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The Yankees and The Prince

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For the sheer enjoyment of it I chose to use some passages from Niccolo Machiavelli’s masterpiece The Prince to discuss the New York Yankees and their recent exit from the post season. You will find it applies to other modern sports teams. It’s quite the stretch to compare The Republican city-states of Italy and the New York Yankees, but fun nonetheless. Besides, Steinbrenner and Machiavelli would probably have shared a game of backgammon.

The Yankees don’t win anymore. Like Renaissance Italy, the grandeur and aura of New York is crumbling (okay, not really crumbling but work with me) before our eyes. Why?

“…Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies…”

How many mercenaries are in the Yankee lineup? The New York Rangers tried (and still do) that route. Notice how they fell apart in the playoffs against the New Jersey Devils — a team that does not rely on the mercenary athlete.

“….they are ready enough to be your soldiers whilst you do not make war, but if war comes they take themselves off or run from the foe; which I should have little trouble to prove, for the ruin of Italy has been caused by nothing else than by resting all her hopes for many years on mercenaries, and although they formerly made some display and appeared valiant amongst themselves, yet when the foreigners came they showed what they were. Thus it was that Charles, King of France, was allowed to seize Italy with chalk in hand; * and he who told us that our sins were the cause of it told the truth, but they were not the sins he imagined, but those which I have related. And as they were the sins of princes, it is the princes who have also suffered the penalty.

The King of France, for our sake here, are the Detroit Tigers who in turn took advantage of the impotence and disunity of the Yankees. Just as Charles did in invading Italy. Terrell Owens is another example of a roaming effective mercenary with scant notions of chivalry and honour.

“…the mercenary captains are either capable men or they are not; if they are, you cannot trust them, because they always aspire to their own greatness, either by oppressing you, who are their master, or others contrary to your intentions; but if the captain is not skilful, you are ruined in the usual way….”

Derek Jeter proved to be a faux Prince? That’s a tad unfair of course. Jeter is the face of the Yankees. He is the offspring of their development system. He is to the Yankee organization what the De Medici’s were to Florence. Yet, he did not stand up for the Republic when it mattered most. He padded his numbers but failed to lead them into battle this time around. He led himself. Johnny Damon, for his part, is a misplaced Prince who belongs elsewhere. The mercenaries around Jeter turned the other way.

As for managers, aside from the ironic fact that Joe Torre is of Italian extract, are they but mere mirages? Is the problem deeper than a manager change?

“…and as with these examples I have reached Italy, which has been ruled for many years by mercenaries…”

Rebuild your farm system. Build from within. The Yankees are busy plucking players from abroad. This will only ruffle The Princes. Raise unhealthy jealousy. Reestablish organizational trust. Native sons always provide unconditional love. The defunct Montreal Expos, Anaheim Angels, Atlanta Braves and Oakland A’s know all this.

Conclusion: Bring in more mercenaries without tempering it with loyal sons and watch the Yankees whither.

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About Alessandro Nicolo