The Oedipal Dynamics of Baseball

Thanks to Herb Stein, Class of 1962 for sending this wonderful article explaining some of the mysteries of life through baseball!!!  I loved it...  Thanks Herb.

The Oedipal Dynamics of Baseball
By Herbert H. Stein, M.D.

Many of you know that I am an ardent baseball fan; but, many of you don't know that my love of baseball is deeply grounded in Freudian theory.  Rooting for a baseball team has strong oedipal roots.

I grew up in Far Rockaway, where half the children rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers, half for the New York Yankees and an odd child or two for the Giants. The demographic and sociological reason for this now seems apparent. The Rockaway Peninsula is technically part of Queens. It is attached by land, for the most part, to Nassau County and it is attached by bridges to Brooklyn and Queens. Many of the families that moved there in the first half of the century were moving outward from Brooklyn--hence the Dodgers' fan base. Others probably emigrated from the Bronx and other parts of the city. Many of these people brought with them a loyalty to the
Yankees who were the dominant team in baseball almost continually from 1921 to 1964. The Giants, managed by John McGraw, had been the Yankees of the first two decades of the century, but there were not many people around when I was growing up who had seen those Giants.

I grew up in a mixed family. My father came to this country in 1919 and lived in Rockaway. During his formative years he was a Yankee fan, at the time dominant and exciting, and also the upstart usurpers of the more tradition bound Giants. As a young boy and through adolescence he looked up to Ruth and Gehrig, and as a young adult he identified with Joe Dimaggio, with whom he shared a first name.

My mother was from Brooklyn. Her father was a Dodger fan. More importantly, I had an uncle who grew up in Brooklyn and raised his two sons, my older cousins whom I looked up to, as Dodger fans. Through them, I became a Dodger fan.

The Dodgers and Yankees were each in their own way an ideal identificatory object for an oedipal child. I started rooting for the Dodgers when I was four, and they fit the feelings and needs of a four year old. They were from Brooklyn, a borough that had been a smaller rival city until it was swallowed up by New York some years after the Brooklyn Bridge conjoined them. Brooklyn at the time was thought of as a blue collar borough, and one filled with brash immigrants and their children, a "salt of the Earth" borough. As if to emphasize this point, when I was very young I had to put on a suit to go into the city (or through it to the Bronx) to go to a
Yankee game, but could wear more comfortable clothes to see the Dodgers. Of course, my father did not always go with us to the Dodgers games. I remember going with my mother and cousins at times. I was incredibly proud when the first base umpire, Jocko Conlan, winked at my mother.

Beyond that, the Dodgers themselves stood for the up and coming, the brash child ready to challenge the stability of the father. They had been a team of laughable losers for most of their history, affectionately called "dem bums." They played in a small ballpark with a natural intimacy. When I began to root for them, they featured the first African American player in
a national sport and were already adding to their integrated roster. They stood for the little people, the disaffected, the up and coming, the oedipal son trying to dethrone his established father.

The Yankees, obviously, had the complementary oedipal appeal. A small Yankee fan could vicariously enjoy the pleasure of being the father. They had dominated baseball since long before I was born and were, in fact, on the verge of their period of greatest domination. They won the American league pennant and the World Series from 1949 to 1953, lost in '54, then
won the American league pennant for another four years, took off a year, and won it for another five years, winning the series on and off. This was the team for any child who wanted the feeling of being the established superior, a confident winner. The Yankees played in a huge stadium (not a "ballpark") to over 60,000 fans. They had monuments in centerfield honoring their past legendary players and a centerfield so large that there was generally little danger of those monuments intefering with play.

The Dodgers won the National League pennant the first year I began watching them. They had a wonderful lineup, a lineup of all stars and future hall of famers. They lost to the Yankees in the series, as they had lost to them two years before. In 1950, the Dodgers lost the pennant on
the last day of the season. A clear oedipal pattern was developing. In 1951, they lost to the hated Giants on a home run that ended a three game playoff, "the shot heard round the world" and a truly traumatic moment in my young life. Earlier that season, I had gotten my father's assurance that the Dodgers, who led by 13 1/2 games, could not lose the pennant, another wrinkle in the oedipal dynamics. I suffered my team's worse loss and began to realize that my father wasn't omnipotent.

The Giants were more like a sibling, a hated rival roughly on a level with the Dodgers and bearing some of the same traits, but in a more sinister form. Where the Dodgers were wily, the Giants were sneaky (as proven years later when it came out that they had men with binoculars picking up rival teams' pitches from the catcher and relaying them by a series of signs to the batter). For me, whatever ambivalence I felt towards my father and the Yankees was pure hatred and aggression towards the Giants. The Yankees were an impersonal obstacle, too close to my father to be outright hated. The Giants, as so often happens with a fraternal figure, were the full object of my rage and venom.

Twice more I watched the Dodgers ride high into the World Series only to lose to the Yankees, who seemed to have the Devil on their side, as when Billy Martin came out of nowhere to catch a Jackie Robinson popup in the seventh inning of a deciding game. To someone else, the author of "Damn Yankees" perhaps, they seemed to have the Devil behind them, but for me,
at that point on an unconscious level, they had the confident power of the oedipal father, somehow unbeatable. Imagine my joy that bright day in October, 1955 when the Dodgers won the World Series.

Rooting for a baseball team for me, and I assume for many others, expresses the universal and never-ending hope as well as the countervailing pessimism for an oedipal victory. As long as I continue to have the ambivalent wish of a small boy to usurp my father's power, prestige and sexual dominance, I will find a renewal of that wish every April, and, sadly, a reminder of the true family dynamics all but an occasional October.

Herb Stein, class of '62 (psychoanalyst and baseball fan)

Oedipus Mets

I read with fond amusement the article by Herb Stein.
As a 1962 Graduate, heís a fellow classmate of mine.
Although I knew him slightly, I was astute enough to think,
That he had the brains and acumen to one day be a shrink.
I too was a Dodger fan, Iím sure you couldnít care less.
But when they left from Brooklyn, my life became a mess.
I suffered from depression, I even wet the bed.
I thought Iíd have to root for those hated Yankees instead.
William Shea my savior, Hooray, a team to call my own.
Now it's Throneberry, Thomas, Kanehl and even Elio Chacon.
Those lovable losing New York Mets to whom I can relate.
No more Oedipal conflicts, my egoís now first rate.
Marty Nislick
FRHS, 1962

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