Richard Reeves

The Yankees in New York and Baghdad

NEW YORK -- I have always hated the Yankees, as does most every kid who grew up a Brooklyn Dodger fan. It was not that the Yanks were the winners; it was that we were the losers year after year.

I'm not crazy about the Red Sox, either; they're a bunch of shaggy multimillionaires. But I love the game, and like many fans I had a groggy week, staying up too late night after night. So I saw "the play," when Alex Rodriguez deliberately karate-chopped Bronson Arroyo's arm to knock the ball out of his glove in the eighth inning of Game 6. The umpires caught it, which made the game fairer, but so did the cameras, which means A-Rod will look like a bush-leaguer forever.

It's only a game, so they say, but I was struck by the way the game's announcers -- Tim McCarver, Joe Buck and Al Leiter -- handled it. In rough paraphrase, one of them said: "Hey, he was going to be out anyway, so why not take the shot?" One or both of the others agreed.

Welcome to America, 2004. Or 2000 in Florida. It's not how you play the game; it's whether you win or lose. Obviously, this American attitude predates the 21st century, a century off to a lousy start. It's been more than 30 years since Vince Lombardi thrilled Richard Nixon by saying, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."

And while I am in a confessional mood, I will alienate anyone who has read this far by saying this: I thought Paul Hamm should have given back this year's Olympic gold medal for best all-round male gymnast in Athens. The other guy, the South Korean, won the thing fair and square. "Fair and square" -- that's a phrase that was in use when I was a lot younger. You don't claim to be the champion because one judge couldn't add right. Hamm was great and the whole world saw that, but he would have been greater if he ignored all the grown-ups telling him possession is nine-tenths of the law.

So put me down as a girlie man. My favorite quote from the Bush family was by Barbara Bush in her 1990 commencement address at Wellesley College: "At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent."

If her son, the incumbent president, had listened to his mother a bit more, he might not have gotten us into the ongoing mess in Iraq. Or if he listened to his father, victor in the first Gulf War, who defended his decision not to try to conquer Iraq in 1991 by saying: "Whose life would have been on my hands as commander in chief, because I unilaterally went beyond international law, went beyond the stated mission, and said we're going to show our macho? We're going into Baghdad. We're going to be an occupying power -- Americans in an Arab land -- with no allies at our side? It would have been disastrous."

The language of sport and war are linked in all societies. They are related now, I think, and not because George W. Bush was once part-owner of a baseball team, the Texas Rangers. Bush and his ilk like to attack the "entitlement society," meaning the idea that some poor woman is entitled to medical care. But they feel that they and we, Americans, are entitled to impose our will wherever it suits our purposes, as the Yankees are entitled to cheat and so is the U.S. Olympic Committee, because winning is the only thing that matters.

Unfortunately, we are not winning the game we never should have played in Iraq. It is a disaster, and all most of us can do is watch. We are treated as fans. "Support your team ... Support our troops." If George Bush, the younger, is re-elected, or John Kerry is elected, the cheering will end with a president who will support our troops either by sending more men and weaponry to Iraq or by beginning to bring them home right away. Like the Yankees, we (or at least our military) were good, we were expensive, we won early battles easily. But at least the Yankees got to play at home. In Iraq, we were and are strangers in a strange land -- Americans in an Arab land -- and we cannot win.

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