The easiest thing to do in New York is to be a Yankees fan. I mean, here you have a team steeped in tradition, which for most of its history has offered up a product that when it wasn't excellent, was often colorful. That wasn't because of the baseball offered up on the field, which like most American League baseball, is devoid of the zaniness that seems to come naturally to National League teams. My father, a Giants-turned-Mets fan, used to say that watching the Yankees was like watching a bunch of guys from IBM in suits, white shirts, and briefcases play baseball. Of course you have to realize that this is a guy who used to take me to a 3/4 empty Shea Stadium during the Great Suck Years, when Jane Jarvis played the organ, Ed Kranepool played first base, and the usher chomping a cheap White Owl cigar would come up to you in the cheap seats and say "You don't want to sit there. You want to sit down here." He'd move you down to field box seats, wipe them off with a dirty rag in a bizarro foreshadowing of squeegee men, and Dad would tip him a buck.
For most of the time I can remember anything about the Yankees, they have always been about two things. Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner. Just as something will be lost to the Mets forever when the ancient-but-still-full-of-stories Ralph Kiner shuffles off this mortal coil, the Yankees have lost their voice with the death of Bob Sheppard. You know the voice, they called it the "Voice of God." As mannered as it was, it was always the voice of the Yankees. Now, Yankee fans are left with nothing but the repulsive John Sterling, who makes me want to kill myself every time I hear a game recap in which he does that "THUUUUUUHHHHH....YANKEES WIN!!!!!!!!!!" -- as if this was some kind of miracle like Jesus and the fishes. I mean seriously. Was there any doubt? This is a team that eats opponents like Pac-Man, and when they win, the appropriate response is to shrug and say, "What did you expect?"
There was a time when the Yankees were colorful too. It was the says when someone was always feuding with Steinbrenner. If it wasn't Billy Martin (and wasn't THAT one of the most dysfunctional relationships in baseball history) it was Reggie Jackson, or Dave Winfield, or even =tokke= Yogi Berra, who at one time vowed to never go to the Stadium again as long as Steinbrenner owned the team.
In recent years, Steinbrenner wasn't seen much, as his health failed. Instead, it took TWO Steinbrenners to do what ONE did when George was in his prime. One son, Hal, does the quiet operation of the organization, leaving the day-to-day stuff in the capable hands of the smart baseball man known as Brian Cashman. The other one, Hank, has the job of being the Asshole Steinbrenner. But without the side that cares about quality baseball, all you have left is the asshole. George did both, and did it well:
Far away from the Glittering Dome of Yankee Stadium lies a city that despite the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has always exemplified futility. And that city is Cleveland, Ohio. And it is there that Harvey Pekar, a man who became famous for being a crank, died on Monday. But Pekar was no ordinary crank; he had a kind of zen wisdom as he observed his own life and the world around him, aided by cartoonists like R. Crumb, who put his thoughts into picture. But outside of the geekerati, Pekar is best known for being the subject of one of my favorite movies of recent years, American Splendor
. Here, Paul Giamatti as Pekar asks, "What's in a name?"
As I observed when the film came out
I am Harvey Pekar. And so are you, or you wouldn't be reading this. And because of movies like Crumb and Ghost World and now AMERICAN SPLENDOR, we are no longer misfits. We are now cool. Is this an improvement? Is this supposed to make us feel better?
Well, yes. Because Harvey Pekar was the patron saint of all of us who have always felt that we were put here by mistake, that our worldview is completely and utterly out of sync with the rest of the world. We observe the world around us and wonder why it seems to completely, utterly mad. The difference between those of us who blog, and Harvey Pekar, is that he was doing it long before we were. And he found a way to make a career of it, such as it was.
There's something intrinsically lonely about those of us who analyze everything, who see a world in which we never quite fit. Sometimes we luck out and find similarly iconoclastic friends. If we're very lucky, as I've been and as Pekar was, we find a life partner who by some strange karmic coincidence, lives on the same slightly off-kilter plane of reality that we do. But it doesn't change the fact that we struggle every day to live in this strange alien place.
Here, in another clip from the film, the real Harvey voices over an oddly appropriate clip of Giamatti, talking about loneliness:
Keep going, Harvey. Someone's bound to turn up.
Labels: Baseball, comics, geekery, obituaries, pop culture