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How Baseball Became America vs. the Damn Yankees

Posted on May 19, 2010
AP / Julie Jacobson

Fans walk past the team emblem outside Yankee Stadium before Game 2 of the 2009 World Series between the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies.

Go, Red Sox-er, Rays!

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For me, the baseball season is a nine-month campaign to find someone who can beat the Yankees, a feeling as American as apple pie, or, as Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko once put it, “as American as pizza pie, unwed mothers, and cheating on your income tax.”

The comedian Joe E. Lewis said that rooting for the Yankees “is like rooting for U.S. Steel.” Columnist Jimmy Cannon—who was from New York—said it was “like owning a yacht.”

And that was before George Steinbrenner, when the Yankees were merely smug about using their superior resources to take Babe Ruth from the Red Sox and anyone they wanted from the Kansas City A’s.

Then came the loud, pathetically attention-seeking but undeniably canny Steinbrenner, who built them into such a financial behemoth that his loud, no more gracious and totally inexperienced son, Hank, could assume operational control in 2009 without missing a beat.


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In familiar style, the new Boss, same as the old Boss, forced out Joe Torre—the manager who had put a human face on the organization while winning its only four championships in 20 years, but none since 2000—hired Joe Girardi and went right back into the winner’s circle.

Sneered Hank, to the delight of the New York tabloids when Torre dared to express his disappointment: “Where was Joe’s career in ’95 when my dad hired him?”

Of course, a kid off the street, which was what Hank was, could run a team with experienced, if long-suffering, executives like Brian Cashman ... not to mention a $201 million payroll in 2009, $52 million more than the No. 2 Boston Red Sox.

In income distribution, modern baseball makes Ronald Reagan look like Vladimir Ilyich Lenin with a laughable disparity between the super-rich (Yankees), the rich with payrolls over $125 million (Red Sox, Cubs, Phillies, Mets), the well-off over $100 million (Tigers, White Sox, Angels), the middle class over $70 million (Giants, Twins, Cardinals, Dodgers, Astros, Braves, Rockies, Orioles, Brewers, Reds, Royals, Rays) and the rabble (Nationals, Indians, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Rangers, Athletics, Padres, Pirates).

Baseball has always proceeded according to the law of the jungle with the Yankees as King Kong, but in the past even they never dominated financially as they do now.

In 1996, when Torre’s underdogs came from 2-0 down to upset the Braves, their $58 million payroll was $10 million more than No. 2 Baltimore, a “somewhat reasonable” 19 percent gap, according to Torre and co-writer Tom Verducci in their book, “The Yankee Years.”

In 2009, with the Yankees in a new stadium, making $100 million-plus in rights fees and profits from the YES cable network, the gap was a somewhat obscene 34 percent.

As sportswriter Joe Posnanski notes, the Yankees have underachieved on the field, with payrolls worth $1.9 billion over the last 10 years.

Happily for the game, it isn’t so easy to predict that spending equals success. If you don’t believe it, check out the top five National League hitters as of May 17:

1. Andre Ethier, Los Angeles: .392

2. Marlon Byrd, Chicago: .345

3. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee: .343

4. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh: .340

5. Jayson Werth, Philadelphia:  .333

Unhappily, for every franchise like Minnesota, which makes the playoffs regularly with payrolls in the $70-80 million range (if only because it’s in the low-wattage AL Central and still hasn’t been past the first round in 18 years), there are more like Kansas City (no postseason appearance in 24 years) and Pittsburgh (17 years), where the season is over before it starts—meaning it never really starts.

Or, maybe your idea of fun is thinking along with Oakland’s Billy Beane, the star of Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball,” a book about an allegedly slick young GM who cheats a system set up for the rich.

It’s true, the A’s made the playoffs ... for one round, anyway ... in the sleepy AL West, in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2006.

Unfortunately, the system has since struck back, with the A’s winning only 76, 75 and 75 games the last three seasons, which is what happens when you have to turn loose Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Johnny Damon, Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, et al., as soon as they’re eligible for free agency.

Nobody in baseball, not even small-market owners and GMs, says much about this tilted playing field anymore, as if they’re all frogs in a pot that had the heat turned up under them incrementally until they boiled.

The new apologia is the statistic showing nine teams competing in the last five World Series out of a possible 10.

That, of course, has as much to do with the modern postseason, which has three rounds, compared to the one the Yankees played while winning their first 20 World Championships, between 1923 and 1962.

Under the old system, the Yankees would have played in seven of the last 12 World Series, and the playing field wouldn’t look flat at all, as it isn’t in real life.

I’m a former baseball writer (Phillies backup, 1972-78, Angels, 1979, Dodgers, 1981-83) who still loves the game enough to pay to see it, which is as good as it gets for a sportswriter, especially at these prices ($100 for tickets, parking, hot dog, Coke and souvenir the last time I took my daughter).

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By Jimnp72, May 23, 2010 at 7:07 am Link to this comment

I used to live in the Bronx and went to the stadium in the 60’s. It was so much
different then-players did not make obscene amounts of money, and they
seemed a hell of a lot more honest and hardworking than the players of today.

Remember the bat day double headers at the stadium? They gave away real,
wooden free bats to each ticket holder as you came into the stadium. I still
have a couple. They were ‘signed’ by Joe Pepitone, Bobby Mercer, Mickey
Mantle, etc.

Used to have cap day too, today a cap will set you back 15 bucks.

Then years later the bats became tiny and plastic, much as the way the ethics
of the game has gone.

Citizens Bank Park, First Energy Stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, etc., this pretty
much sums up the state of the game today. Yes, it is all corporate centered
now and no longer a sport the way it used to be.

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By Richard Moore, May 22, 2010 at 11:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

World Series Teams 2001-09

Anaheim Angels           “well-off”
AZ Diamondbacks                     “rabble”
Boston Red Sox     (2)  “rich”
Chicago White Sox         “well-off”
Colorado Rockies                 “middle class”
Detroit Tigers           “well-off”
Florida Marlins                     “rabble”
Houston Astros                 “middle class”
New York Yankees   (3)    “rich”
Philadelphia Phillies   (2)    “rich”
San Francisco Giants             “middle class”
St. Louis Cardinals     (2)          “middle class”
Tampa Bay Rays                 “middle class”

In the playoffs:        9     3     5     2

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By JayRoot22, May 21, 2010 at 12:05 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

All this blather about the super-rich Yankees (aka “the Evil Empire” in Red Sox Nation) and not ONE word about revenue sharing in Major League Baseball. Now, if you have a case to make that revenue sharing is ineffective, go ahead and make it. But to complain about the ‘success’ of the Yankees (who won the World Series last year, but hadn’t since 2000, in spite of their admittedly large player payroll) is deliberately deceptive, when one chooses to ignore revenue sharing.

If the smaller market teams (Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Cleveland, etc.) have failed to rise, it could well be because they have failed to make good use of the revenue that has been redistibuted by teams like the Yankees, the Mets, the Red Sox and the Dodgers.

One significant exception to this trend appears to be the Tampa Bay Rays who, at the time of this post, just completed a two-game sweep of the Yankees in Yankee Stadium and now have a 5-game lead over the Bronx Bombers in the AL East, and coincidentally, bear the best record in Major League baseball.

The Rays have made intelligent use of their minor leagues in player development, emphasizing pitching (with an excellent starting staff and bullpen stocked with YOUNG arms) without neglecting good hitting, fielding and baserunning skills.

Their only drawback is lack of attendance and hence, the revenues from the gates that would allow them to keep good players (whose names are not Evan Longoria) signed when they become eligible for free agency.

Some of that may well have to do with the size of the cities (and the size of the local media markets, which usually includes the surrounding suburbs) where they play, the current economic malaise (a lot fewer people can afford to attend big league games nowadays) and bandwagon effects (huge increases in attendance when a team is in contention and huge falloffs when they lose——except in Wrigley Field [Chicago Cubs] and Fenway Park [Boston Red Sox], both home parks having fanatical followers of their teams through good years and bad.), but no single factor prevails.

To blame the Yankees is a popular sour-grapes game of most non-Yankees fans and is utterly simple-minded. When all is said and done, the games are played out on the field and no matter how much players are paid, there is NO guarantee of their performance on that field.

As for the phrase “rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for US Steel”—-take a look around: have you noticed how well US Steel is doing nowadays——NOT?

As a Yanks fan of long-standing (through bad years as well as good: believe it or not, even in the Steinbrenner years, the Yanks fielded terrible teams or have you forgotten the 1980s?) I say to all you Yankees haters out there: go ahead and root for your team. I even like it when there are other good teams like the Rays, the Red Sox, the Tigers, the Mariners to compete against. After all, it’s really no fun playing ONLY the weak teams and beating them isn’t much of an accomplishment.

You can hate the Yankees all you like, but it would be better to wish your team well than to wish the Yanks (or any other foe) ill.

In some ways, big league sports are a dirty business, but for us fans, it’s entertainment—-so go out and have fun. If you really prefer to watch minor league, high school or college sports, by all means, enjoy. But about the Yanks, I have only this final pithy remark: quityerbitchin awready and enjoy the games!

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By Billy, May 20, 2010 at 8:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

From the House That Ruth Built to the House the IRS Built
New York City and New York Yankees Abuse PILOTs to Finance New Stadium

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By Myles O'Brien, May 20, 2010 at 6:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hal Steinbrenner runs the team, not Hank. Hank is a loudmouthed idiot. Hal’s quiet and ruthless. Think Michael Corleone.

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By DamnYankees, May 20, 2010 at 5:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Baseball has always been emblematic of America, so why not now?

Major league baseball has turned into a few rich clubs buying all the good talent.  Then you get to watch the obnoxious fans of these clubs dance and celebrate like they just did something good when they win. 

That’s America today.  Competition is just a word used in propaganda press releases.  The American way today is to buy the result with money, and fixing it by buying the umpires too if getting hundreds of millions of players didn’t do the trick.  Then jumping up and down and shouting “we’re number one” until everyone around is so sick of listening to the guy and some just slugs him to shut him up.

Welcome to the beauty of America.  There is no free competition.  Everything is bought and rigged.  And there’s always some obnoxious jerk who works on wall street and who has a damn Yankees cap on telling you fantastic it is this way when he gets to celebrate a win every nite.

Yuck.  They’ve turned a lifelong baseball fan into someone who rarely watches a game.  Just like they’ve taken a world that used to respect Americans and abused them to the point where now they think we are all just obnoxious Yankee fans.

If you like baseball, go watch a high school game. If you like watching wall street rape and pillage everyone, turn on your TV and watch the ever-present Yankees game.

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By Blackspeare, May 20, 2010 at 2:07 pm Link to this comment

Baseball was always a business, but it used to be a friendly family business.  I remember when baseball players needed a second job in the off season to make ends meet and they stilled played their hearts out!  Today, it’s not just a business, it’s a big business.  And with the prices of admission and refreshments it’s unbelievable that the Yankees and Mets are just about sold out at every home game——the advantage of a big market venue——there’s always enough people with bucks to spare.  As for me I’ll watch on my big screen TV, have a few beers and a bowl of popcorn and the money I save pays for the cable service.

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By AimlowJoe, May 20, 2010 at 2:05 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am truly amazed at how young the kids are started in
organized sports. Whatever happened to free time?
Every kid is a Yankee fan. No one was a Yankee fan in
Who really cares. It’s our own fault for paying insane
prices and supporting the league.
If we don’t like it, we can always walk away.
Aimlow Joe was here.

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By Inherit The Wind, May 20, 2010 at 1:56 pm Link to this comment

I’d love to see an American League All Star Game
lineup of 100% Yankees.  Nothing would bring the
point home like that.


Especially if they then whip the Nats.

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By pecadillosamiam, May 20, 2010 at 11:37 am Link to this comment

Here’s an idea:

Why don’t ALL baseball fans vote for every Yankee at
every position for the All Star game?  That would
once and for all expose them as the bought-and-paid-
for All Star team that they are in reality. 
Everybody knows it, especially those of us whose very
best players from our home teams have been raided by
the Yankees over the years; and there’s nothing that
we can do about it, because our local franchises
can’t compete with the Yankees in the bidding war. 

I’d love to see an American League All Star Game
lineup of 100% Yankees.  Nothing would bring the
point home like that.

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By Inherit The Wind, May 20, 2010 at 11:23 am Link to this comment

It all goes back to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who was judge on the Federal League’s Anti-Trust suit against MLB.  Landis was, of course, a GOP appointee and a thoroughly incompetent and biased judge.  He put the suit on hold for two years so MLB could continue its anti-competitive practices, until the Federal League went bankrupt. Only after the FL was good and dead did Landis THEN rule that MLB had an exception to the Anti-Trust laws.  Baseball rewarded Landis in 1919 by making him the first Commissioner of Baseball with the charge of cleaning up after the Black Sox Series (for all you White Sox fans).

Landis’s lasting legacy to baseball was to ABSOLUTELY PREVENT it being integrated, until he died and Happy Chandler allowed the Brooklyn Dodgers to bring Jackie Robinson into the National League.

So that biased, bigoted, arrogant incompetent prick, Landis, is the reason that certain teams can enjoy the privileges they do.

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By Gilbert of Woodhaven, New York, May 20, 2010 at 10:55 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sports for me first and foremost is for health of the
body and mind. Making money out of it is last.

Too bad Yankees fans are robbed blind by the sponsors
of the sport. Example: the nike, shoes, hats cost more
that it should not mentioning the hot dog you eat in
the stadium.

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By Reverend Money, May 20, 2010 at 9:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ahhhh-pro-baseball teams are for-profit businesses, in most cases taxpayer subsidized (who paid for your stadium), but for profit businesses none the less. The owners are billionaires and multimillionaires. the players are, mostly, millionaires. They play games between one corporation and another in order to get as much money as possible from the rubes. Cheering on Major League baseball team makes as much sense as cheering on Goldman Sachs.

It’s not your team. There is no we involved beyond they demand our money we pay it. Major League baseball cares nothing for you suckers. Nothing at all.

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By ohiolibgal, May 20, 2010 at 9:09 am Link to this comment

Being a fan of the Cleveland Indians it never ceases to amaze me that the 22 have-not team owners don’t band together and demand changes that will level this field. They are trying to win with one hand tied behind their back and for some reason grin and bear it.

Out of our four major sports here only MLB has a system that allows one team and a few others to a lesser extent win by having much more available revenue available to buy all the stars. The other teams now are indeed largely playing the a dual role of the Washington Generals and the Yankee’s advanced minor league system.

It’s ridiculous that it’s been allowed to continue. Green Bay can win in the NFL because the Giants and the Jets can’t spend 4 times as much, revenue is pooled in that league. Green Bay would have no chance in MLB.

The good news is that there seems to be a raising consciousness, finally, about the gross inequity in baseball.

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By skulz fontaine, May 20, 2010 at 6:24 am Link to this comment

Baseball and memories. Mickey Mantle, Yogi, Billy, Reggie, and of course
October. Dang, such a long time ago. A young boy’s memories of Yankee
greatness. A chance to see Warren Spahn. Ricky stealing 2nd. Gibson. Detroit
Tigers yeah!
October 2001 and the Yankees going down in flames to Arizona. The look on
Jeter’s face as, yup, the Yankees lost. Oh the cruelty. Steroids. Barry Bonds. Bob
Costas and America’s pastime is dead. College baseball isn’t dead but the
aluminum bats just suck. High school baseball is still a joy to watch. Not the
same as a way back when but, at least it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to sit
down at the ball park. That’s what it used to be called. A ‘ball park’ and now
they’re luxury suite haute cuisine outlets that are industrial grade sterile and
empty of soul.
Big league baseball is just another obscene show for Empire, unbridled greed,
excess, and over indulged “stars.” Selig is craven and spineless. Major League
Baseball EVER allows Pete Rose into the Hall Of Fame, well, then we can talk.
You want hypocrisy? Steroids and the fall of Hank’s record. Macguire is a
chump. Let Pete in and all might be forgiven. But never and not until.

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By NYCartist, May 20, 2010 at 4:57 am Link to this comment

Make the owners open their books; take away the monopoly status of baseball owners.
I have hated the Yankees since I grew up in Brooklyn as a Brooklyn Dodger fan.  I gave up baseball when the Dodgers moved to LA in 1957 and came back in 1985 as a Mets fan.  I think the Mets are terrible right now, due to owners/management.  I still hate the Yankees.

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By Mike, May 20, 2010 at 4:32 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Correction, the does the writer does mention the last decade but he does not acknowledge that their payroll was not a factor in most of the last decade. Pennants
are great but no one cares about who came second unless the Yankees come first.

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By Mike, May 20, 2010 at 4:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

People love to complain about the Yankees high payroll but where were these same people in the 80s and 90s when their overspending for talent got them nothing? They also went through most of the last decade without a championship despite their payroll (since 2000) which the writer conveniently fails to mention. I guess its ok for this writer to see the Yankees spend like crazy as long as they are losing. They also pay a luxury tax which helps some poorly run franchises which I’m sure is also somehow the Yankees fault.

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By Inherit The Wind, May 20, 2010 at 3:35 am Link to this comment

Writers and sore losers always complain about the Yankees, which, obviously, is the best run sports franchise in the world.

No matter how things change they always complain that the rich teams get the best ballplayers, even well before Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees.  Before the Yankees, it was the New York Giants, so powerful that they originally refused to play in the early “World Series” against the minor league “American League”. Connie Mack won 5 World Series with his old Philadelphia Athletics (today’s Oakland A’s) and then turned around and sold all his best players after each one to stay solvent.

If the LA Dodgers aren’t in the same rank as the Yankees, or in the 2nd tier, it’s their own damn fault.  LA has long been the richest market outside of NY, since Walter O’Malley broke Brooklyn’s heart and scammed the LA city fathers.

Here in NJ, there are LOTS of Yankees and Mets fans (and Phillies fans down in the SW NJ).  And people complain about ticket prices and parking.

But there’s an alternative: It’s called Minor League Baseball and it’s probably right in your neighborhood.  I can easily go to the Newark Bears, the New Jersey Jackals, or the Somerset Patriots, pay less than $10/seat, get GREAT seats close to the field, buy beer, soda and hot dogs for a sane price, have lots of NON-baseball entertainment, with lots of contests for the kids, and watch some good baseball.

BTW, while I pull for the Yankees in the American League, I ALWAYS pull for the Mets to beat them.

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