If you’re going to write “Yankees suck,” by all means, turn it into a vocabulary lesson

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Illustration: Brandon Celi for the New York Times

The analytical thinker (and writer) must soberly use facts to argue the case for the truth. But if you hate the Yankees — just viscerally hate them — and you’re literary enough, you can throw that out the window. That’s what David Bentley Hart did in his New York Times opinion piece. Here’s how it starts:

The New York Yankees Are a Moral Abomination

Soberly considered, the New York Yankees and their fans present a moral dilemma. Our consciences, naturally abhorring everything abominable, tell us that such things simply ought not exist.

Somehow, this prepares you for what’s coming.

Hart writes all the things I tell you not to write in your nonfiction. He throws objectivity out the window. He uses elaborate and baroque weasel words. At one point he loses complete touch with how sentences are constructed.

And yet the result is is a thing of beauty.

Let the vocabulary lesson begin. Start with his transparent jealousy.

Yes, those of us whose teams hail from smaller markets sometimes fall prey to a slightly petulant, even bilious resentment of all that boughten glory . . . And how could we fail to be vexed by the fawning servility of a national media incapable of telling the beautiful from the meretricious? [Petulant: sulky. Bilious: spiteful and nauseating (from the root word “bile”). Meretricious: falsely attractive, as of a prostitute.]

How often, as Derek Jeter’s retirement approached in 2014, were we made to endure the squealing ecstasies of television announcers too bedazzled by the fastidious delicacy of his dainty coupé-chassé en tournant on grounders to his right to notice his minuscule range or flimsy arm? [Coupé-chassé en tournant: a ballet move featuring elegant spinning in the air without going very far]

Who, moreover, can forget the obligatorily bibulous rhapsodies from sports commentators in the waning days of the old Yankee Stadium in 2008 — grown men dissolving in foaming raptures over a “great tradition” in its twilight or intoning solemn encomiums to the glorious “temple of sport” soon be reduced to dust? Temple, forsooth! More like the largest brothel in the world, being torn down only because a larger, glitzier brothel was being erected across the street. (Really, how does a Yankees fan’s pride in all those purchased championships differ from the self-delusion of a man staggering out of a bawdy house at dawn, complimenting himself on his magnificent powers of seduction?) [Bibulous: habitually drunk. Encomiums: words of lavish praise]

Add some bald self-justifying detestation:

By exciting in the rest of us that sweet cold loathing that only they induce — that strangely tender malice, at once so delicious and yet so purifying — the Yankees and their followers provide an emotional cleansing.

The detestation that any rational soul spontaneously feels for the Yankees is so innocent, so uncontaminated by spite — just instinctive revulsion before something obscene, like the goat-headed god of the diabolists. And there are few luxuries more gorgeously nourishing than the license to hate with an unclouded conscience. [Diabolist: follower of Satan.]

Heap some guilt on any actual Yankee fans:

No one elsewhere wants to root for a team like the Yankees. The notion is appalling. Could any franchise be more devoid of romance? What has it ever represented but the brute power of money?

But no morally sane soul could delight in that graceless enormity in the Bronx, or its supremacy over smaller markets. It is an intrinsically depraved pleasure, like a taste for bearbaiting. [Depraved: wicked. Bearbaiting: a blood sport in which dogs attack a captive bear.]

Midway through, Hart gets vivid and overwrought in his description of those fans, as he’s seen them in the stadium in Baltimore (the ellipses shown here are in the original):

. . .  nightmarish revenants from the dim haunts of the collective unconscious … monstrous, abortive shapes emerging from the abysmal murk of evolutionary history … things pre-hominid, even pre-mammalian … forms never quite resolving into discrete organisms, spilling over and into one another, making it uncertain where one ends and another begins. … It really is awful: ghastly glistening flesh … tentacles coiling and uncoiling, stretching and contracting … lidless orbicular eyes eerily waving on slender stalks … squamous hides, barbed quills, the unguinous sheen of cutaneous toxins … serrated tails, craggy horns, sallow fangs, gleaming talons … fragrances fungal and poisonous … sickly iridescences undulating across pallid, gelatinous underbellies or shimmering along slick, filmy scales. … [Revenants: creatures returned from the dead. Pre-hominid: Less evolved than cavemen. Orbicular: disk-shaped. Squamous: scaly. Unguinous: greasy]

And yes, he can get even nastier than this:

And what raucous yawps of elation they emit, like sea lions crying out in erotic transport. How languidly and grossly they intertwine with one another — how clumsily, lewdly, indiscriminately — like lascivious cephalopods merged in seething tangles of prehensile carnality. And somehow, without having to see, one knows things about them: that the categories “parent,” “sibling” and “mate” are only hazily delineated in their minds; that they suck nourishment from cellulose, heavy metals and cactus spines; that, should they grow hungry on the journey home from the game, they may pull over to the side of the road to devour their young. One simply knows. … [Languidly: listlessly. Lascivious: overtly sexual. Cephalopods: squids or octopi. Carnality: sensuality.]

Baseball is in decline. The Yankees are a symptom.

The richest franchises — among which the Yankees enjoy archetypal pre-eminence — are content to let the poorest wither in a laissez-faire desert rather than make any reasonable sacrifices for the common good. Thus the business of baseball — through greed, profligacy, shortsightedness and an insatiable appetite for immediate gratification — consumes itself by relentlessly allowing its own communal basis to disintegrate beneath it, and by ignoring the needs of future generations. [Archetypal: representing a perfect exemplar. Laissez-faire: a policy of lax regulations. Profligacy: unrestrained spending]

And inevitably, the piece ends by comparing Yankee Nation to America under Trump. That part’s a lot less witty than what I’ve excerpted here.

How can I even recommend this article, when it breaks every rule I’ve ever shared with you? It’s biased. It’s obscure. It’s personal and nasty. It’s so polemical it inevitably excites resentment. It’s drenched in vague adjectives and adverbs. It will convince no one.

This isn’t really prose. It’s free-verse poetry. As such, it’s not bound by my rules. It certainly draws a vivid picture.

Don’t write like this. But enjoy reading it. It’s so much wittier than “Yankees suck.”

One tiny recommendation

When the 100-plus-win Red Sox inevitably meet the 100-plus-win Yankees in the American League Championship series, David Bentley Hart should throw out the first pitch at Fenway — dressed as the exorcist.

2 responses to “If you’re going to write “Yankees suck,” by all means, turn it into a vocabulary lesson

  1. Your ‘tiny recommendation’ is a terrific idea … but based on the all the things you tell us not to write I’m unsure why you used the adjective ‘tiny’ … lol. Great article.

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