catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 17 :: 2004.10.22 — 2004.11.04


Baseball, diversity, and culture

Yankee Stadium. Bleacher Section 29, Row U, Seat 12. Overlooking a sea of dark blue caps and t-shirts dotted by the occasional orange and medium blue, I found myself last summer at a Mets-Yankees game after a week of scholarly dialogue with historians of the Early Republic. Apart from the embarrassingly-poor game the Yankees played that night, the most interesting thing I found about this experience was the activity of my fellow baseball fans. Having only ever sat with more genteel sports fans in the more expensive seats at major-league games on the West Coast, I was unprepared for the spectacle which unfolded before me, and for its social and cultural implications.

Seemingly spontaneous choruses of support for the Yankees and derision for the Mets (and other despised opponents of the New York Yankees) erupted throughout section 29. At times these refrains were led by popular leaders wielding cow bells and sticks. The most common refrain (and one repeatable in print) included the lines ?the Mets suck, Red Socks suck, everybody sucks!?

Once I adjusted to the environment and the initial shock to my own middle-class sensibilities wore off, I began to appreciate what was happening around me. It was clear that these were ritualized litanies that were performed by regular occupants of the bleachers. They also seemed to reflect class solidarity and local pride, and were performed across a confluence of ethnicities. Being Black didn?t seem to matter, nor being Hispanic, Asian, or of European background. Support for the Yankees is what mattered. In section 29, a kind of Yankee nationalism existed. Even when the Mets? right-fielder caught a fly ball to bring the Yankees one out closer to the end of the inning, the Yankees fans remained undaunted: ?You still suck!? someone shouted down at him.
And for those intrepid Mets fans wearing their orange and blue regalia dotted among the Yankee blue in the bleachers, they seemed no less committed to the team they had come to support. In fact, as their Yankee neighbors singled them out, pouring scorn and derision upon them (in more than one case, twenty-some-odd Yankee fans standing up, pointing accusing fingers at the seemingly hapless Mets supporter, and repeatedly yelling ?the Mets suck?), these Mets fans stood proud and proclaimed with their body language??Bring it on!?

What both Yankee and Mets fans in the bleachers seemed to share in common with one another, however, was their class identity. ?Box seats suck? went up the cry?often as part of the Yankee?s anti-Mets litany, but also as a stand-alone profession of their identity and how they understood their relationship to the other classes. In fact, amid the Yankee blue t-shirts emblazoned with the names of Jeter, Gehring, and others, shirts proclaiming their disdain for the box seats could also be seen. Several proudly wore ?Section 29? t-shirts (I was told I could buy one from ?Vinny? before an upcoming game) while other shirts of Yankee blue repeated the ?box seats suck? refrain.

It was not clear if those in the bleachers disdained the class which inhabited those privileged seats or if they scorned the apparent lack of class cooperation and solidarity throughout the regular stadium seating. From my vantage point it appeared that the communal rituals performed in the bleachers were not repeated in the rest of the stadium.

But other than the experience that came from sharing the bleachers, or a particular section of the bleachers, it is not clear that what Section 29 shared as they cursed the Mets and spurned those in the box seats was really an identity emerging out of their class status. Sure, those in the bleachers paid less for their tickets than those in the stadium seats indicating the possibility of class divisions. But certainly occupants of the bleachers were not restricted to the working class. My companion and I, both college professors with Ph.D.s, sat with them. And even as we sat as observers of the social drama unfolding before us, I found myself drawn in, ready to jump up on my bench, point an accusing finger at the closest Mets fan and proclaim, ?The Mets suck!? Such feelings made me wonder what ultimately unites people.

As the game continued, it became clear that if class united those in the bleachers, and baseball loyalties divided them, then baseball itself, and beyond that, American patriotism, seemed to unite every one of us there. No one in that stadium, as far as I could tell, failed to show respect for the American flag when the national anthem played. Nor did anyone fail to pay homage to the Yankee Hall of Fame when, between innings, the legends of Yankee baseball were honored. And despite the apparent animosity Section 29 expressed to Mets fans and the Mets players themselves, there seemed no genuine hostility in the jeers, catcalls, and refrains. On one level, it was all in good fun. My first thought upon hearing the jeers was that before the game was over, it would come to fisticuffs between some of these fans. But on this night, albeit amid crude language and offensive behavior, peace prevailed.

Ultimately, it seems to me, common identity?shared values and belief systems, is what bound together section 29, the bleachers, and ultimately the whole stadium. Whether it was American loyalty or respect for the All-American past-time and its legendary heroes, the occupants of Yankee Stadium put aside ethnic divisions, divisive local baseball loyalties, and class divisions. Even as Mets and Yankees fans poured contempt upon one another, they maintained some level of respect for each other. What they valued was more important to them and held stronger sway than the structures of ethnicity, class, and locality which might have divided them.

This experience at Yankee Stadium demonstrates that American society can exist as a pluralistic society?that any society can maintain pluralisms within it?as long as the divisions which separate us are not as profound and fundamental as what binds us. Ethnicity, class, gender, locality can all contribute to a pluralistic society, but such pluralisms cannot divide when a system of beliefs and common values transcends those structures. When we find our society fractured by diversity, we do not need to eradicate the structural differences which seem to divide us, but we do need to search for common values and beliefs which will unify us.

Paul Otto is Associate Professor of History at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus