No one could ever hate any team in sports more than my 12-year-old self hated the Yankees. That was the year of Jeffrey Maier, forever shall his name be reviled. From that wrongly-called moment was born a loathing that burned with the fury of a thousand suns.
What can I say? It was a formative year and a formative sports experience. I believed then, and still believe now, that if not for that blown call, the Orioles would have gone on to win the World Series that year instead of the Yankees.
Two decades have gone by now, and while I wouldn't exactly say that I've gotten over it, I have decidedly mellowed out about it. I don't like the Yankees because this is the natural way of the universe, and I don't like the Yankees because, now that the Orioles are good, they are true competition rather than just these unbeatable giants. I don't stew about it all day, every day, penning screeds on spare sheets of paper when a teacher isn't looking.
Still, that angry 12-year-old is still down there somewhere, and if I'm being honest, resentments piled up beyond age 12. After all, the Yankees have won five World Series titles since that unjust and illegal over-the-wall robbery that should have never been a home run. They've been in the Series another two times and lost.
In that time the Orioles lost for fourteen straight seasons. If video replay had been in existence then, maybe those would have been our titles instead. I'll never know. What I do know is that in the two decades worth of baseball since that fateful night, there has never been a time where the Orioles were good and the Yankees were bad.
For most of my life it's been the Orioles who have that loser cloud following them around, but this time it was the Yankees who are the losers. Now the O's are within a game of first while the Yankees had their GM openly talking about making changes if they keep losing. And you know what? It's great!
Orioles fans who lived through those dark years know the signs, and my gosh is it wonderful to see the Yankees producing that loser odor. How else can you explain a manager who gets peevish about his team being unable to take batting practice, openly wondering if the Orioles were trying to get one up on them in such a petty way? You have to be a loser to even worry about stuff like that or think of making an excuse like that.
Nor was that the only thing they did that stank of loserdom. In Thursday's game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi got himself ejected in the fourth inning for whining about a balk that he felt should have been called. A balk!
Again, you'd have to be a loser to worry about a balk. Winning teams don't really care about one balk in one game. They never lose enough to where things start feeling desperate to where the balk (and it wasn't a balk) really matters. And it's the mighty Yankees and their $225 million payroll who are doing this. I love it.
Of course it's not going to last forever. The Yankees might even manage to turn things around in the span of this season. They've done it before. Right now they're 9-17, eight games below .500, but both the 2005 and 2007 Yankees teams ascended from that far below .500 in May to win 94+ games. Even if they do stay down all year, their last losing season was 1992. They'd hardly be some loser franchise like the O's were for so long.
And it's not like it's a sure thing that the Orioles will stay good all year. If you've been following the team so far this year, you know where there are potential fatal flaws. Maybe the starting rotation will mostly be a mess after all. Maybe there will be problems with the offense that persist all season, like how key cogs Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are basically not hitting. There are many possibilities.
So I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts. The increasing frenzy of Yankees fans as they call for people to get traded, demoted, released, or fired. The cryptic pronouncements made from the general manager, maybe even the temperature on the seat under Girardi getting hotter and hotter. Absolutely glorious Yankees failure may not be what is best in life, but it's definitely in the top ten.
If I could go back in time and talk to my 12-year-old self again, there are many things I might tell him that would interest him about the world, but none would interest him more than these two facts: That there are going to be new Star Wars movies, and that the Yankees suck.
Who am I kidding? That kid just watched the Jeffrey Maier game. He doesn't need me to tell him the Yankees suck. He already knows. He'd just be happy to know that everyone else finally agrees. We're not even with the Yankees quite yet. It's a start. I'll take it, and so would he.