Update: The New York Daily News has reported that the Yankees and the Bleacher Creatures have come to an agreement to end their controversial tradition.
The Bleacher Creatures embody the best or worst of New York Yankees fans, based on your point of view.
This group of die-hard fans, who now occupy Section 203, are notorious for both their vociferous, unconventional cheering for the home boys and merciless jeering of the opposing team and fans.
The unofficial fan club’s origin is credited to Ali Ramirez, who started bringing a cowbell to inspire other fans to cheer. For the past quarter-century or so, the Bleacher Creatures have boosted the Yanks’ team morale while tormenting the opposition.
When Ramirez died on May 6, 1996, the Yankees front office recognized his grassroots devotion and operation by installing an honorary plaque in the seat he occupied at the former Yankee Stadium.
Unless you are a member of the Bleacher Creatures, an avid Yankees fan, a ticket holder who has sat next to them, or someone unlucky enough to have been on the receiving end of their taunts, most people have no idea of the group’s activities.
Frankly, either nobody really cared or paid much attention to the group’s antics.
That changed recently, as the Bleacher Creatures have started attracting more scrutiny in the aftermath of gay suicides and an alarming number of anti-gay bullying and violence.
Last week, in the New York City area alone, three older teens beat and slapped a 14-year-old on a school bus because of perceived homosexuality. This incident followed just days after 11 men were charged in the Bronx in what city officials say is one of the worst cases of anti-gay violence in recent memory. The crime that occurred in the Yankees’ home borough involved four victims who experienced a 20-hour rampage involving sodomy, beatings with a baseball bat and torture by cigarette burns.
In light of these atrocious events, some people including activist Sean Chapin have questioned and exposed the Bleacher Creatures’ nature and behavior for the larger public to witness.
One can clearly see from the story’s video that the group’s chants are graphic and homophobic. Granted, members have probably repeated these actions for years without repercussion or attracting much of a hoot.
However, in a city struggling to address a rash of hate crimes and a growing list of gay suicides nationwide, the Bleacher Creatures’ chants have hit a nerve too many, including the Yankees organization.
According to the Bleacher Creatures’ online bulletin board, the unofficial leaders of the group had a meeting with team officials over this issue.
Who knows if the organization would have addressed the group’s behavior had the cultural climate been different?
Judging from history, it more than likely would have chosen to ignore. But with the possibility of a disastrous public relations crisis may have forced the Yankees to acknowledge an ongoing problem, if the Bleacher Creatures’ online forum is to be believed.
Sociopolitical implications aside, the worst of the Bleacher Creatures’ behavior truly goes against the character of the New York franchise.
This is a team and fan community that rallied against the intolerant comments of John Rocker, then a relief pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, a decade ago. Yankees fans stood in solidarity against bigotry and embraced, implicitly at least, the diversity reflected among the fan base and the city itself.
So for a fan group, unofficial but as indigenous as the Bleacher Creatures, to be participating in the same intolerance that the fan community once condemned is completely antithetical to character of the Bronx Bombers and of the city the team calls home.
Regardless of how or if the Yankees resolve the Bleacher Creatures situation, the organization faces a public relations question.
Yes, the world’s most famous team will still undoubtedly emerge as the world’s most famous team, but the matter will affect the franchise’s image, even if the net effect is small.
Will Major League Baseball’s greatest franchise lead yet again by example, or will its final play simply produce another excuse to hate the “Evil Empire?”