Yankees' hubris now a symbol of NYC strength

This year, it's more than an October ritual.

Once again, cool autumn evenings will be set aglow by the lights of Yankee Stadium. For the fourth time in four years and the 38th time overall, the World Series will be played in the Bronx by the indomitable, 26-time champion New York Yankees.

This legendary post-season dominance - so exasperating and redundant to many around the country - is taking on a new significance.

Even as the stadium crowd tries to cheer the Bronx Bombers onto their fifth championship in six years next week, construction workers just across the East River on the southern tip of Manhattan will, too, be laboring under glowing lights through the night chill, clearing the still-smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center.

In any other year, perhaps, the refrain coming from the rest of the baseball world might have simply echoed the Broadway play, "Damn Yankees." But after the Sept. 11

terrorist attacks - which in many ways targeted the symbols of American pride and strength - the same brash, arrogant mystique that made New Yorkers so insufferable to many other Americans is now an inspiration.

"There's lots of wealth, a sense of self-confidence or arrogance that the Yankees portray," says Melvin Lucas, a historian at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. "That's the Yankee pinstripe image: We're winners, we know it. And now people can translate that into 'We're Americans, we can take it, we'll win.' "

This city has long been the center of commerce and finance, the gathering place for artists and intellectuals. Its five boroughs teem with blue-collar workers and new immigrants. Its towering buildings create a "canyon of heroes," a strip of Broadway in lower Manhattan where America has always welcomed home its warriors, its astronauts, its presidents and leaders.

New York has always been a place of triumph, and the swirling confetti of its famous ticker-tape parades has most recently been reserved for the perennially champion Yankees. "To some degree, the people who blew up the World Trade Center had it right," says Peter Levine, a historian at Michigan State University in East Lansing, who writes books on baseball. "Those buildings were symbols of capitalism and triumph. And, let's face it, the Yankees are the triumph of capitalism in baseball - they're a bought team."

"But, forget about all that stuff right now," Mr. Levine continues, "because this is about the phoenix rising, triumph out of disaster, a rallying cry for the city."

In the first series of this year's playoffs, the Yankees did indeed bring triumph out of disaster. When they lost the first two games at home to the Oakland Athletics - the hottest team in baseball - they seemed to have no chance. No team had ever come back from an 0-2 deficit in a five-game series while heading for the road. But the Yankees did what no team has ever done: They won the next two games on the road and returned to the Bronx for Game 5. The highlight was a near-miraculous play by shortstop Derek Jeter, who snagged an errant throw from the outfield and flipped it home, barely preventing a runner from scoring in a tight game.

After getting past the A's, the Yankees went up against the Seattle Mariners, the team with the best all-time regular-season record - 116 wins. (No team had won as much since the 1906 Chicago Cubs.) But it took the Bombers only five games to dispatch the Mariners, routing them in the final game 12-3.

YET even as the crowd taunted Seattle with chants of "Overrated!" in the game's final innings - the same kind of obnoxious hubris that other fans find so maddening - some opponents just shrugged their shoulders with a grin.

"The one thought that did come to my mind, strangely enough, is, 'Boy, this city suffered a lot, and tonight they let out a lot of emotions,' " said Lou Piniella, the Mariners' manager. "I felt good for them in that way."

Goodwill has been evident even in cities like Boston, the Yankees' archrival. "There is something unusual about this year," says Mr. Lucas. "People are wearing NYPD hats around baseball stadiums across the country. Maybe if the Yankees can win again when the city's been hit this way, that's something that people can rally around."

Will this goodwill last? Will the Yankees' uncanny mystique prevail again? Or will the rest of the country return to muttering the words to "Damn Yankees."

For some, another ticker-tape parade down the "canyon of heroes" would be an appropriate and defiant stand toward America's enemies. "There's an identification that many people have with the grittiness and the resiliency and the toughness of New York," says Levine. "It's a kind of New York way of being."

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