October 18, 2001

How to Buy a World Series Ring the Yankee Way

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Well, the Yankees won Game 1 of the ALCS. Yawn. The Yankees have won four out of the last six ALCS openers. It makes me long for the days of Jesse Barfield and Andy Hawkins.

With the exception of this entire state and parts of Connecticut and New Jersey, who wants to see the Yankees in the World Series again? It’s like eating a tuna sandwich for lunch every day. Sure, tuna’s good every once in a while, but everyday?

The last time a team was in the World Series for four straight years was 1964, when — you guessed it — the Yankees did it, capping a five-year streak. But at least the Yankees of Mantle and Maris were courteous enough to let other teams have the title for three of those five seasons.

Free agency, love it or hate it, was supposed to kill dynasties, not encourage them. When a team got much better than the rest of the league, the other teams were supposed to go out and get the players to make them good enough to catch the leader. The Yankees have destroyed this, going out and picking up the free agents that other teams should be using to catch them.

The Yankees are exhibit A in the case for a salary cap in baseball, or at least some form of revenue sharing. On Opening Day the team’s average salary was $109,709,893 — the highest in baseball. As the Red Sox and Dodgers have proven, big spending doesn’t necessarily mean World Series rings, but on the other hand, the A’s and Twins showed us this year that you can have a competitive team for not much more than Alex Rodriguez’s annual salary.

Yankees fans love to point out that it isn’t the amount of money that George Steinbrenner shells out, it’s how he does it. Jeter, Williams, Clemens and Mussina are all worth more than $10 million a year, the fans say. Steinbrenner spends his money well.

The truth is, it’s not that Steinbrenner is so shrewd with his salaries. Other teams just are stupid about their money. Take the Red Sox, who paid Dante “12 HR” Bichette $7 million this year.

Let the salary cap come down on MLB, and see how brilliant Steinbrenner and GM Brian Cashman can be then. (And really, is there a more appropriate last name for a Yankees GM?) If they’re really the front office masterminds they are touted as, they will still be able to crank out champions.

Who are these people that are making eight figures, anyway? Manager Joe Torre would have you believe that they are All-Stars. The fans didn’t vote a single Yankee to the AL starting lineup, but Torre named seven of his pinstripers to the squad. Sure, some of them deserved it. Clemens’s season proved his worth as an All-Star starter. But Mike Stanton and Andy Pettite over Arthur Rhodes and Tim Hudson?

The Yankees are a team that has good players — I can’t and won’t deny it — but they have been short in the greatness department. The last MVP to wear the hallowed uniform was Don Mattingly in 1985. And despite all of the talk about the Yankees’ amazing pitching, they haven’t had a Cy Young award winner since 1978 (Ron Guidry). Granted, Clemens could change that this year.

While I’m at it, the Yankees are also to blame for another annoying trend in sports — off-color team apparel. This all started a few years ago with those red Yankees logo hats. Then Fred Durst throws one on his head, and teams all across the country are marketing multicolored team fashion. The Yankees have resisted changing their uniform for years and years. Off the field, all-powerful merchandising revenue has resulted in uniforms that probably have the Babe himself spinning in his grave. The pinstripes are dark blue — not lime green or neon orange. True, the Yanks aren’t the only team doing it anymore. But if it was a fad that was bound to come, then the Yankees were the team that was bound to bring it upon us.

Nobody seems to remember how grotesquely bad the Yankees were in the ’80s and early ’90s. Back in the days before there were three divisions, Steinbrenner would change managers so often that there were seasons when three different men piloted the team. Shuffling managers didn’t even make much of a difference. From 1987-92, Steinbrenner’s minions finished in the bottom half of the AL East. The Yankees don’t even have the best record of any team in the ’90s, despite their recent dominance. The Braves do.

So, if you’ve tolerated my ranting so far, you might have guessed that I’d like to see Ichiro and the rest of his Seattle Mariners make it to the Fall Classic. Why not? It’s a triumph over what the Yankees stand for — the magnetic attraction of most pro athletes to money. The M’s can certainly feel the pain — they lost three of the biggest stars in the game to the almighty dollar. But they came back with heart, some lucky bounces and the right combination of players who know what it takes to win. It’s time someone other than the big, bad Bronx Bombers found out what it takes to win in the postseason.

Back in the days of Mickey Mantle, people used to say that rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for U.S. Steel, the business giant that couldn’t be toppled. This year, it’s more like rooting for, well, the Lakers. Don’t get me started there.

Archived article by Alex Fineman