Entire eras of my life can be captured by the stickers I placed on my cars. For example, when I was in college, I had a Grateful Dead “Steal Your Face” sticker on the back windshield and wondered why I was routinely pulled over.
Now, as a 42 year-old husband and father, I have the NPR sticker I received for my listener donation during a spring fund-drive. Again, it captures this era of my life.
In my 20s and early-30s, however, in the heyday of the Red Sox/Yankee rivalry, the car I drove had a simple-but-poignant “Yankees Suck” sticker on the back bumper. For the record, I was seldom pulled over while driving in New England.
The sticker had a white background with “Yankees” in bold navy blue letters and “Suck” in white letters against a navy blue background. It was the same logo I saw on many of the t-shirts being sold around Fenway Park at the time—occasionally there would be a “Jeter Swallows” on the back—but I never paid much mind to the design or sales.
ESPN’s wildly popular 30 for 30 documentary series has expanded into a podcast (30for30Podcasts.com), and the second episode, which aired on July 5, is titled “Yankees Suck” and tells the story of four college students from the hardcore punk scene around Boston who, from 1999-2004, capitalized on Red Sox fans’ pain and frustration, as well as the ubiquitous Boston chant, to make an undisclosed amount of cash—although it is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
The story starts with the tortured Boston back story and the list of names that live in infamy in Red Sox lore: Babe [expletive] Ruth, Buck [expletive] Dent, Bill Buckner (although 1986 really should’ve been hung on Calvin Schiraldi and John McNamara) and, finally, Aaron [expletive] Boone. For 86 years, Sox fans were tormented by New Yorkers and their team from The Bronx.
“They’d break our hearts then steal our best players,” says Ian Hill, a Boston fan interviewed for the podcast.
Eventually, borne from suffering and vitriol, Boston fans would start chanting “Yankees Suck” at games, regardless of the opponent. The chant eventually spread to other New England sporting events and anywhere there was a gathering of fans—parties, graduations, funerals.
“[Yankees Suck] had a nice cadence,” says Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, speaking the three-syllable incantation.
This brings us to the night of October 17, 1999, when college student Ray LeMoine had 300 bootlegged shirts reading “Yankee Sucks” made up with the date on the back. The hardcore punk band Ten Yard Fight was playing their final show at The Karma Club on Lansdowne Street, and LeMoine, who stole the logo for New Yorkers, was going to sell them to the fans outside the club to commemorate the band’s last show.
However, it so happened that on the same night at Fenway Park, the Red Sox—propelled by the likes of Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra—were playing the New York Yankees in Game 4 of the ALCS.
It was the game of “The Phantom Tag,” where the Yankee’s second basemen Chuck Knoblauch clearly missed Jose Offerman on the base path yet Offerman was called out in an inning-ending double-play. The Sox lost the game 9-2, and soon the series. The Yankees, throwing salt into the local wounds, went on to win the second of what would be three consecutive World Series, four in five years.
The 300 shirts sold out that night, not to concert-goers but to Red Sox fans outside the park. LeMoine, who had the acumen to pick up on the fact that he “was right place at the right time,” recruited friends Eric Ferentz, Todd Wilson, and Jamie Manza, and the boys started peddling their shirts outside Fenway Park before home games, making money hand over fist.
They recruited a number of college friends to help sell the bootleg shirts outside the park, paying them commission, and business took off. Sure, there would be the occasional arrest for selling without a permit, but the benefits far outweighed the risks, and an underground empire was formed.
The “Yankees Suck” chants, while still occasionally heard (one DWN columnist, who shall not be named, may have started one while slightly intoxicated during in Sox/Yankees game circa 2011), lost a lot of its luster after the 2004 ALCS and the Red Sox subsequent World Series victory—which after beating the Yankees felt like an afterthought. LeMoine knew that was “the final nail in the coffin.”
Of course, the shirt sales now would never fly under the “kinder, gentler, heavily regulated” Henry/Werner/Lucchino ownership, the same guys who now legally sell fans bricks and bags of dirt from the infield.
Based on the Grantland article by Amos Barshad and narrated by Massachusetts-native Julia Lowrie Henderson, “Yankees Suck” includes interviews with Boston sportswriter Gordon Edes, the four men who started the bootleg business and the gang who helped hawk the shirts. It is an intriguing story of an era in Boston sports that will, thankfully, never be repeated.
Watch the trailer here.