Say what you will about how they build their team, how they outspend everyone else in the game, about their economic and big-market advantages.
But the Yankees are where it’s at in baseball. And it’s been that way forever.
Even during the last eight championship-free years, the Yankees have been the center of the sport. Everyone else was judged in comparison to them. I equate them to the Jordan-era Bulls in terms of their influence on and importance to the sport. Whether people love them or hate them, they constantly had to watch them.
Which is why, though I personally have no love lost for the franchise, I respect what they mean to baseball. As big an attraction as they were before, they have become even more so now that they will be defending champions.
And despite the amount of attention they already attracted, the brand just got even more powerful – and make no mistake, I estimate that they were already responsible for about 60% of baseball’s revenue, which I don’t believe to be a gross exaggeration.
The Yankees sell tradition, and they sell winning. And now they have a little more of each to sell. Everyone who owns (let’s be real, occasionally pretentious) apparel commemorating their 26 championships now has to replace it with something with the number 27 on it. The new Yankee Stadium, which was already a considerable draw, now has the added attraction of a world title attached to it.
What the Yankees have proved is that their business model, much maligned for their economic advantage, works – provided they make the right decisions. When the contracts for Jason Giambi, Carl Pavano and Mike Mussina ended, the Yankees took that money and put it toward CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett and Nick Swisher, providing a huge infusion fresh blood and All-Star caliber talent to what was already a super-talented (albeit high-priced) group. And though it’s not saying much, they actually lowered their payroll, deflecting at least some criticism, though it’s probably a product of just how much excess they had before.
It’s easy to say they simply bought the three best players on the market, but it’s better than spending all that money on players not worth that money, which is what they’ve done in the past. (i.e. Jaret Wright, Pavano, Kei Igawa)
And this is where it works – the Yankees have advantages over everyone else financially, and when they win, those advantages simply grow. The bandwagon grows, the people on board put more money back in, and they can keep on rolling. And as other high-priced talent ages and moves on – Hideki Matsui may not be back, though his final act etched his name in Yankees lore forever – they can reassign those funds to younger players on the market.
Who’s to say they won’t take the money from Matsui and Johnny Damon and go after Matt Holliday? Or John Lackey?
And what would stop them? They have little incentive to hold back provided they’re doing it within the constraints of their budget, which is considerable. And they may be more able to lure prominent players who want to play for a winner, compete for championships.
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be a Yankees fan. I thought there would be an inherent pressure attached – it’s World Series or bust. There is no room for moral victory, or any sort of small victory at all. It’s always big picture. Without the “ring,” a season is widely considered by most to be an abject failure. As a backer of teams that have not always been particularly strong, I’ve been fascinated by that culture of expected greatness.
But the payoff can be enormous as well. As a Yankees backer, you can allow yourself to be swept up by the team’s history and tradition. You’re part of a great fraternity; anywhere you go, you’re likely to find someone who shares your affiliation.
Don’t get me wrong, we all know our share of Yankees fans, quick to rub the team’s historical and recent success in the faces of fans of other teams. I think the sense of entitlement is what has always rubbed me the wrong way. This nine-year drought they “suffered through,” in which the Yankees made it to the playoffs every year but one, that’s nothing in the grand scheme of things, as many longtime loyal fans of other teams would tell you.
But I know plenty of Yankees fans who don’t do that, and with whom I was glad to share their happiness. Though it almost seemed anticlimactic given how well they played this year after bringing in all that talent, it’s not every day – or every decade – that the team you root for wins a championship.
So where do we go from here?
Well, the beat goes on for the Yankees. The one weakness the team had this year was a thin starting rotation that led Joe Girardi to go to a three-man rotation in the World Series. Assuming they can shore up their staff, and there’s no reason to think they can’t and won’t, they’ll be right back in the mix next season.
For their fans, they can enjoy a team that’s back on top of the baseball world, which most fans think is their rightful place.
And maybe it is. The Yankees have been the greatest show in the game every season, even when there have been better teams. Though not a Yankees fan, I actually found myself disappointed when they didn’t make the playoffs last season. Things are more interesting when they’re involved.
Dating back to the days of DiMaggio going right up to the Era of A-Rod, the Yankees have always had the most fascinating personalities. They’ve always been a magnet for intrigue.
And though I’ve never been quick to embrace this, the fact that the most high-profile team is back at the top of the sport just seems like it’s how it should be.
But if they make a habit out of it, which it appears they might just do, we may long for the days that the Yankees were unsuccessful in their efforts to purchase the best team in the game.
For now, let’s give credit where credit is due. When you think about the sport of baseball, the first thought is about the New York Yankees. And that’s nothing new.