click to enlarge
For all of us who are excited to a vaguely disturbing extent by the misfortune of the Yankees, 2009 began with immense promise. The A-Rod scandal and injury was followed by poor play and a general malaise at the new stadium, which was gimmicky and frequently not filled to capacity
. As they hemorrhaged game after game to the rival Red Sox, it appeared that the franchise was indeed in a kind of serious spiral — misjudgment after misjudgment finally catching up with them, a pending purgatory of ten years or more out of contention seemed plausible. And then... it all turned around. A-Rod came back and began pounding home runs with impunity. The annual “can't miss” free agent bonanza consisting of pitcher CC Sabathia and slugging first basemen Mark Teixeira came around following a poor start, and suddenly it seemed they couldn't lose.
The Yankees have, as of this writing, won nine of their last ten games and established a 2 1/2 game lead in the AL East. It would seem that they cannot be simply wished away. And so, in the burnished spirit of community and tolerance which is the very hallmark of the Proven System, we will now engage in a journey of mutual understanding. For the remainder of the season, Yankees fans will be periodically invited to explain their strange proclivities, the better that we can understand, and perhaps, eventually, accept them. First up: Michael Patrick Nelson, Managing Editor of the Long Island Press
and perversely devoted Yankees obsessive. Behold, with wonderment, his unorthodox reality:
Are the Yankees, as some have suggested, emblematic of all that is sinister, bloated and excessive in American life? How do we grade the achievements of a team with their payroll and resources, against those of say, the Twins or Angels?
You know, I'm not sure the two parts of this question are really directly related. However, rather than get tangled in semantics or intent, I'll address both halves separately. With regard to (A), I don't believe that's entirely accurate; when I think of America's bloated excess, I think of suburban sprawl, fast food, junk culture, SUVs lined up in morning traffic… in short, I think of the Dallas Cowboys. However, I do like the image of the Yankees as "sinister:" sly, dashing villains with unholy might and devilish powers of persuasion and seduction. As far as (B) goes, the only scale on which we can grade the Yankees is the same scale on which we grade every other Major League club, i.e., the standings. The common misconception is that money should buy the best players, but in today's baseball landscape, that's not necessarily true: Money buys the best free agents, but once players have reached free agency, they are typically either at their exact peak or past their peak, and therefore, should have nowhere to go but down. The Yankees' money primarily allows them the following advantages: (1) it gives them freedom to take on other teams' unwieldy contracts (think Bobby Abreu from a few years back) and eat their own bad contracts (e.g., Kei Igawa, Carl Pavano); (2) it permits them to keep their own stars and attract the top free agents, and then, (3) it gives them some leeway to eat THOSE contracts once they go bad. At best, the Yankees' money helps to keep them competitive on a consistent basis, and should result in a greater win-loss record over multiple seasons (which it has), but it doesn't make them prohibitive favorites in any individual season.