At a talk several years ago, Howard Schultz, legendary founder of Starbuck’s, was asked which team he favored: the Yankees or Mets. It was a fair question, since Schultz grew up in Brooklyn, birthplace of the Dodgers. It is a question I often hear around town. The reason is that it helps you figure out in a New York minute where somebody is coming from and which tribe they belong to. The interviewer posed the question right off the bat, so to speak.
I’ve heard the question asked of other celebrities like Rudy Giuliani, Woody Allen, and Jay-Z. Everybody chooses, of course, because to survive in New York you must take sides. The one thing you cannot do–and this is an inviolable rule of Gotham living–is to remain neutral. That would be unforgivable, even reckless. For instance, had Schultz backpedaled, he would have been booed off the stage and the stock price of Starbuck’s would have dropped. He’s a smart guy, so he answered without hesitation.
My favorite short story is Philip Roth’s The Conversion of the Jews. In it, Ozzie Freedman gets into trouble in Rabbi Binder’s Hebrew class, because he insists on asking questions that are “different.” I find myself doing the same thing. I cannot take sides in the favorite team issue, because I follow the Yankees with my head but the Mets with my heart. How could it be otherwise? The Yankees are like Ancient Rome, dazzling the world with feats of baseball engineering and conquest. The Mets are like the slaves who built the coliseum. They get to sleep in the city but they live in squalor. You’ve got to sympathize with them. Also, my father was a Mets fan from day one, April 11, 1962.
There is something to be said for the “both/and” approach over “either/or.” For one thing, it accounts for players who move between Queens and the Bronx: e.g., Bobby Abreu, Carlos Beltran, Kyle Farnsworth. Second, it reflects modern baseball’s free agency system in which players move around like chess pieces, often between leagues. Third, it offers you another culture to live in without having to travel or get a passport. You even get to wear different colors: navy blue and white for the Yankees, royal blue and orange for the Mets.
Fourth, “both/and” honors the mind and heart. Your mind is yours, formed through reflection, study, and discipline. But your heart belongs to someone or something else even though it resides within you. Physical possession does not mean ownership, contrary to popular belief. There is something about Mr. Met that just won’t let me go. Sometimes I feel like Michael Corleone in Godfather III. Something like that.
We live in a binary world in which all of our options have been reduced to two. I suppose it’s easier that way for those in charge. Still, I want to have more to choose from than an Apple or PC, iPhone or Android, Hillary or Bernie, red or blue states, chocolate or vanilla. Free market capitalism was supposed to do that. Instead, it has given us only one choice with different labels. Do the labels make any difference? Of course not. The only difference is marketing. And marketing is nothing more than coercion in a pair of Gucci shoes. Actually, today they may be sequined sneakers.
I like Howard Schultz. I will continue to go to Starbuck’s even though their coffee is bitter, as everyone knows. Even though he is a Yankees fan.
The real question is, how will Donald Trump answer?