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The Great Yankee Deflation

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I didn’t cry when the New York Yankees won the World Series last week. I didn’t mope, or bite my tongue, or call home and complain until I turned blue.

Don’t get me wrong — I was angry. The veins in my head looked like a road map through West Texas. But within the anger was an emptiness, a what’s-the-point? voice that made me deflate quicker than Brad Lidge’s confidence. After years of battling New York’s legacy, trying at every turn to chide them and reprimand them and belittle them, I had never felt more defeated. The energy had fast drained from me. The Yankees had won. My cause had been crushed.

It wasn’t what I’d expected. I’ve always been full of ill will toward the Yankees, so I thought seeing them win would cause my eyes to pop from their sockets and bring a hailstorm of fire and brimstone from the sky.

See, I don’t hate things — except the Yankees. Through the years I’ve waltzed the halls in a “Yankees Suck” shirts, bounced around AIM with a yankeessuck moniker, turned up to every Yankees-Mariners series I could just to shove as much vitriol in George Steinbrenner’s ears as I could possibly muster. Twenty-one years of it, and I have it down to a T. I danced with a Diamondbacks’ jersey in 2001; I snapped up Marlins memorabilia in 2003; I became an Idiot in 2004. I was only 12 years old the last time the Yankees won, still entranced with my LEGOs and fruitlessly trying to figure out how to interact with girls. (Some things never change.) So, throughout my adolescence and into my young adulthood, I had never truly known what a Yankees World Series victory feels like. I’d experienced it in childhood, but never as a fully rational being.

And it sucks. Man, does it suck.

Seeing Alex Rodriguez throw his arms in the air, track marks and all, turned my rumbling stomach into a beehive of nausea. Watching Joe Girardi’s confusedly happy looks — surely, he was just elated he couldn’t wriggle his way out of another victory — was more than enough to bring the walls of my baseball Jericho crashing down. Witnessing the New York faithful drunkenly declare “27” on their hats and shirts and banners put my head in a vice that wouldn’t stop tightening.

The only person I felt the slightest tinge of happiness for — perhaps it’s because I wear my hats cocked like he does — was CC Sabathia, who told me this summer that thoughts of winning the World Series gave him chills. I couldn’t see the goosebumps as Sabathia’s gut bounced dangerously in the postgame celebration, but I hoped that somewhere, deep within that whale-sized gullet, was the sense that the victory was wrought by more than just dollar signs.

And as I saw Sabathia jiggle, it dawned on me: I wasn’t feeling this emptiness because the Yankees had won. That’s what was causing the bubbling, broiling resentment, the meat of which I’d felt my entire life. Rather, the emptiness came from the fact that it was all so … anticlimactic.

Check the setting. In 2009 the Yankees spent $52 million more than any other squad, a number that’s as ridiculous as it is unimaginable. They could subsume the Marlins, Padres, Pirates and Nationals, and still have enough left over for a frontline starter. They spent nearly a half a billion dollars — a half a billion dollars — on three free agents in the offseason. They charitably donated the largest contract in professional sports to Mr. Steroid. They spat in the eye of the revenue-sharing system to purports to promote parity.

They put forth every measure they could to guarantee that they would win the World Series. And then, they did.

And that was that.

You could see it in Jorge Posada’s fist-pump after the game, a muted, professional means of celebration that would befit bowling a strike better than a World Series victory. You could see it when Mariano Rivera let slip a smile, as if he’d just watched an episode if Scrubs instead of polished off a championship ring. You could see it in the formulaic, tried-and-true manner with which Girardi addressed the media after the game, appealing to the bogus notion that “Mr. Stenibrenner deserves another championship.”

Bureaucracy had bested desire in the quest for the title. Emotion was for juveniles; championships are for the automatrons, for those who do nothing but their jobs, for those who are supposed to win. The sense of victory was empty. The dollar signs had won.

In a sense, I feel for Yankees’ fans — they’ll never know the unadulterated joy of a Royals’ championship, or a Nationals’ championship, or even a Mariners’ championship. Sure, they have more rings, but in the age-old argument of quality versus quantity, we always know which one wins.

That’s not to disparage the Yankees’ history. This summer I had the great fortune of seeing Yogi Berra waddle past me — with my reporters’ hat on, the only thing I could think of to say was that we had the same birthday — in the visiting team’s clubhouse. (He proceeded to wrap Ken Griffey Jr. in a bear hug, a moment I’ve already rehearsed talking about with my future children.) I was on the field when Reggie Jackson, ever the character, entertained fans with his colorful stories. I even wrote a high school entry essay about my respect for the 1927 Murderers' Row, arguably the most competent lineup ever compiled.

No, I don’t want to disparage history. I only mean to disparage the current incarnation, the one that bullies the beleaguered and turns parity into a farce. The team that buys the rings, cheapens the hardware, transforms the season into little more than a two-bit pawn shop.

This is a team that I won’t cry for. But this is also a team that makes me feel emptier than anything in sports ever could.

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