Damn Yankees! Adding Roger Clemens makes the hated team from New York a bigger target

March 01, 1999

You are free to hate the Yankees again. Don't you feel better
already? Any temporary admiration you might have felt for nice
guy Joe Torre and his band of humble, lunch bucket-toting
grinders ended when they stole Roger Clemens. Adding a pitcher
with five Cy Young Awards to the winningest team in history
seems as excessive as one of those mountainous corned beef
sandwiches you get in a New York City deli. Rooting for the
Yankees is, to modernize a phrase, as much fun as rooting for
Microsoft.

But consider this: Despite all your caterwauling about
"competitive imbalance," not to mention the revenue envy of your
average Kansas City Royals fan, the Yankees' acquisition of
Clemens is good for the game. "Everyone hates the Yankees
because they win all the time," says Rick Pattison, one such
Royals fan from Topeka, Kans. "Like everyone hates the Dallas
Cowboys and the Chicago Bulls because they win all the time. The
Yankees are going to win the next five years."

Of course, they won't--and the fun lies in seeing who's going to
knock them off. The 1998 Yankees, for instance, were the first
team this decade to win the World Series after leading the
majors in regular-season victories. "We're not giving the
Yankees a damn thing," was how Cleveland Indians general manager
John Hart reacted to the Clemens trade. "We're coming after
them. We haven't fired our trade bullet yet." As the July 31
trade deadline approaches, expect the Indians to go after
Philadelphia Phillies righthander Curt Schilling or lefties
Denny Neagle of the Cincinnati Reds or David Wells of the
Toronto Blue Jays.

The jostling among the Yankees, Indians and Atlanta
Braves--those teams have won six of the eight pennants since the
1994-95 strike--is great theater, not to mention a reminder of
how quickly baseball changes. When this decade began, the
Yankees had the worst record in the American League, and the
Indians and Braves had the worst attendance in their respective
leagues.

The competitive situation does need attention--it's a problem
when the Minnesota Twins cut their starting shortstop, Pat
Meares, over the same amount of money ($3.4 million) the Yankees
will pay their backup catcher, Joe Girardi--but it's not as
horrible as commissioner Bud Selig would have you believe. Five
more new ballparks will open over the next 13 months, and
another five are in the funding stage. That leaves only four
teams with major unresolved stadium issues: the Twins, Marlins,
Expos and A's. Can you say relocation?

"Why should we all be punished for clubs who don't do the job
from a baseball perspective and a marketing perspective?" asks
one middle-market general manager, naming Kansas City as an
example of a mismanaged team hiding beneath the cover of a small
market.

Yes, in getting Clemens the rich got richer, but the Yankees
didn't buy him. What's more, they won 125 games last season in
large part because of their scouting and development. Homegrown
players took 42% of New York's at bats in the World Series and
pitched 53% of its innings. The San Diego Padres lost the Fall
Classic with only 12% of their at bats and 3% of their innings
pitched provided by players they developed.

Selig likes to believe every team should have "faith and hope"
of being competitive when the season starts. He also still
leaves a tooth under his pillow at night. Poor franchises are a
fact of sporting life, just as they were in the good ol' days.
Those who want to turn back the clock ought to check out the 21
seasons in the American League between 1934 and '54 in which the
White Sox, Browns, Senators and A's never came within seven
games of first place except for two fluke wartime years for the
Browns when many regular players were enlisted in the service.
Those four clubs lost more than they won 62 times in their
combined 84 seasons during that span, which means half the
league had almost no shot at the World Series for more than two
decades. The Yankees, meanwhile, won 13 pennants over that
period and, beginning in 1949, won 14 in 16 years. Then as now
the game prospered--Yankees be damned.

--Tom Verducci

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