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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.
Confirm or deny: the new stadium is a reckless cash grab and a poorly designed bandbox which cheapens the meaning of home runs and underscores the fundamental historical myopia of the entire franchise?
You've sort of bundled numerous accusations here, so I can't simply confirm or deny the question as a whole. But, taking it piece by piece: Reckless cash grab? Well, it wasn't done out of charity to fans or in an attempt to create jobs in the Bronx, so I think that's probably fair. Poorly designed bandbox? I think, structurally, the building is much more welcoming and fan-friendly than the building across the street, but it has some MAJOR flaws, which have been discussed at length, primarily the dismissive treatment and burial of Monument Park, the confusing and information-obscuring scoreboard, and the dimensions, which allow for lots and lots of home runs. In one way or another, all these things have to be changed for the better, but until the old Stadium is demolished, it's still not clear how the new Stadium will play. Will the wind currents change? Will that change the way the ball flies? If not (or if it creates a situation where MORE home runs are being hit), I think the organization has to aggressively address the matter. (Although, as someone who owns Alex Rodriguez in two fantasy leagues, I'm not pushing them to make those fixes just yet.) As for the historical perspective, I think that's horribly overblown: The mid-70s renovations to the old Yankee Stadium effectively leveled The House That Ruth Built. This wasn't Wrigley Field here. If the team had left the Bronx — and remember, George Steinbrenner frequently threatened to relocate the team to New Jersey ‘ I'd definitely agree, but as it stands, it's still the same subway stop, the field of play still looks awfully similar, and they're STILL the Bronx Bombers.
: Is it fair to say that any wine addled, boxcar hobo could do Brian Cashman's job just as easily, and with far greater acuity?
Frankly, I'm starting to wonder if you're not a bit biased. I can only hope I'm wrong. As for Cashman, I think he's made some bold and outstanding decisions (e.g., his choice to refrain from trading top prospects for Johan Santana because he saw a greater value in CC Sabathia, though he had no assurance that Sabathia would, a year later, sign with the Yankees) and some head-scratchers (e.g., he seems to assemble the bench as an afterthought — there is no justification for a team with this payroll to be carrying Cody Ransom on the 25-man roster). But I also think the job of a Major League general manager is generally misunderstood, and as a Yankee fan, I'd much rather have Brian Cashman at the helm than pretty much any wine-addled boxcar hobo… or Omar Minaya.