So, I have this New York tradition. Every time I come to town I buy a flimsy and wildly overpriced umbrella in some vaguely shady store that sells preposterous New York souvenirs like those miniature Statues of Liberty with
In any case, I walked into this store on Seventh Avenue to purchase TWO of these New York classic umbrellas (since this time I managed to get my whole family stuck in the rain with me). And I walked smack into the middle of one of those beautiful, sarcastic and movie-like New York conversations. You should know up front that I love New York. I love the little things, I love the rhythms, the crustiness, the smoke rising from the vents, the smells of whatever it is the street vendors are REALLY selling, the death-defying cab rides, the tabloid wars, the revolving doors, the ludicrous prices, the self-reverence, the way so many New Yorkers assume that everyone who lives outside of the city lives on a farm, the pastrami piled high enough to block the sun. And as much as anything, I love New York conversations. If you keep your ears open in the city you will catch
Anyway, I walked in on this great conversation built around the Yankees and the signing of
But I love the New York frenzy for two reasons. One, I think baseball is much more fun when the Yankees are a truly despicable team that every non-Yankee fan in America can hate without conscience. There were too many shades of gray in 1998, when the Yankees were a pretty likable bunch, and again in 2001 when the World Series was going on while Ground Zero still burned. It's more fun when the Yankees do stuff like this and give us a clear cut, pro wrestling type of villain.
Two, more significantly, it always gives me great comfort to see the following facts:
That's extraordinary, if you think about it: Almost 90 percent of major league teams have reached the World Series in the past 30 years. And the four teams that didn't reach had their good moments, too. The Cubs have made the playoffs six times and, well, only their Cubbiness has kept them from reaching the Series. The Mariners won 116 games in 2001, the most for any team ever. The Montreal Expos had some excellent teams and might have won it all in '94, year of the strike, when they had the young
By comparison, NFL teams that have not made the Super Bowl the last 30 years include: The Jets, Browns, Chiefs, Saints, Cardinals, Lions, Jaguars, Texans and Vikings, That's 10, almost one-third of all the teams in the NFL.
I don't mean to make this sound like a defense of baseball's system. The system's lousy. The Yankees over the last 14 years have spent a half million dollars in payroll more than the Boston Red Sox or any other team (they have spent 1.2
But it is also amazing how baseball, the game itself, defies the takeover efforts of corporate raiders. The Yankees won their World Series when the team was, to a large degree, home grown. They famously have not won a World Series since paying big bucks to sign
I'm not saying that the Yankees will not win in 2009 -- that's an awfully good team now, absolutely the best that money can buy. But just remember that key fact: 20 teams have won a World Series in the last 30 years. And by comparison:
The beautiful thing about most Yankees fans I know is that they tend to be largely untroubled by their team's spending and the national anger that surrounds it and even the basic questions of fairness and unfairness. I am, of course, generalizing here: Not everyone is like that. I know of many Yankees fans who appreciate that their team has an unfair advantage -- they might even be a little bit sheepish about it -- but, in the end, hey, what can they do? Stop being a fan? No. They'll live with it. Plus, Teixeira looks good in the three-hole.
I also hear from some Yankees fans who deny that the Yankees really have an unfair advantage. They point out that, hey, it's not the Yankees fault that
But back to most of the Yankees fans I know: They are just kind of oblivious to it all. They are not defensive or proud of the Yankees free-spending ways. They are also not unfeeling toward other less fortunate teams. Truth is, they don't even think about any of that. They accept the Yankees' advantages as their birthright, not unlike the way someone born into a rich family must think that everyone has a maid and an 8 a.m. tee time at the club.
I'll give you an example: There were numerous stories written after the latest signing that hit upon the theme that Teixeira is a great fit for the Yankees and he will do the team a lot of good. Well, as we used to say when I was a kid: No duh. He's 28 and bland (in a good baseball way) and he has a good glove, and he switch hits, and he punched up 150 and 151 OPS+ numbers the last two seasons. Good fit? Maybe that's why he cost 180 million smackeroos. Good fit? Really? What was your first clue, Professor Plum? Who the heck are these stories written for?
And then I heard from a friend of mine, a Yankees fan, and I realized EXACTLY who is the target audience for those stories. My friend wrote, "I was a bit skeptical of the Teixeira signing, but the more I read about him, the more I think he will be a perfect fit for the pinstripes." That was what he wrote. It was mind-boggling. It did not seem to occur to him that at least 28 other teams would have loved to sign Teixeira (not sure where he would play in St. Louis). It did not seem to occur to him that while Teixeira might be a good fit for the Yankees, he would have been a MUCH BETTER fit for Kansas City or Pittsburgh or Seattle or any number of teams that need a whole lot more help than the Bombers.
It did not seem to occur to him that spending $180 million more to buy one of the best hitters in baseball for one of the best teams in baseball is excessive, overkill, and in the classic words of
And that (finally) takes me back to the souvenir shop where I bought my umbrella. There were three guys arguing -- I caught the argument in progress so I sort of had to catch up. Best I could tell, the most talkative guy (named
Then there was was a third guy, a quiet guy, who I suspected is a lot like the Yankees fans I know.
OK, so, Manny was saying, "You add Teixeira in there, man this thing is OVER. They don't even need to play next season." Darryl, in response, was saying that the Yankees will be under tremendous to win.
"That [bleep] don't matter," Manny was saying quite reasonably. "There's always pressure on the Yankees to win."
"And when was the last time the Yankees DID win?" Darryl asked, another reasonable point.
"Doesn't matter. Now the Yankees got CC and Burnett and all that pitching, and the lineup's gonna score a lot of runs ..."
"The Mets got
"Yeah, well, the Mets don't have
And so on. It was pretty entertaining stuff in a
And here's what he said: "Wait a minute. Who the [bleep] is Xavier Nady?"