Something’s Missing as a Yankees Fan

Right now, I am supposed to be joyous and ecstatic.  My favorite baseball team, the Yankees, won the World Series tonight.  As a sports fan, the odds are stacked heavily against being happy at the end of the year.  Theoretically, there is roughly a 29/30 chance that you won’t win a championship in a given season and therefore a 29/30 chance of a season that ends somewhere between sadness and despair.

In order to make sports balance out to a net expected positive value, you would have to be over 30 times happier when you win a title than sad when it does not come to fruition.  This does not actually happen, causing being a sports fan to ultimately be a worse bet than any game casinos have invented to pilfer our money.  That being said, you are supposed to have an extremely high level of happiness when your team wins a title, if only as a means of justifying fanhood and validating the experience of the journey.  This is why it feels so strange that I was far more emotionally invested in the Packers’ beating the Vikings on Sunday (and, actually, probably about 10 regular season Packers games per year and every playoff game) than I was in any of the Yankees games during this postseason.  This column is going to represent my best effort of figuring out why.

When I was really young, baseball was by far my favorite sport and by the age of eight I was a die hard Yankees fan.  I memorized the retired numbers in Monument Park, read two Mickey Mantle biographies (I had seriously read them cover to cover by the end of second grade), and was so devastated by the strike of 1994 that I watched the re-runs of old games on MSG (not that I knew the difference, but still).  The 1995-2000 Yankees were my major focus as a sports fan and I hung on every pitch, rarely missing a game.  As I have grown older, football progressed to be my favorite sport by far with basketball also significantly passing baseball.

I will not be so sanctimonious as to ascribe steroids to be the reason, or even a reason, that my interest in baseball has dwindled; it would be naive to think that steroids have not been a large part of football too.  The game moves so slowly that it fails to be captivating.  Pitchers take forever between pitches, batters step out of the box, and managers constantly play righty-lefty games and prolong the game by making pitching changes.  Going to a game transformed from being a magical experience to being so boring that I abuse my blackberry so much it runs out of batteries by the end of the 5th inning.

To compound the slowness of the games, the Yankee teams of this decade have been comprised mainly of soulless cash whores.  Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Jason Giambi, Carl Pavano, Javier Vasquez, Bobby Abreu, Jaret Wright, and, until this season, A-Rod were all mercenary acquisitions who lacked pleasant personalities and sucked the fun out of rooting for the team.  The Yankees no longer competed by having strong scouting and fortuitous performances from role players and now tried to win World Series by outspending all of the competition.

The closing of my and countless others’ shrine Yankee Stadium and subsequent opening of the ostentatious, character-free new Yankee Stadium was the final straw.  Seeing that the seats behind home plate were so expensive that they were virtually half-empty a vast majority of the season and still conspicuously about 10% empty during the World Series makes me extremely angry.  Why are these seats empty instead of given away to troops, veterans, teachers, firefighters, and police officers?  Is the status and exclusivity of the absurdly wealthy patrons of those seats really so precious that the Yankees can’t fill those seats with those who choose to forgo high income to make the community better?  The arrogance and boldness of making those seats so expensive that even in New York they remain empty and then leaving them that way in HDTV for the whole world to see is deplorable and makes the Yankees almost impossible to root for.

With the inherent unlikability of the Yankees teams and the general unexcitement (wordpress is telling me I made those un- words up but if I did they should exist) of the game itself, I drifted into complete ambivalence of the baseball and trained myself to willfully ignore it.

Unlike the rest of the Yankees teams this decade, this team is likable.  Starting out, veteran stalwarts and consummate professionals Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte form the implicit nucleus of the franchise and still serve as a link to and reminder of my childhood when I idolized the team.  Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner are role players who would have fit in on the Yankee teams of the late 1990s.  CC Sabbathia, Nick Swisher, Johnny Damon, and Mark Teixeira, despite being high-priced acquisitions, are grounded and jovial.  Even A-Rod has become a likable figure in the wake of his steroid scandal and Selena Roberts’s witch hunt against him.  He seems at peace with himself and no longer to be a stiff suit, so much so to the extent that his teammates who used to visibly despise him now credit him with being a great teammate.

This  group of players is the most likable Yankees team since the 1998 squad that featured Jeter, Rivera, Posada, Pettitte, Scott Brosius, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Joe Girardi, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, and David Wells.  Trading the affable Wells for noted curmudgeon Roger Clemens after this season was the first move that signified the beginning of the new era of Yankee mercenaries who were well, dicks, and, after two more titles, did not perform together as a collective unit.

Even though the 2009 Yankees team is likable, it still speaks to the broader systemic problem in baseball.  The Yankees had a payroll of over $200 million.  The next highest team was the crosstown Mets at roughly $135 million.  The Florida Marlins had a payroll at about $36 million, less than 20% that of the Yankees.  While each individual player certainly worked hard to accomplish his dream of winning a World Series for the New York Yankees, the front office did very little to deserve this accolade; that the Yankees went eight seasons with such an absurd payroll and failed to win the World Series between 2000 and 2008 only demonstrates that the front office was incompetent.

What would be the point of being a Royals fan or Pirates fan when there is literally no chance that they can compete with the high spending franchises?  If those teams are lucky, there might be one season in 15 where the front office goes all in at a run at the playoffs where once you are in anything can theoretically happen.  Baseball has broad systemic issues that, as time wears on, are going to isolate the fans of small market franchises and create a deleterious oligopoly in the sport.

Two weeks ago, my friend and diehard Yankee fan Marshall accused me of not being a real fan because I hardly watched the team during the 2009 season.  In one sense, he was right.  You cannot as a fan choose to abandon your team because you don’t like the players.  However, I gradually but willfully decided that I did not like the sport or my favorite franchise.  Even though I watched most of the games in these playoffs it would have been disingenuous of me to be jubilant as a result of this victory when I have largely ignored the Yankees and baseball as a whole for the last two seasons.  I was not a part of this journey and do not deserve the right to jump on the bandwagon after they completed it without my support.  Go Pack Go!


One Response to Something’s Missing as a Yankees Fan

  1. Pingback: Fair and Balanced Jeter Reflection « Keepthefiresburning's Blog

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