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Another Yankee World Series? New York expected no less of itself

As one baseball fan explains it to the rest of us: "New York is known worldwide, and as New Yorkers we feel the world revolves around us."

October 28, 2009|Geraldine Baum

NEW YORK — If any other city had a team as talented as this year's Yankees, it would consider them a blessing. In New York, it's just a comeback.

Or as one local headline put it Monday morning after the team advanced to the World Series:

"Yankees

BACK

where they belong"

Tonight, as pinstriped players walk for the 40th time in almost a century onto a field in the Bronx for the ultimate baseball competition, New York will be bathed in a warm sense of entitlement about Yankee exceptionalism and its own greatness that is almost not offensive.

"New York is known worldwide, and as New Yorkers we feel the world revolves around us," said Vernon Palmer of the South Bronx, with a straight face. "So we really don't understand when people like Mets fans have issues with the Yankees and our expectation that we're winners."

There it is, the "we" and the "us," the personalized belief in the primacy of the team that is more a matter of conviction than faith.

Even before the Yankees had beaten the Angels for the American League championship, Palmer had plunked down $16.99 for a T-shirt emblazoned on the front with "Time for 27" and on the back with "A Bronx Homecoming" and an image of a World Series ring.

The Yankees have won the World Series a record 26 times. The last was almost a decade ago, and Joe Girardi, the team manager who replaced the legendary Joe Torre, who won four, purposely took No. 27 for his uniform so he could wear the expectation of success on his back.

But fear and insecurity had begun seeping into Gotham, worry that the formula of shelling out tens of millions of dollars on free agents to complement a core of homegrown stars wasn't working. Last year a team from Tampa, of all the minor TV markets, won a league pennant. The Yankees didn't even make the playoffs. Impatience was growing in "Yankee Universe," a bit of one-upmanship manufactured by marketers tired of the chest-beating in "Red Sox Nation."

Still, some New Yorkers remained unshaken.

After all, why would an obviously reasonable man, a modest after-school-program director like Palmer, purchase a T-shirt that, if the Yankees hadn't made it to the World Series, would have been a hair shirt for at least another year?

"Because," Palmer said, "the Yankees will make it, again, someday."

That certainty reigned throughout the Bronx County criminal courthouse, where more than half the men awaiting jury duty with Palmer wore Yankee hats.

"I wear one every day," said Palmer, who has half a dozen in different colors that he matches with outfits. "I like the association."

--

There was a similar affinity expressed by young cops, older lawyers and an accused criminal released on $500 bail as they coursed through the courthouse a few blocks from Yankee Stadium.

"Every team wants to play us," said Grey Santana, a 28-year-old police officer who spent the first half of his life in the Dominican Republic and the second in the Bronx.

Sweeping his hands across his starched blue uniform, Santana compared the professional look of a police officer to that of the cleanshaven, dreadlock-free look of a Yankee in his blue-on-white pinstripes. "The more professional you look . . ." Santana began, but he was interrupted by a friend, Jayson Milatz of the 44th Precinct.

Milatz, 23, has been a police officer for all of four months and his beat includes traffic duty around Yankee Stadium. This isn't easy because he is also of the hordes who have lived and mostly died on the fortunes of the Mets.

"The more professional you look," Milatz said, as if repeating a lesson fresh from a tutorial, "the more respect you command. It works for us, just like for those players."

The sobriety of the Yankee uniform, the manner of the players when they speak of their franchise, the aura of history -- all serve to enlist fans from the inner city to the outer boroughs in a tradition of superiority.

The Phillies, this season's competition, will also wear pinstripes during home games, but sports mavens say it's not the same because their shirts have their names on the back, which, according to one Yankee fan, "makes them look like ice cream men."

The Yankees wear just their numbers.

This is the sort of "evidence" offered by devotees of why the classy Yankees must have a coronation year after year.

(Oh, you know devotees: They're the type who can tell you the number of games Roger Maris played the year he beat Babe Ruth's home-run count and can identify "Mr. October" -- but can't remember their wedding anniversary.)

They acknowledge that other teams, like Manchester United, Britain's soccer juggernaut, have a credible association with repeated excellence.

They note that the Los Angeles Dodgers have been a community treasure since 1958 and the Lakers champions since the 1980s.

But to these aficionados, the Yankees are unique because they have been programmed to embrace their legend and have lived up to it -- for almost 100 years.

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