Leaving it at the old ballpark: the Y.M.C.A.By
A few years ago — it must have been around 2002 or 2003 — I was sitting in the Tier Reserve for a mid-summer game. In front of me, one of the regular beer guys — muscular guy with tattoos up and down his arms — had stopped to serve a customer in the top of the 6th. As the inning ended, he was pouring beer, and a familiar refrain floated out of the Yankee PA system. “I hate this song,” he muttered to himself.
Now, I don’t like to use the word “hate” in labeling things. It’s a strong word, and it always seems fairly irrevocable. Once you hate something, you can’t really change your mind later on without seeming wishy-washy.
But I knew exactly how this guy felt because by that point, I too hated the Village People’s Y.M.C.A. I still do. At the exact same time in my life — the 1995-1996 school year on the Bar Mitzvah circuit and 1996 Yankee season — this song entered my life with a vengeance, and it’s never left. Every season, about 20-30 times a year, I’m subjected to this song and countless thousands of people attempting to sing along with it.
It’s not that it’s a bad song; I appreciate its place in disco history and its relevance for the gay community in 1970s America. But it’s also not a very good song, and enough is enough. There are some songs that can be played over and over. There are others — such as Nickel Back’s This Is How You Remind Me — that are insufferable. The Y.M.C.A. is one of the latter.
If anyone is to blame for sustaining the Y.M.C.A. craze well beyond any normal limit, the Yankees would shoulder that load, and a recent Spin magazine profile drives that point home. Jeff Pearlam — hat tip to BBTF — traces the page two, he traces its prevalence at sports events to Yankee Stadium circa 1996. Here’s how Joseph Malloy, a former General Partner with the Yankees, describes the origins of the now-tired sixth-inning grounds crew shtick:
It was the opening of Legends Field, our spring-training stadium in Tampa, and a couple of the grounds crew guys approached me with the idea of bringing a little excitement to the exhibition games. In the middle of the fifth inning, when they dragged the infield, the guys wanted to do the arm motions to “Y.M.C.A.” I hadn’t heard the song for a long, long time, but the crowd absolutely loved it. I thought, “Hmmm, this might work in New York.”
Malloy, who had no idea that the song is chock full of reference to a gay lifestyle at Y (duh), got more than he bargained for. Juan Gonzalez in the Daily News wrote:
[The grounds crew] began to dance, strut, and gyrate around second base while they dragged the field. The capacity crowd roared with approving laughter. We all cheered and applauded, and for a moment we all felt a little warmer inside. It was baseball poking fun at itself, reminding us all that this huge, multibillion-dollar, cutthroat business is, after all, about people having a good time.
And truth be told, it was fun. For a season. Now in its thirteenth year as a Yankee Stadium gimmick and one that has spread well beyond the confines of the House that Ruth Built, it’s tired and played out. The grounds crew isn’t nearly as into it, and it’s just one more noisy thing to throw at the fans in between innings.
The players themselves don’t seem to go for it either. “I hate Y.M.C.A. I’ve been over it since I first heard it,” J.P. Howell told Pearlman. I know you how you feel, J.P.
As the Yankees look north to their new ballpark this year, they should assess the state of between-innings entertainment and decide which, if any, of the distractions should cross the stay and which should stay behind at the old stadium comes down. The Y.M.C.A. is tops on my list. Let’s bury it in the remains of the House that Ruth Built.