Baseball Judgments

Baseball Judgments |
The fall in the Bronx


By Roger Weber


Each autumn when America turns its focus back to baseball for a couple weeks the same cries resonate everywhere not in the Bronx.


And no, it isn’t “unfair” that the Yankees pay three times as much for their team as most other teams.


It isn’t unjust, wrong, malicious, evil or illegal, and it isn’t an example of capitalism screwing the little guy. George Steinbrenner has the money and he’s willing to spend it to have an annually good team.


But that doesn’t make it free satisfaction for the fans.


The Yankees paid out $208 million for their 2005 team, $195 million in 2006. The American League’s other three playoff teams in 2006 had team salaries combining to $195 million. And combined, they won 284 games.


The Yankees’ organization paid nearly four times as much per win as baseball’s worst team, Tampa Bay, yet the Yankees’ average home attendance was nearly three times that of Tampa Bay.


That’s the point that doesn’t make sense. As glorious a picture as is painted of baseball as America’s national pastime – of blue skies and green fields, of long summer evenings taking in the smell of the grass, the taste of hot dogs and the crunch of peanut shells, of fathers and sons playing catch in suburban front yards, of players signing autographs and kids standing open-mouthed peering for the first time onto the expanse of the outfield while businessmen enjoy a cold beer over the game – in baseball anymore winning is a fan’s top priority.


Whether it’s the ESPN culture where scores and standings are everything or whether people just don’t care where their ticket money goes, it’s hard to believe so many people are Yankee fans.


Simply, the Yankees are not impressive. 100 wins on a 200 million dollar team shouldn’t cut it.


If I were a Yankee fan, I would be satisfied with nothing short of an undefeated season. After all, the Twins can win 2/3 of their games with a payroll 1/3 of yours. The Yankees paid 125 million dollars more than the average league salary for 16 wins more than .500. Were 16 games worth 125 million dollars? Congratulations if you think so.


They say lottery winners often become unhappy after they win big. I doubted that, but I think now I understand why. Being a Yankee fan is like sitting on a couch, eating grease and accomplishing nothing – in the end it doesn’t feel very good. It’s luxuriating in the fact that your team can and will win with the drop of a few moneybags, but there’s really nothing satisfying about it. After all, when meeting your goal is winning the World Series, what’s the dream?


It’s a shame, too, because in the pastoral ideal, the Yankees once defined the American spirit. They built dynasties that were so overpowering and so inspiring and their greatest players were heroes. Yankee Stadium was every kid’s dream. In the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘70s and the mid-‘90s the Yankees played the field and got winners – they built a tradition. In the new millennium, though, they seem so intent on preserving the winning tradition they’ll abandon what made them inspiring for so long. No longer do we have the succession of “Yankee greats” of Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle. Instead we get whoever will help them win, for whatever price. Yes, the greats got mega-salaries, but at least the Yankees stuck with them, unlike the current crop whose stars change when a big time free agent becomes available.


Even if they don’t make the playoffs, I’d rather watch my hometown Reds. I like seeing minor league call-ups turn to stars, veteran pitches regain their form, teams fuse together with an over-clichéd term called “chemistry,” and I like seeing a .500 team in May get on a hot streak and streak into a playoff race out of nowhere, and feeling I’m a part of it.


And sometimes you get the surprises. The ’90 Reds, the ’03 Marlins, the ’02 Angels - teams whose miraculous seasons can be a kid’s best memory for years to come. Those teams exceeded expectations. They didn’t just meet them.


And those who stayed around as fans of those teams felt more joy and sense of accomplishment in winning than any number of Yankee titles built Steinbrenner’s way ever could give.


Like in real life, though, people take the easy way out and cheer for the Yankees, because the traits of baseball that, when showed in Field of Dreams make grown men cry, don’t matter out of the realm of fantasy and idealism. And if for some (even Yankee) fans they do, too many Yankee fans don’t understand them.


If we can’t convince them, we might as well take pride in seeing them lose. It’s ironic that the fall of a Yankee flag should bring so much joy.


And it’s a shame too – I don’t want to hate the Yankees. 


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