Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Morton's Fork

Mets Fans Faced With a Choice Between Two Evils

Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter in 1789 that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. The inevitably of death needed no explanation then, now or ever. We age and then we die. If we're lucky. Sports analysts are fond of noting that Father Time is undefeated and they are mostly correct. Although I heard that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played him to a draw in a 1987 pickup game. Or was it that Father Time won, but Kareem thought that he had to win by two? I forget but Kareem was allowed to stay in the NBA for another two seasons.

The second bit that Franklin wrote about taxes being as much a fact of life as mortality is something that mankind brought to the table on our own. It wasn't always that way. One person who played a role in that is fellow by the name of John Morton.

Mr. Morton was the Lord Chancellor of England under Henry the VII. Hank was the first Tudor monarch and ascended to the throne in the wake of the The War of the Roses (and no, not the Kathleen Turner/Michael Douglas movie) in 1485, replacing Richard III. The one with the hump in his back that everyone thought was a creep. Once in power, Henry VII focused on two things. Killing everyone who was not on his side. By declaring himself King retroactively to the start of his bid for the throne, he managed to make those who had opposed his rise and backed Richard III and the Plantagenets guilty of treason even though they had technically been siding with the crown at the time. Well played, your highness. Henry also set about getting England's finances in order. For this he tapped Morton, who he had previously named Archbishop of Cantebury. In 1487, Morton became Lord Chancellor and got to work extracting money from the noble classes, stating that "If the subject is seen to live frugally, tell him because he is clearly a money saver of great ability he can afford to give generously to the King. If, however, the subject lives a life of great extravagance tell him, he too can afford to give largely, the proof of his opulence being evident in his expenditure."

In other words, if you spent money then you were liable to be taxed and if you saved money you were liable to taxed. There was no escaping taxation. The policy became known as "Morton's Fork" because each of the arguments were the prongs of the fork and taxes were harvested either way. And back then "forks" were farming implements (think pitchfork) with two prongs rather than dining utensils with three or four prongs. Morton's ingenious tax policy would replenish the treasury during Henry VII's reign and go a long way towards making taxation something that Franklin would see as unavoidable a few hundred years later.

For some reason, the phrase "Morton's Fork" didn't enter the vernacular as successfully as "Hobson's Choice" - a free choice of one option best summed up as "take it or leave it." In place of "Morton's Fork" we've got phrases like "caught between a rock and a hard place" and "between the devil and the deep blue sea" to describe the state of being given two equally unpleasant options to choose from. By any name, though, this is certainly the situation faced by Mets fans as the 2009 "Pick Your Poison" World Series is set to begin.It's the New York Yankees versus the Philadelphia Phillies. Our bullying older brother versus our blood rival. It's a Morton's Fork. If the Yankees win then we've got to hear all about No. 27 and how the Bronx is the home to all that is pure and right (and overpriced) about baseball. If the Phillies win then we've got to hear all about the unbeatableness of the "team to beat" and how they are a dynasty. No. Thanks.

What to do? WIlliam C. Rhoden writes in the Times that "Mets fans will be standing shoulder to shoulder with Phillies fans, not necessarily cheering for the Phillies but rooting against the Yankees." and Greg over at Faith and Fear in Flushing seems to feel that way. The Brooklyn Met Fan also is pulling for the Phillies and believes that anyone who isn't does not truly support the Mets. Although I think BMF sounds suspiciously like a Yankees fan when he veers into the "I'm a better fan than thou" territory the kernel of his argument is that you always support your league in the Fall Classic.

I follow that logic and am a consistent supporter of National League baseball. In recent years, I've rooted for the Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals, (in 2004 not 2006) and Houston Astros in the World Series over their American League opponents. I enjoy the NL brand of baseball and speak up for it whenever someone tries to come with that AAAA nonsense. However, I am not going to root for the Phillies just because they are representing the Senior Circuit. It's not that simple. Just like I wasn't about to start tomahawk chopping for the Braves during the 1990s.

In order to figure out which is the lesser of two evils, I'm going to break this decision down science like.

(+) Reasons to root FOR the Phillies:
1. If the Phillies win then the National League will be bolstered.
2. If the Phillies win then my buddy Ryan will be psyched.
3. If the Phillies win then A-Rod is still without a ring.

(-) Reasons to root AGAINST the Phillies:
1. If the Phillies win then the team's fans will become even more insufferable and may ascend to that level of douchery and self-entitlement previously reserved only for Yankees fans.
2. If the Phillies win then they will become the first NL club to win back-to-back world titles since The Big Red Machine and will be on the verge of a dynasty.
3. If the Phillies win they will further highlight the chasm that has grown between my team and theirs.
4. I dislike Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth and various other Phillies players more than I dislike any players in the Major Leagues. Seeing them succeed actually angers me. And seeing them high-fiving and celebrating makes me want to smash my coffee table. Or, should I say re-smash it since there is already a gaping hole in it.
5. Like, I really hate those guys. Especially Victorino.
6. The Mets play the Phillies many, many times next season and I will have to listen to their fans at both ballparks. I miss the early days of Citizens Bank Park when it was Shea South when the Mets were in town.

Reasons to root FOR the Yankees:
1. If the Yankees win then the "You bought the World Series" argument can be dusted off.
2. My father and both grandfathers will be happy.
3. So will a handful of my friends and other relatives.
4. If the Yankees win then my favorite team's rival has been beaten.
5. If the Yankees win then the players I dislike the most have not won.
6. Post-Series rioting will take place somewhere close enough that maybe I could score a free car stereo or something.

Reasons to root AGAINST the Yankees:
1. I don't need A-Rod to join Reggie Jackson as an October icon.
2. The proliferation of pinstriped No. 27 jerseys would be painful. Although the return of those ridiculous "Got Rings" shirts would be sort of funny in an "I can't believe the crap you people will buy" sort of way.
3. I'll be subjected a severe uptick in pro-Yankees agitprop about town.

With the facts laid bare, I see no easy choices. If the enemies of my enemies are also my enemies then do I root for mutual annihilation? Yes, if this were the Third World War. But it's just a best-of-seven baseball series so that seems out of the question. I really want both teams to lose and will draw my most pleasure from the blunders and pratfalls that each team makes along the way. This will be the Schadenfreude Series for me. But after much debate, the lesser of the two evils is.... The New York Yankees.

As a Mets fan I feel no choice but to root for the Phillies to lose (much like Matt Cerrone over at Metsblog). And, I guess, in some sort of way that means that I'm pulling for the Yankees to win. Well, that's not really true either. I'm no Chamber of Commerce fan and won't be high-fiving anyone with a blowout and Teixeira jersey. My choice is based largely on what will anger me less during the World Series, which, as a baseball fan, I would like to watch and what will cause me less grief in the future. In both cases, a Philles' win is the least desirable outcome. Yup, another Phillies' victory parade down Broad Street would bother me more than the Yankees getting a ticker tape parade down on Wall Street.

This seems to be an unpopular stance among Mets fans who can't stand the idea of showing up to work and hearing Yankees fans crow about their team. And, I get that. I really do. Yankees fans can be the most difficult people to talk sports with. In fact, I don't really try any more. I grit my teeth, smile, let whatever nonsense their spewing about Derek Jeter's inclusion on any list of the game's greatest players wash over me like bus exhaust while standing at a street corner waiting for the traffic light to change. I'll just say something nice about Bernie Williams to keep them from getting worked up and do my best to move along. For them, the entire history of Major League Baseball is but the backdrop for episodes of Yankeeography. They view the world through pinstriped glasses and they will continue to do that no matter what happens during the next two weeks.

It's important to note that the stereotypical team-aggrandizing, self-entitled worst-case-scenario Yankees fan is already as bad as he's going to get. He's already been a jerk (at least when it comes to baseball) for more than a decade. We're used to it. It's part of living in New York. No matter the outcome of this World Series, those Yankees fans won't change. They're not going to be humbled by a loss, not even a sweep. Talk radio in this town is already dominated by the Yankees. ESPN and the local news is already dominated by the Yankees. And those facts are not going to change if the Yankees lose.

On the other hand, a Phillies win would only raise their national profile and further move them into the NY-Boston circuit that dominates coverage by the Worldwide Leader. It would establish the Rollins-Howard-Utley club as one of the best of this generation and put them on the verge of a dynasty. And for all those Mets fans so worried about the Yankees fans, it would set up a situation where we are bounded on all sides by insufferable fans who root for teams that have been better than ours in recent years.

For the greater good of Metsdom, I want the Yankees to earn their 27th world championship to keep it from the Phillies. Yes, it likely means dealing with some boorish Yankees fans but that was bound to happen anyway. A Bombers win maintains the status quo and gives the Mets a chance to re-stake their claim to the National League East in the near future without having to deal with toppling the two-time defending world champion Philadelphia Phillies. Ugh. Just typing that made me sure that I am rooting for them to lose no matter who that hands the trophy to.


Anonymous said...

Hello from Russia!
Can I quote a post "No teme" in your blog with the link to you?

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