The Pinstripe Mezuzah, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Yankees

Jacqui's 1920 wool Yankees cap gets pride of place in her and Evan's house. (via Evan Davis)

Jacqui’s 1920 wool Yankees cap gets pride of place in her and Evan’s house. (via Evan Davis)

I vividly remember the moment I began to hate the New York Yankees.

It was Saturday, October 26th, 1996. Game 6 of the World Series. I was 11 years old at the time, and my beloved Braves had blown a 2-0 series lead to lose three straight. It was win or go home at the Old Stadium.

The problem was that I wasn’t watching the game at all. The night before, my mom, aunt, and my aunt’s friend Judy had thrown an “epic” haunted house in the basement the night before for all of my friends. The thoroughly pedestrian decorations were comprised of bowls of goo meant to simulate eyeballs, a cardboard skeleton that dropped from the ceiling, and dried leaves scattered about, lit by Amsterdam back alley filaments. My vision of a Grand Guignol terror palace had not been realized, and my inner director was kvelling. This was not my vision, something about which the inner director in me had already kvelled. The audacity of my ambitions had collapsed under their own weight. The coup-de-grâce came when my pal Idin pelted Judy with donut holes. The evening had not been a rousing success.

Cut to the next night, and I’m on the basement floor desperately trying to clean up the leaves as fast as I can: my party, my mess. I can hear young Joe Buck’s clarion call upstairs, blaring out of the living room TV. “We’ll be fine,” I think. “We have Maddux on the hill. We’ll be fine.”

I was still scooping leaves into trash bags when Joe Girardi hit his infamous RBI triple, the one that sailed over Marquis Grissom’s head. There was no going back.

My brother, himself a Yankees fan at the time, gleefully reported the score down to me. My apoplexy consumed me. In my despair, I tried to clean up the leaves even faster, which of course only led to a bigger mess. Surely this couldn’t happen, could it? The Evil Empire is about to restart a dynasty against my guys????

A couple hours later, Mark Lemke popped out to Charlie Hayes and it was over. The Braves’ dynasty would never win another world championship, while the Bombers would begin a run unseen in the Bronx since the 1950s.

Thus, the spark of Yankees hate was lit inside me, as it had for so many baseball fans living outside the New York metropolitan area. I loathed Derek Jeter, his smug good-boy antics belying a slimy and unsavory character. I reviled George Steinbrenner, with his fat wallet and even fatter mouth, sucking up every big-ticket free agent in sight in order to keep his boot on the necks of everyone else. I abhorred Roger Clemens for abandoning the Red Sox (never mind that stopgap in Toronto) in order to chase a ring. To me, they were all worthy of the highest scorn.

But no one bore the brunt of my wrath more than Alex Rodriguez. I was 18 and in college when Rodriguez first donned the pinstripes, but maturity would not soften my belief that he was the biggest, nastiest sellout of them all. Long before he was accused of using PEDs, I ranted about his “obvious” juicing habits whenever baseball came up in casual conversation. A preening, pathological unlikeability seemed to pour from every part of him. As the years passed—the Bronson Arroyo slap, the official PED admissions and controversies, the affair, the infamous mirror kiss—Rodriguez became the symbol of everything wrong about baseball.

In 2005, as Rodriguez wrapped his second MVP season, I became friends with Davey. He grew up in Westchester. He was a Yankees fan by birth, geography, and full-throated passion. But Davey was different from most of the guys like him: he wasn’t incessantly obnoxious. He read Baseball Prospectus. He was the one who introduced me to Moneyball. He used to love telling me that there was no such thing as clutch hitting.

He was funny, too. God, did he make me laugh. Davey never called anybody by their first name. He always gave you a nickname. He started out calling me “Davis,” which, after a year and dozens of different permutations, eventually (d)evolved to “Dobles,” an anglicized pronunciation of the latinized spelling of “doubles.” Davey’s process never failed to get lost in a convoluted mass of association and non-sequitur, but your nickname always stuck among your most intimate and familiar compatriots. The nom de guerre was so consistently used that when Davey met a classmate of mine and started talking about his friend Dobles, my classmate naturally assumed that Evan and Dobles were two different people. Davey had the power to create an entirely new identity for anyone he met. I tapped into wells of personality I never knew I had when I entered his orbit.

Davey was a natural athlete, too. He had these long, ropelike limbs that he could whip across his body in simian absurdity. His arms were some of the most animated I’d ever seen, and his expressivity didn’t stop at the physical. I was never not laughing when Davey and I got together. Even his grunts contained multitudes; other mortals’ whole sentences were cavernously empty.

The day before my 20th birthday, Davey and I went up to the Old Stadium for to what ended up being my favorite Yankees game of all time. We somehow managed to nab great seats on field level, behind the first-base line. The score was tied 3-3 against the Devil Rays in the top of the ninth. Mariano Rivera was on the hill to face the bottom of the order. Rivera gave up a pinch-hit single to Aubrey Huff and then a pinch-run steal to Joey Gathright. With a man on second, Julio Lugo rapped a ball to then-rookie Robinson Canó, who booted the ball. Gathright scored the eventual game-winning run. Davey stood up, looked right at Canó, and flipped him off, long and proudly. Davey was promptly ejected by stadium security. He didn’t stop laughing the whole way out.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Most importantly, Davey loved Rodriguez, and never tolerated my disdain for the now-third baseman. “Dobles!” he would exclaim, “Dobles, A-Rod is a robot and deserves love! We must give it to him!” I would laugh, thinking that Davey was just being weird, per usual. It went on for years—I would say something snarky about the best player of his generation, Davey would yell “Dobles, he deserves love, Dobles,” and we would go back to being goofy idiots together. We were good at doing that.

Rodriguez began his long and arduous exile from baseball when the Biogenesis scandal broke in January 2013, after pissing off everyone in baseball. Davey never saw his ignominious fall, suspension and subsequent redemption. Davey died by his own hand the September before, two days before his 30th birthday. It seemed like a cruel joke at the time; Davey was Jewish, and so was buried the day he turned 30. My friend Max laid a baseball on his grave. The Yankees beat the Rays that day, 6-4. Rodriguez went 1-for-3 with two runs batted in.

Then Rodriguez returned from the wilderness to smack 33 dingers and run a 130 wRC+ in his age-39 season, passing Willie Mays’ career home run total along the way. I finally began to see him the way Davey saw him: A slightly pathetic brainiac, deeply insecure about his own self-perceived intellectual failings, who just wanted people to like him. Rodriguez became humbler, more human in that final season. As he backed away from playing and pivoted toward a career as a broadcaster, the Rodriguez that Davey saw 12 years before finally appeared to me.

Now, every time I see Rodriguez on television, I only see Davey. They were both were pretty weird and idiosyncratic in their own ways. I now think that Rodriguez was always like that, and I just didn’t want to see it. But now my perspective has shifted. Love has a way of doing that.

The date did not hold much promise.

I had started talking to Jacqui on a dating app a few weeks before. She was smart. And caustic. She knew how to lean into, but not step on, a cutting punchline. I love it when people know how to bust my balls.

We had to reschedule a couple times for various reasons. That usually means the thread is going to run cold, but we finally lined up for a date at 7pm on a Monday. It was a downer. A Monday night date means we’re going home early, just going through the motions because we want to be polite. I walked in thinking, OK, soldier up, walk over there, drink two beers, make nice, and never hear from her again.

Six hours, several beers, and one great kiss later, we parted ways. She had an open, expressive smile that couldn’t hide the weary, slightly devilish urbanity known to make me weak at the knees. She was an actor, but an academic at heart. She made me laugh, a lot, and loudly. Rarely have I felt so certain that a lot more was to come from this woman; two years later, it turns out I wasn’t wrong.

Jacqui is the Apollonian and Dionysian spirits perfectly entwined, something Nietzsche believed was impossible to manifest in one soul. She inhabits the world’s cities, both with her body and within her intellect. She reads vociferously. She tosses off quips like John Henry drives rail spikes. She is deeply, profoundly silly. She is fundamentally instinctive, obeying her senses and impulses wherever they may take her. She floats through the world while grasping onto its every tendril. She recites Shakespeare and loses socks in the couch cushions in the same breath. I am utterly in awe of her at all times. And—you guessed it—she’s a Yankees fan.

Jacqui’s devotion to the Bombers stems from before she was even born. When her mother was pregnant, her godfather-to-be staked out Mickey Mantle’s old restaurant until the Mick showed up and autographed a squishy baby baseball to her. She was a Jorge Posada fangirl at the tender age of nine; she still is. Our debates about his Hall of Fame candidacy are vigorous and pointed.

davis-1
Slowly, I came to grips with the fact that life with Jacqui would mean my spring and summer evenings would be spent watching those hated, pinstriped demons. It hasn’t been easy. Jacqui lives and dies with every pitch. Early on, I dubbed her a George Steinbrenner fan—if the club didn’t go 162-0 every year, there would be hell to pay. After the Yankees lost to the Astros in the 2015 AL Wild Card game, she declared that the playoffs were cancelled, and wasn’t that a shame.

I remember going to our first game together at the New Stadium. It was a warm day in August. Jacqui was about to leave for six weeks to do a show on the road. I woke her up that Saturday morning, two tickets and a wool, 1920-style Yankees cap waiting next to her in bed. She beamed from ear to ear.

We decided to get off the train before it crossed into the Bronx so that we could walk over the Macomb’s Dam Bridge, which used to separate the Old Stadium from the Polo Grounds. I pointed out the housing project where Willie Mays and Mel Ott once plied their trade. We took our seats in time to watch warmups. David Price and the Blue Jays pounded the Bombers, 6-0. Troy Tulowitzki hit a home run. I prepared for the blackness, but there was none from her; we had gone to the game together. That had overcome all allegiances or rivalries.

Soon, her mother had deposited a mezuzah with the mark of the team proudly emblazoned on its face. Our home had been sanctified. There was no going back, now that the very metaphysical foundation of our home together had been adorned with a navy blue, crisscrossed “N” and “Y.”

davis-3-3

When Opening Day 2016 rolled around, I noticed that I was paying closer attention to the Yankees. I was paying closer attention to all 30 teams, now that I was venturing out into that brave world of freelance baseball writing. And yet the Yankees stood out, beckoning me with their history, prestige, and tradition; taunting me with how alluring I was finding it all.

I thought deeply about how bizarre Michael Pineda was. I took a special liking to Luis Severino and his potential. I can’t lie, I started getting excited about Greg Bird, Gary Sánchez and Aaron Judge. The kids were…fun.

When Brian Cashman unloaded Carlos Beltrán, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller midseason for even more prospects, the move brought the appeal of those 1990s teams into sharper focus for me. They weren’t great because Steinbrenner went out and spent big; he did that to spectacular failure in the 1980s. No, this team was treasured because of the Core Four, developed from youth in the cradle of the Yankees farm system—Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Andy Pettitte. Of course, The Yankees PR machine didn’t let you forget that they were the new keepers of the Yankees legacy. All I remembered was how tiresome that line had become by the time Jeter finally hit his walk-off single into the sunset. Two years later, I saw that such an attitude was inevitable, given that Yankees fans had breathed the essence of the Core Four spanning two decades. I can’t deny that when “your guys” are big reasons why you win four titles in five years, the devotion your fans feel runs that much deeper. They feel like a part of the team.

Should Sánchez, Severino, Judge, Bird, Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, Jorge Mateo, and the rest reach their potential, the “Yankee tradition” will begin afresh. It is so tempting to crave that narrative repetition, like that endless Nietzschean loop, maddening and ecstatic all at once.

When you love someone, you must reckon with what they love. We bring our sports baggage to every relationship. Love has always seemed, at its purest expression, the unconditional desire for another person, or an entity, or even an idea. That is what it means to love another person; for me, that is what it means to be a sports fan. You give yourself wholeheartedly to the uniform, feel joy and pain in the same year, swing from angry to mournful, and possibly even lose that raw, unwavering desire that may have carried you from childhood. Maybe you meet a new team and start a new affair. Maybe you meet your old team again later in life, flirt a little, remember why you were so great together. Love is mysterious.

We love our teams, and if we’re lucky, we may get to love our loved ones’ teams, too. They may even use those teams as a way to show their love for you. Davey did that every day. Jacqui continues to do so. When Alex Rodriguez scooped up that last pile of dirt by third base, all I saw was Davey. Now, whenever I see the pinstripes, I only see Jacqui.

The Yankees are not a team for me. I will never be a fan of them. I won’t be elated by their successes or be devastated by their failures. But I will care about them. I will love them. That anger, born 20 years ago in such pure, clear light, seems like a reality no longer borne out in the present. That anger has transmuted into something even more beautiful.

I may never be a Yankees fan, but they have become a symbol of all that I hold dear in this world. My past with Davey, my future with Jacqui—they both wear pinstripes.


Evan Davis is a writer and broadcaster living in New York City. He has appeared regularly on MLB Network. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDavisSports and Instagram Instagram.
13 Comments
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jim
5 years ago

Very nice job of writing, communicating feelings, Dobles.

Ben
5 years ago

This is wonderful.

Joan
5 years ago

Well done, Dobles.

Allison Davis
5 years ago

Beautifully written! And I think the party in the basement was a bit grander than described!

Wendy Walton
5 years ago

I loved reading this article almost as much as knowing that Jacqui can eloquently bust your balls!

Scooter
5 years ago

Agree with the others; very touching article. I have a slightly different view point, though. I’m also Jewish, and my feeling is that my loved ones can enjoy things that I hate (e.g. the New York Yankees). That makes the arguing that much more fun!

Uncle T
5 years ago

I liked this story. Evan and Jacqui AKA Dobles and the Bambina – Yankee fans (works for me). Would have liked to have met Davey.

Jayne
5 years ago
Reply to  Uncle T

SOFIEAR: Aguantar estoicamente los cuernos del marido.RAJOYEAR: El que quiere pero no puede.(Le faltan vosPa).ZPEROS:oertonss que mienten más que hablan.Me ha gustado el invento, voy a seguir pensando puede salir un diccionario de lo más divertido.Besos.

http://www./
5 years ago
Reply to  Uncle T

Never has a hard manual outfit looked so smashing! I adore those boots and that luuuurex and crimplene skirt. I'm shocked at what people put in their donations. I guess it's anonymous so they don't care…? I hope the sale goes well tomorrow (today?).

günstige ratenkredite
5 years ago
Reply to  Uncle T

Lasati povestile de adormit copiii!daca vroiau sa va talhareasca(asa e numita infractiunea pe care v-ati inchipuit-o voi), de mult va lasau in fundul gol!e o vorba….” moarte fara motiv si nunta fara discutii nu exista “…ceva ati facut voi

fireworks
5 years ago

Great article. I love your writing.

I am a lifelong Yankees fan, but I came of baseball age during the reign of the ’86 Mets whom were obviously well-celebrated, and deservedly so. I got into lots of fights with my friends about them, and so I always hated the Mets.

Then 2007-2009 came along. The injuries, and injuries, and injuries. The link to Madoff. The broke wealthy team. The tragic comedy of Daniel Murphy in right field. The way Jerry Manuel did things like refuse to say the name of Ryan Church when he made a boneheaded baserunning plays (one of seemingly thousands of boneheaded baserunning plays whichever awful season that was).

And then I realized I longer hated this team. The Mets had never and could never own New York. They were never the rival of my team. I had obnoxious Boston fans to deal with, and like Mets fans I too could hate the Phillies. The Mets didn’t own New York; they merely housesat for a time when they were at the pinnacle of the sport and the Yankees weren’t.

So I’m not a Mets fan, but I can love and respect the Mets.

fireworks
5 years ago
Reply to  fireworks

Of Murphy in *left* field.

Fake Yeezy Boost 350 V2
5 years ago

This weekend will bring the release of the “Baseball” Air Jordan 9, a sneaker styled after a baseball glove that references Michael Jordan’s time away from the game of basketball in the mid-1990s