The New York Yankees are 21-24, 9½ games behind the first place Boston Red Sox. Understandably, the New York City media is bashing the Bombers, and Yankees fans are stricken with panic, inching closer to leaping off the ledge. This reaction is with good reason. The team that general manager Brian Cashman has assembled is just – well, simply put, it is not very good. The roster is littered with underachieving primadonnas and players who were once great but are now on the downside of their careers.
Regardless of how you feel about the Yankees, one thing is certain. Outside of New York City and Yankeeland (the less loyal version of Red Sox Nation), baseball fans do not care about the Yankees struggles. They do not care about the Yankees at all. Yankees fans wonder why everyone roots against them. That one is easy. For years, the Yankees have represented what most people detest – arrogance, elitism and a sense of entitlement. Baseball fans did not dislike the Bombers because they won; however, they were repulsed at how the Yankees won.
Before the age of revenue sharing, the Yankees and George Steinbrenner made the most of playing in the nation’s top media market, and the financial windfall that allowed. The Yankees were able to acquire and sign any player they wanted while winning three consecutive World Series titles from 1998-2000, and four in five years with the 1996 crown. Then something spectacular happened. A bloop single from the bat of Luis Gonzalez scored the winning run and lifted the Arizona Diamondbacks to a Game Seven win over the Yankees in the 2001 World Series. Outside of Yankeeland, the baseball world celebrated, and it hasn’t stopped cheering at the Yankees misfortune since.
Today, the Yankees are Major League Baseball’s version of the Buffalo Bills – close but not good enough. You can thank revenue sharing for leveling the playing field. George Steinbrenner can no longer hog all of his money, and rightfully so. Revenue sharing not only allows small market teams to acquire through trades and sign as free agents key players, but it also gives these teams the resources to upgrade scouting and player development staff, and enhance their minor league system by signing high-profile prospects in the draft.
Just as the salary cap has made the NBA and the NFL more competitive, revenue sharing has transformed Major League Baseball into a sport where you never know who will win the World Series from year to year. The Red Sox are not a small market team. John Henry has thankfully shown a willingness to open his wallet and sign high-profile players. Of course – unlike the Yankees, who have fielded an All-Star team of position players that looks much better on paper than the results they produce on the field – Henry, Theo Epstein and Terry Francona have fielded a true team, composed of a roster with gritty role players like Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Julio Lugo and Jason Varitek. Only Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are true superstars. Not even Curt Schilling is in that category any longer.
There is no doubt that the Yankees will make a run. They might even contend for a post-season berth. The bottom line is that the Yankees will have more years like this one in the future since the playing field is leveled. There will be more years like 2006, when the Detroit Tigers emerge from the depths of their division and a team like the St. Louis Cardinals catch fire at the right time. The Sox will have years like 2006 as well. Unlike the Sox, though, the Yankees are disliked by most people outside of Yankeeland. Just as we like to see celebrities who are arrogant, egocentric and pompous fall flat on their face, we enjoy when the Yankees suffer the same fate.
Playing in the nation’s largest city, the Yankees will always have the game’s highest payroll. The Sox are a distant second, and not even close to topping George Steinbrenner’s wallet. Unlike a decade ago when the Yankees were king, there are several other teams that can sign and trade for players who once would have gone to the Bronx. Of course, the Yankees bankroll still has clout. It allowed Joe Torre to add Bobby Abreu to the roster at last year’s trading deadline (how is that working out, Mr. Cashman?). It has also permitted the Yankees to add a soon-to-be 45-year-old Roger Clemens, who will make $1 million every five days for five to six innings of work. That makes me wonder if it is Cashman, and not Torre, who deserves a ticket out of New York.
It doesn’t matter how the rest of the Yankees season progresses. They could make a comeback and secure the Wild Card, or they could even make a miraculous turnaround and win the American League East. Or, they could completely miss the playoffs. It is obvious that the Yankees have too many question marks in their rotation, and too weak of a bullpen, to legitimately contend for a World Series title. That is good for baseball, and a fact that leads baseball fans outside of Yankeeland to smile. For fans who do not wear the NY logo, seeing their team win and/or the Yankees falter is a source of great pleasure.
Get used to it, Yankees fans. There will be many more late October celebrations that don’t involve a team with pinstripes.