Hey, mister! Mister! MISTER! GIVE US A BALL!”

If you think that is annoying to read, imagine it being screamed during the game, constantly, inning after inning, directly behind you.

I mean, yes, it’s fairly annoying. Sometimes annoying things happen.

As the Blue Jays ran off the field, first baseman Carlos Delgado tossed the ball up into the stands. Many folks went for it, but I came down with it.

NICE. You did it, Matt. The kids wanted a ball, but you got one first.

The kids started yelling. “Can we have the ball? Hey, mister, we want that ball. Give us the ball! We’ve been yelling,” and so on. My father-in-law turned to me and said, “If you want to give the kids the ball, that’s OK.”

So what was your response?

Hells. No.

Wait, why?

My father-in-law was a softy. I’m not. And I was not going to give up Joe’s first foul ball in 65 years so some spoiled brats could add it to their collection. Just because you beg for something in an annoying manner does not mean your efforts are rewarded. Learned that while dating in high school.

OH HO HO, good one Matt.

Look, you got the ball, you deserve to keep it. You have no obligation to give it to the kids. In fact, if I was in your position, I’d definitely keep the ball because I’ve never caught one at a baseball game, and it’s one of my lifelong dreams.

But you can expect to hear some backlash. That’s just the way it goes.

Some wise guy a few rows behind the kids started a chant. “Give-the-kid-the-ball. Give-the-kid-the-ball.” It picked up steam. “Give! The Kid! The Ball! Give! The Kid! The Ball!” Soon, the whole section was chanting this. GIVE! THE KID! THE BALL! GIVE! THE KID! THE BALL!

Then the food bombardment started. Peanuts, hot dogs and beer were thrown at us. Repeatedly. Security was nowhere to be found. We asked folks to stop, which made it worse. We tried to ignore it. But the food, beer and insults kept coming.

Order was finally restored a half-inning later when the first-base umpire came over and handed the kids some balls. The kids bragged to us. “Told you we’d get a ball, a–hole.”

Look, I imagine this whole ordeal was annoying, but surely you wouldn’t hate on an entire organization because of a few loud, annoying, borderline-abusive kids?

And that’s why I hate the Yankees.

Wait, what? You hate the Yankees because you sat near some bratty kids at a game once? You, sir, are applying some supremely broad strokes based on your interaction with, what, three kids? They’re CHILDREN!

It’s not just the team and the way it is run. It’s not just its owner or the cheating, performance-enhancing drug users A-Rod and Andy Pettitte.

It’s the collective known as Yankee Nation.

There’s no such thing as Yankees Nation. I don’t know what you’re talking about. There is a Red Sox Nation, everyone knows that. It’s literally on the team website.

I came away from that game with a hatred of the Yankees and was absolute in this belief: Yankees fans are subhuman.

Well, that’s not very nice.

You mean to tell me that because these kids were annoying, you can safely assume that all Yankee fans, everywhere, are SUBHUMAN?

Everything the Yankees stand for was represented during that half-inning. Like the kids, they are spoiled and demanding and see things only from their self-indulgent point of view. Like the adults, they act out when they don’t get their way.

If by ‘act out’ you mean ‘sign some high-priced free agents’, then yeah, the Yankees do act out. But as I’ve written before – that, sir, is an attack on competence. The Yankees have money to spend, and the rules allow them spend their money to acquire players, and lots of times those players help the team win. That’s a great thing! Other teams have the money and choose not to spend it. Why wouldn’t you do everything in your power to improve your odds of winning?

By the way, the Yankees penchant for ‘acting out’ has probably hurt them more than anything. Yes, they’ve been successful, but they have also been burdened with lots of bloated contacts and an inept farm system.

What should have been a great day with my father-in-law was ruined.

Good, I’m glad it was.

Although my hatred is still alive, it has softened. Since that game, I’ve met Yankees fans who are reasonable, intelligent people, including friends, colleagues, friends of colleagues and colleagues of friends. 

And colleagues of friends of colleagues. And colleagues of my third cousin’s second wife. And colleagues of my friend’s twice-removed grandmother’s plumber.

You trying to no disrespect us? You sound like Jon Stewart doing a Donald Trump impression:

No disrespect here. Yankee fans are spoiled, entitled, self-indulgent dirtbags. Some, I assume, are good people. But most are scum of the earth. No disrespect.

But I’d say your best line of all comes at the end, the final flourish to let us know that Yankee fans can, in fact, be decent:

I’m even dating a woman who is a Yankees fan.

NICE. Way to subtly let us know that you’re off the market.

So, yeah, let me repeat again that your whole argument about hating the Yankees is based on a bad interaction with some kids at a baseball game. And a handful of other jerks who sat near you. Except you can’t just make assumptions on an entire group of people like that. That’s just wrong, Matt! And it really hurts my feelings, because I like to think that I am an intelligent, capable, not subhuman Yankee fan.

There are good people and bad people in this world. Some like the Yankees, some don’t. Some like the Milwaukee Brewers, and some don’t. And look, Matt, you can hate the Yankees all you want, because there are certainly legitimate reasons to hate the Yankees. Yours just happens to be wrong.

Your column in 2010 is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone is now dumber for reading it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Advertisements

RIP Yogi Berra

yogi

I originally posted this on Medium. Medium is cool! Perhaps I’ll start writing there more often.

I have this picture, framed and autographed, hanging in my room at home. You have Babe Ruth on the left, slightly hunched over, a year away from dying. And you have Yogi Berra, young and vibrant, about to start a remarkable career. I have this image burned into my mind. It’s started to fade over the years, but it’s always been there to greet me when I come home. Sometimes I give it a knowing nod, and it’s almost as if Yogi is staring right back at me, offering a brief nod of his own.

It’s funny how much you can know about a person without ever actually meeting them. Like, if you ever saw that person on the street, it would be really weird, because you know everything about them, and they don’t know anything about you. That was Yogi and me. I knew a lot about him. He didn’t know a whole lot about me. This is the opposite of a healthy and equitable relationship. But that’s the way it goes with the famous.

The guy lived a helluva life. I mean, seriously. He was a World War II veteran, a great baseball player, a 10-time World Series champion, a cultural icon. You know that Jim Valvano quote, the one that goes: If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special. Yogi lived a full life.

A lot was written about Yogi today, and I loved reading about the stories and the moments from his life. I really liked this one, from the time Yogi was asked about meeting the Pope:

Reporter: I understand you had an audience with the Pope.

Yogi: No, but I saw him.

Reporter: Did you get to talk to him?

Yogi: I sure did. We had a nice little chat.

Reporter: What did he say?

Yogi: You know, he must read the papers a lot, because he said, ‘Hello, Yogi.’

Reporter: And what did you say?

Yogi: I said, ‘Hello, Pope.’

I also liked this one, from Lenny Shecter:

But that is not what I remember about him most. I remember most that the other ball players always complained that Yogi Berra would stand naked at the clubhouse buffet and scratch his genitals over the cold cuts.

That’s not the Yogi Berra they portrayed on Yankeeography!

I never met Yogi, I never knew Yogi, I never saw Yogi in real life. I never watched him play, never watched him manage, never even visited his museum. But he’s always held a special place in my Yankee heart. He was a great spirit who transcended the game.

I’ll be taking all of his Yogi-isms to my grave. When you come to a fork in the road, take it. You can observe a lot by watching. The future ain’t what it used to be.

And, no matter what, in sports and in life, it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

But of all the images of Yogi’s life, of all the things you could talk about, the one I’ll remember most is that picture hanging in my room. A raw rookie, standing next to baseball greatness. Unsure of what his life will be.  Forever young.

yogis-hands

Porkchop on a stick

The Yankees are playing the Twins at Target Field this weekend, which reminds me of one of my all time favorite moments.

Back in 2010, the Yankees played their first-ever series at Target Field. The YES Network was fascinated by all of the different types of food at the ballpark. Namely, everything seemed to be on a stick.

Cut to Kim Jones, who is holding the very popular porkchop on a stick. All of a sudden, a Yankee fan appears in the background. And then this happens:

There are so many good things about this video. The guy making the sweeping motion with his mini-broom. The beer in his other hand. His friend that cheers him on. THE BITE. The slow-motion replay. Kim Jones’s reaction. I didn’t bite it! The battle between Javier Vazquez and Jim Thome going on in the background.

Of course, when I visited Target Field in 2013, I had to try one. It was very good.

porkchop

It’s still possible

Back in April, I wrote two words to describe the Yankees’ 2015 season: it’s possible. It’s possible they stay healthy. It’s possible they play well. It’s possible they win the division. It’s possible. It’s not a bad thing to have optimism as a default setting.

This was right when when articles like this were floating around the Internet. And this. And this. It was just a massive display of groupthink between Yankee lovers and Yankee haters alike. They are going to be bad this season, and there’s nothing you can do but prepare for it. And all the while I’m thinking: hey, wait a minute, let’s not all jump on the train to Stinktown just yet. This team can be good. Let’s at least keep our minds open.

And now here we are in late July, and the Yankees are in first place and have a 5 and a half game lead in the AL East. They are a good team! And, no, I’m not writing this post to say I told you so, even though … well … I told you so. No, I’m writing this post because we need to remember that conformity in a group without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints can often result in an irrational and dysfunctional thought process.

Lest we forget the two cardinal rules of baseball:

1) Nothing makes sense

and

2) Anything can happen

Why are the Twins contending? Why are the Red Sox not hitting? What’s going on with the Astros? Why is Albert Pujols leading the league in home runs? Why is Alex Rodriguez good again? Why? Why? Why?

Because it’s baseball, that’s why!

Back in my high school debate years, the nerds I debated would try to end arguments by saying end of story.

Restrictions on the rights of non-citizens are consistent with democratic ideals. End of story.

Judicial activism is necessary to protect the rights of American citizens. End of story.

The use of the state’s power of eminent domain to promote private enterprise is unjust. End of story.

And whenever someone said end of story, I immediately had two thoughts:

Wow, you’re a real jerk.

and

The story is never over.

I notice the same thing now when people debate sports. The Yankees will be bad, end of story. MJ is the best ever, end of story. That was a terrible draft pick, end of story. And it’s not that I necessarily disagree with them, but we need to remember that in sport (and in life) there is no end of story until the games are played and the lights are shut and we all go home. What is it that Yogi Berra said?

The Rick Camp game

Happy July 4th everyone!

I am quite certain that my favorite baseball game of all time was a game I didn’t watch live. It happened six years before I was born. Mets, Braves, July 4th, 1985. 30 years ago.

It was the greatest game ever. Let us set the stage.

JULY 4TH, 1985

30 years ago – Ronald Regan had just begun his second term, a gallon of gas was $1.09, Back to the Future premiered, and the top song was George Michael’s Careless Whisper. If you invested $10,000 in Apple in 1985, you would now have $5.1 million.*

*I triple checked, showed my work, carried the one, and can confirm this is accurate.

THE FIRST NINE INNINGS

In baseball, the Braves welcomed the Mets to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to start a four-game, holiday weekend series. It was an ugly day. Rain pushed back the first pitch and made the outfield almost unplayable.

Dwight Gooden started for the Mets. This was in the middle of his epic 1985 season, one of the best ever for a pitcher. He would finish the year with a 24-4 record, a 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts, 8 shutouts, a WAR over 12, and the Cy Young. He completed five or more innings in every start … except this one. He leaves the game in the third.

With the Braves up 3-1, the Mets score four in the fourth on RBI hits by Wally Backman, Keith Hernandez, and Gary Carter.

In the bottom of the 8th, with the Mets leading 7-4 now, the Braves score four runs to take an 8-7 lead. The clock strikes midnight.

Bruce Sutter, the future Hall of Famer, comes in to close the ninth. Three straight singles by Howard Johnson, Danny Heep, and Lenny Dykstra make it an 8-8 game. Blown save. The Braves can’t score in the bottom half, and the game goes to extra innings.

The first nine innings were crazy by normal standards. But not by the standards outlined above, which I’ve set high by saying it’s the greatest baseball game ever. So let us proceed to…

THE THIRTEENTH INNING

After three scoreless frames, Howard Johnson hits a two-run home run in the top of the thirteenth. The Mets are up 10-8. The game seems over. It isn’t.

In the bottom of the thirteenth, the Mets bring in Tom Gorman to close it out. Gorman wasn’t a great pitcher in 1985, but the Mets didn’t have anyone else at this point. He allows a leadoff single, then strikes out the next two guys. With two outs, Terry Harper comes up, and he hits a home run. Tie game. 10-10. We go to the fourteenth.

Crazy? Yawn. We still haven’t gotten there. Let us proceed to…

THE SEVENTEENTH INNING

It’s still notted at 10-10. Rick Camp enters the game to pitch for the Braves. He will play an important role, but we’ll get to that later.

It is now 3am on July 5th.

Darryl Strawberry and manager Davey Johnson are ejected for arguing balls and strikes. After the game, home plate umpire Terry Tata* gives an all time quote: There aren’t any bad calls at 3 am.

*Say that 5 times fast.

Alright. Let’s take a deep breath, everyone. Let’s move on to….

THE EIGHTEENTH INNING

It’s now past 3am. The game is still going on. And … and … and THE METS SCORE!

11-10.

In the bottom of the 18th, our old friend Tom Gorman is still in there, trying to close it out for the Metsies. He gets two groundouts, and up steps Rick Camp, the pitcher. The Braves are out of players, so they’re forced to bat Camp. He’s their last hope.

Camp was a notoriously bad hitter. Coming into that season, he was a career .062 hitter (10-for-162) with 80 strikeouts. He had never hit a home run. I mean, it’s hard to get worse than that.

Camp takes a nice hack at the first pitch and fouls it off. 0-1.

The next pitch is on the outside corner. 0-2.

And then, he hits a home run.

He hits a home run.

RICK CAMP HITS A HOME RUN AND THE GAME IS TIED AND IT IS 3:20 IN THE MORNING AND EVERYTHING IS GREAT AND NOTHING MAKES SENSE.

Thank God it is 2015 and we have video evidence. Put down your phone, take a few minutes off, and watch the video of the at bat, which starts around 1:20:

Here are 9 observations I have:

– If you can’t tell, that’s JOHN STERLING doing the game for the Braves. Yes, he was the Braves announcer before he came over to the Yankees in 1989.

– At the 1:10 mark, the other announcer mentions that they’ve had four rain delays in this game. Ridiculous.

– Look at 1:33! The catcher is visibly waving in the outfield!

– At 1:51: Ernie, if he hits a home run to tie this game, this game will be certified as absolutely the nuttiest in the history of baseball.

– 2:24. The moment.

– Look at Danny Heep at 2:30. Sheer disbelief.

– The way he says ‘I DON’T BELIEVE IT’ at the 2:34 mark sounds exactly like his call for Scott Brosius’s home run in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series. The fact that I could make this connection is a bit concerning.

– That wild cackle at 2:58 is why I watch baseball.

– 3:46: I mean, if you told me that John Sterling’s gonna run for President and win, that wouldn’t be any more improbable. And I gotta tell you, that’s improbable. Please, make this happen.

OK, guys, let’s review what’s happened here. In an already crazy game, the pitcher Rick Camp steps to the plate at 3:20am in the 18th inning. The catcher waves in the outfield. Camp falls behind 0-2. He hits a home run. Chaos ensues.

Alright, phew, we’re done, right? NO. Take ANOTHER deep breath. The game isn’t over! Let us proceed to…

THE NINETEENTH FRIKKIN INNING

The Mets break out for five runs. Ray Knight hits a double, Danny Heep drives in three with a single, due to an error by the right fielder that ostensibly happened because it’s 3:30 in the morning and they’ve been playing this game for six hours. Wally Backman drives in Heep. 16-11, Mets.

In the bottom of the nineteenth, the Mets bring in starter Ron Darling to close it out. He gets the first out on a ground ball to second. Then, Claudell Washington reaches on an error. Then, he gets out number two on a fly ball.

OK, finally, there’s two outs and the Mets are up by five and this game is just … about … over.

Except … Darling walks the next two batters. And then Terry Harper hits a two-run single to make it 16-13 (Harper is now 5-for-10 in this game). All of a sudden, the tying run is at the plate.

It’s Rick Camp, again.

Could he do it again??!? Could a career .062 somehow find the strength to hit a second game-tying home run in extra innings???

Uh, no, he cannot. He takes a few wild hacks and strikes out. The game is over.

THE GREATEST QUOTE EVER

“I saw things,” Keith Hernandez later said, “that I’ve never seen in my major league career.”

THE CLOCK STRIKES 4

The greatest game of all time is now over, and it is 4am, and we can all go home, right?

No! Since it was the 4th of July, the Braves had promised fireworks after the game. And, well, it is now after the game. A promise is a promise. The show must go on. And so the fans that stayed – and to those fans, I bow to you with great reverence – were treated to a loud, wild, sleep-deprived fireworks display at 4:30 in the morning.

Local residents woke up and panicked, thinking Atlanta was under attack.

“I thought it was the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse,” said a woman who lived near the stadium.

AND THEN THE SUN ROSE

Our old friend Tom Gorman, who pitched six innings in the game, said he saw the sunrise on the bus ride back to the hotel. It was – and still is – the latest ending to a game in baseball history.

Tommy Holmes

IMG_0066

I’ve had this picture for 15 years now.

You probably know the guy on the right – that’s Stan Musial. 24-time All Star,* 3-time MVP, 3,000 hits, 400 home runs, first ballot Hall of Famer.

*Musial only played for 22 seasons, but from 1959-1962 baseball played two All Star games each year. As Richard Sandomir once wrote: “there was a simple and obvious reason to play two games: money.”

The guy on the left is Tommy Holmes. I met him in the summer of 2000, my first year at the wonderful Summer Trails Baseball Camp. Every year, they’d get a few former baseball players to come in, talk to the kids, give a demo, and sign autographs.

Holmes was signed by the Yankees in 1937 and played on the 1939 Kansas City Blues, which also featured Phil Rizzuto and Vince DiMaggio. Joe Posnanski recently called that the greatest minor league team in baseball history. On December 9th, 1941 – just two days after Pearl Harbor – he was traded to the Boston Braves, where he would play for the rest of his career.

He was one of the finest baseball players of his generation. In 1945, he led the league in hits, doubles, home runs, and slugging percentage. He finished second in the MVP voting behind Phil Cavarretta.* My favorite stat about that year: Holmes struck out nine times. Nine! He was one of the greatest contact hitters in baseball history – in almost 6,000 plate appearances, he struck out a grand total of 122 times. In 2014 alone, 58 players did that.

*Cavarretta shouldn’t have won. It’s an all-time snub. Sure, he hit three points higher (.355 to .352) and had a higher on-base percentage. But he also had 25% fewer plate appearances, hit with no power, and was one of the worst defensive first basemen in the game. I don’t care that it was 70 years ago, it’s wrong.

Holmes’s 1945 season might best be remembered for his 37 game hitting streak, a record that stood in the National League until Pete Rose broke it 33 years later.

Of course, meeting Tommy Holmes and getting his autograph was a great thrill, but here’s what I remember most: he was old. He was in his eighties, but he looked even older. He was frail, he had spots all over his skin, he had trouble walking. He had a noticeable hump.

He talked in a quiet and high-pitched voice and it seemed like he ended every sentence with the word boom.

Always keep your eye on the ball, boom.

Make sure to keep your hands in, boom.

Remember to bend those knees. Boom.

He came back again in 2001 and 2002, and each year he looked even older, to the point that Alex and I would check the internet (daily) to see if he had died. We’re weird people. Holmes, of course, did eventually pass away in 2008 at the age of 91.

SABR has an excellent bio on Holmes. I’ll leave you with this story:

I remember when I was on the 28th game of my streak. It was a beautiful day; the sun was all over the place. And this gentleman comes into the Jury Box under the influence of liquor, and starts in on me: ‘So you’re the great Holmes! You couldn’t carry Ted Williams’ jock!’ Then of course I get up and hit into a double play. Holy geez. So now I go back out to right, and he yells, ‘If I wanted to go to the circus, I would have gone to the GAAAH-DEN!’ Finally, Marty Marion hits a line drive to me with the bases loaded: ‘I have it, I have it, I have it.… I can’t find it.’ It hits the fence behind me, and the guy yells, ‘Now I KNOW I’m going to go to the GAAH-DEN, because I have never seen anything like this!’

Just then, a little fellow in the front row behind me says, ‘Tommy, I’m going to take care of this.’ He goes and gets Big Dan, the Irish cop. Now you can’t arrest a fan for yelling or cursing, but remember, he was needling me about Williams and so on and so forth. I come out the next inning, and the loudmouth is gone. I say ‘What happened?’ And the little guy says, ‘We had Big Dan throw him out of the ballpark!’

That’s the way it was out there. They would do practically anything for me, and I never forgot it.

June 12th

Every June 12th, I can’t help but think of the craziest, wildest, awesome-ist baseball game I’ve ever been to.

6 years ago today. Friday night. Yankees/Mets. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, down by a run, A Rod* at the plate. Take it away, Michael:

*I’m convinced that A Rod’s hip problems can be traced back to the 37 second mark.