Wednesday, October 10, 2007

New York Yankees Seem More Like Yankers

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Sue me, I'm a proud and unabashed Red Sox fan. Seeing the mega-payroll Yankees burn and flame once again allows me a moment to appreciate all life has to offer. This morning, the air felt a little crisper, the birds were chirping a little more on key, the coffee tasted a little fresher and the world at large felt a little happier. Ding dong, the witches are dead, interred for another season. The modern day Boys of Summer moved one step closer to participation in the 2007 Fall Classic. On Monday night, a bunch of moderately to little known baseball players representing Cleveland, Ohio defeated the Yankees three games to one in the American League Division Series in Yankee Stadium. Even though I readily admit I would have much preferred the Red Sox delivering the knockout blow to the Yankees themselves, just knowing the Yankees were eliminated so quickly and decisively by such a heavy underdog, is in itself, an absolutely wonderful feeling.

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Year in and year out, the New York Yankees lead all of professional sports in their annual crusade to sign the highest priced players available without giving a second thought to economics or the competitive balance of the sport. This has been the Yankee philosophy ever since they purchased the contract of George Herman Ruth, aka the Babe, from the Boston Red Sox back in 1920 for the then astronomical price of $125,000. The following year, the Yankees became fixtures in the World Series. In fact, the Yankees have participated in a grand total of 39 World Series match ups, winning a Major League Baseball record 26 times. But despite amassing by far and away the largest payroll in all of professional team sports, the Yankees have managed only two appearances in the World Series since 2001. They would be on the losing end both times to Arizona and Florida respectively. So it would seem even though money can buy the best players, it can't necessarily buy the best results.

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Seven straight years has produced nothing more than approximately $1.5 billion dollars in player salaries paid out and nary a championship banner to show for it. If you're not an avid follower of baseball, you may be asking yourself what kind of idiot would throw away that kind of money for nothing in return? That idiot has a name and that name is George Michael Steinbrenner III. "Big Stein" is a pompous, loud mouthed bag of 77 year old bologna born and bred in Ohio. Steinbrenner, who made money in ship building, led a consortium of investors who purchased the Yankees from CBS for $8.7 million in 1973. In today's Yankee market, you'd be lucky to be able to sign a lifetime .230 utility infielder for $8.7 million. What people didn't realize back then was that Steinbrenner's promise to stay out of baseball decision making lasted about as long as half a bottle of cold beer in front of a thirsty Billy Martin.

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Steinbrenner, despite having no real knowledge of the inner workings of major league baseball beyond that of an obnoxious, loud mouthed fan, would almost immediately begin his reign of interference. Steinbrenner would hire and fire 20 managers in a 22 year period between his ascension to team owner in 1973 and 1995. Joe Torre was hired in 1996 and has somehow remained manager through the present. However, Steinbrenner has repeatedly told anyone and everyone that if the Yankees were to be eliminated by Cleveland in the ALDS, Torre's job would be in grave jeopardy. Of course it's now official. The Yankees were eliminated and the ball is currently laying in Steinbrenner's court awaiting his majesty's proclamation. I would never even think of defending Joe Torre, but the facts are the Yankees won the World Series in four of Torre's first five years between 1996 and 2000. That run of success has probably sustained Torre in spite of the current seven year drought. Torre's job security appears to have reached the end and he will more than likely be fired in the very near future.

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Whoever the next manager might be, he will be under intense scrutiny from day one and if the Yankees do not win the 2008 World Series, he may then become the former manager a year from now. The current Yankee roster will undergo some changes due to a few inevitable retirements and free agent movements, but those player losses will be more than compensated for by inking new more expensive free agents. The one thing that invariably makes me laugh is when players hint that if their beloved manager is fired, they will leave too. Other guys claim they may retire or want to move to a team closer to where they reside, so they can spend more time with their families. Yeah and my brother is the Easter Bunny. Every one of these hypocrites is exactly the same when it comes to these statements. Which ever team offers the most guaranteed money will get the services of said player. Manager loyalty and family ties are somewhat important, but they both pale in comparison to the amount of money these guys feel they need to live their simple lives.

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The important thing is the Yankees are 2007 toast. They followed the tradition of the 2001 - 2006 Yankee teams, that were ultimately beaten by younger, hungrier and harder working teams. As of today, four teams will be competing for the title of champion. The Yankees are NOT one of those four teams. For the seventh consecutive year, they have proved that being the best paid doesn't make you the best. They also proved that in a best three out of five or best four out of seven series, the size of your paycheck doesn't necessarily correspond to the size of your heart. The younger, harder working Cleveland Indians wanted this series more than the older, higher paid New York Yankees. That's why sports has survived and strived for more than a century. It's truly a metaphor for life. People always have a choice whether to speak with their words or their actions. The Yankees are talking and offering countless excuses why their season ended in a loss. Cleveland, through their actions, is preparing to play the Boston Red Sox for the American League pennant. Watching this series and the National League series will be worth the price of admission. Knowing that the "Yankers" will be watching too is just priceless......

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