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Bandbox vulgarity

Tomorrow night, one of our liveliest and most cherished local rituals will be revived: hating the New York Yankees.

So, unfortunately, will a couple of the worst: vulgar chants and obscene sidewalk fashion.

The "Yankees suck" culture has become so pervasive that I heard the cheer go up twice at games last week, when the Yankees were hundreds of miles away.

Now, I happen to be a huge baseball fan and a person who is anything but easily offended. I'm a newspaper columnist, after all. I've listened to people say all kinds of things, in various states of sobriety. I almost never care. But this bugs me.

Its inaccuracy isn't what troubles me about it, or why I think it should be retired, or why I think Red Sox management should put some political muscle to work ridding Kenmore Square of those Jeter-directed T-shirts that I wouldn't quote even if my editor would let me.

What really bothers me is that it's bush league. It's crude. It's everything this city, at its best, is not.

As anyone who follows the Red Sox knows, the intensity of the rivalry with the Yankees has gone through the roof in recent years, inevitably described as the sporting equivalent of an all-out arms race. It's gone from being one of the great rivalries in baseball -- on a par with, say, the Giants and the Dodgers -- to become the best rivalry in baseball, approaching the fiercest rivalry in all sports.

Mostly that progression has been fun. Ten or 15 years ago, Sox fans were plagued with self-defeating beliefs in curses and Calvinism. Now we Believe. Even after Grady Little, we believe, and rightly so.

And, yes, we cherish our passion. Part of the deal with Boston sports is that we care. Were you here last October, that awful day after the season ended? It was like a citywide wake. This doesn't go on everywhere and maybe not anywhere else. We were in mourning. In its strange way, it was a great feeling. There are no mixed feelings, no double meanings, no irony when it comes to the Sox. As Game 7 reminded us, there are no ambiguous endings, either.

Sports fans have taken a beating recently. When a Texas Rangers pitcher hit an Oakland A's fan in the face with a chair last week, more than one commentator mentioned that fans are now out of control in their desire to be part of the show, as if being attacked while cheering was almost just deserts. That's nuts. Sports is one of the last areas in which wearing your heart on your sleeve is acceptable behavior. More passion, I say, not less.

Obscenity is another matter. It's not passionate. It's just a crass, knee-jerk reaction. It isn't about loving your team; it's just about venting age-old frustrations. It isn't clever or witty, just tired.

And what about the alleged family-friendly atmosphere we're always told Fenway possesses? Parents I know cringe when this topic comes up. Taking your child to his or her first game is, as the saying goes, priceless. Teaching your children to chant something vulgar, or explaining why they shouldn't, is distinctly low-rent by comparison.

This wouldn't be the first expression of fandom to be retired. When I started attending major sporting events in the 1970s in football-mad Florida, I heard all kinds of things in the stands that would now instantly be rejected as homophobic. Slowly, fans grew up. And, there wasn't any loss of passion as a result. Anyone who's been to a recent Miami-Florida State game will back me up on this.

So, once again we get the Yankees on our turf. May Mariano Rivera continue to choke when it really counts, and may we all savor every moment. But there's a better way to do that than the one to which, to our shame, we've become accustomed, and this is a perfect time to pull the plug.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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