The Yankees are easily the world’s most reviled sports team. And ya know what? I GET it. I do. It’s easy to hate the most storied franchise with the most money and the biggest stars. They don’t represent America. They don’t understand the hardships of the lower middle class. If anything, the Yankees serve as a microcosm for the top 1% of the country. The Yankees can walk into a room with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, George Bush, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg and make them blush. They seemingly grab what they want, when they want it.
But saying that the Yankees simply don’t ‘represent America‘ doesn’t really hone in on the true sources of said hatred. What are the factors that contribute to the hatred? I would go so far as to say that the same reasons you hate the Yankees are the same reasons I love them.
In Forbes Magazine’s latest team valuation profile, the Yankees came out on top (again) valued at $1.6 billion, the highest of any American sports team and by no small margin. For comparison, the Boston Red Sox were second in baseball valued at just $870 million. The Yankees topped $200 million in player payroll in each of the last four years and five of the last seven. They own four of the top six contracts ever signed. The Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network (YES Network), which broadcasts a majority of their games, is viewed as the most profitable Regional Sports Network in the business. The new Yankee Stadium promises to be a boon to their finances, as well. To put it bluntly, they are flush with cash and they spend the shit out of it.
So, why do I love the Yanks for their money? Superficially, I don’t. (It should be noted, at this point, that the Yankees have never sold naming rights to the Stadium.) The Yankees have long been known to grab free agents at will but the ability to do that is a product of many things both on and off the ballfield. In an age when free agency can serve as a fan’s worst nightmare, the Yankees have been able to keep the players, the legends, that I admire. Too often, teams trade away a franchise player simply because they can’t afford him, though the trend seems to have slowed down a bit. In a way, I think it’s a shame that Rays fans can’t watch Carl Crawford stay in one uniform for his career. The fact remains that fans would love to know their favorite teams could keep their favorite players, no matter the cost.
A lot can be said about the late “Boss.” In fact, a whole book was written about him. When he bought the Yankees in 1973 for a cool $10 million, he famously explained that he would be a hands-off owner and let the baseball people do their jobs. Since then, he’s been described as a tyrant, child and micromanager. He constantly fought with manager, Billy Martin, ordered a private investigator to follow one of his own players (and dubbed him Mr. May) and pushed through ill-advised contracts and deals. He was outspoken and abrasive and, at times, critical of other teams. He did not mince his words and that rubbed some people the wrong way.
Though I can’t deny some of the, uh, less-than-noble things he did, all of his moves, words and ideas stemmed from his intensely competitive nature. He, perhaps more than any owner in history, loved his team. He saw the Yankees as an extension of himself. In 2009, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo said the following while describing Steinbrenner:
“People don’t own teams to lose money. If you ask any owner whether they would rather make $20 million and come in last place or lose $20 million and win a World Series, there’s only one guy who honestly would take that championship: George Steinbrenner. Nobody else.”
If there is any attitude that I’d love my favorite team’s owner to have, it’s that one. It nearly absolves him of any wrongdoing simply because those wrongdoings were means to an end. Arroyo’s thoughts capture the spirit that drove Steinbrenner to want more and win more.
Steinbrenner was also incredibly charitable. He very rarely publicized his philanthropic efforts but those that knew him could rely on him to open his heart, especially around Tampa. He donated money to numerous organizations including the Boys & Girls Club. I urge you to take a quick look at some of his more notable acts of benevolence in this slideshow.
Words I’ve heard describing Yankees fans: pompous, cocky, dumb, loud, obnoxious, spitty.
Words I’ve used to describe every other fan in baseball: pompous, cocky, dumb, loud, obnoxious, spitty. So, let’s call this a wash.
The favorite chant of Red Sox fans (which is also turning up in odd places like NL ballparks) is the hopelessly unoriginal, “Yankees suck!” while the Yankees fans’ favorite chant is quite simply, “Let’s go Yankees!” along with the Bleacher Creature roll call. Notice the jeer/cheer difference? Before I end the Sox fan bashing, I want to share a story about an event which occurred during my senior year in college.
Though I was never threatened physically by Sox fans (lucky for them), I did engage in a few verbal spats. I didn’t care if I was at Fenway Pahk or the Gahden or even on Boston University’s campus, I could never let myself back down from a war with words. I’ve heard all the jibes from ‘Derek Cheater’ to ‘buying championships’ to ‘ARod shops at Kmart’ but my favorite exchange came on a glorious summer day in Boston in 2008. Boston is sometimes called, “The Walking City” and on many days, I assisted in earning said moniker. And it makes sense. Boston offers all of the amenities of a big city, but it’s small enough to walk to almost anywhere at any time of day. I’d even contend that no city is better in the summer, but I digress. I was alone walking through a busy Kenmore Square, as is the routine on gameday. I defiantly donned my Yankees cap while I circumvented the masses. With my headhpones on, I hoped I would not hear any sort of nasty remark about Jorge Posada resembling a rat. My headphones failed me. I was in between songs. Though I didn’t hear, ‘Hey! Posada looks like a rat,’ I did hear, ‘Hey, go back to where ya fackin’ came frahm, you Yankee piece of shit.’ Admittedly, this was a relatively mild barb that was typically met with a similarly mild retort. But I, on that day at that moment, was not going to just banter. I had to strike back at the heart of the malcontent to end it once and for all. Perhaps stunned at my defiance or the fact that I heard him, the man just stood silent as I lifted my headphones and said, ‘Nah, thanks. I just suffered a tragedy. Your mother just ate a bunch of my kids.’
If baseball history was a game of Monopoly, then the Yankees own the railroads, Boardwalk and Park Place, never go to jail and make you pay for parking. The list of Yankee legends goes on and on but the first real superstar and still greatest legend of them all, Babe Ruth, was a Yankee. Though he did spend time with the Red Sox and Boston Braves, we all know who retired his famous number 3. The Yankees have won 27 World Series championships while the second team on that list, the St. Louis Cardinals, have won only 10. For fans who crave parity, this story gets old. A close friend of mine opined that a Yankees fan bragging about all of their championships is like a rich kid bragging about his inheritance. Astute, but I liken it to marrying into the family. Sure, maybe you weren’t there but you’re part of the family now and everything that comes with it.
Has any uniform changed less than the Yankees pinstripes? They’ve become iconic. Though the Yankees history, in and of itself, has a minor effect on me, I appreciate the legends that have donned the pinstripes and became some of the greatest to ever play. There are just so many good stories about the great Yankees teams that they seem neverending. I do love the history of the Yankees, even if it’s just for the storytelling and dedication to the pinstripes.
Perhaps the final reason I love the Yankees is because I love to defend them. I love the destructive criticisms, the insults and the jibes. When I hear that they spend too much money, I can point to Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka without batting an eye. And since I live in Philly, I can point to Ryan Howard (his 5-year, $125 million extension starts NEXT season), Cliff Lee and to an extent (because he’s undervalued), Roy Halladay. The biggest complaint about the Yankees is slowly being wiped out since other teams are doing the same thing the Yankees have been accused of doing for years.
In a lot of ways, I shouldn’t have grown up a Yankees fan. My parents weren’t. My brother wasn’t. And I didn’t grow up remotely close to the Bronx. The only Yankees connection I have is that my grandfather, according to my mother’s side of the family, played Single-A ball with Yogi Berra (but that’s impossible since the only “Art[hur] Fowler” in professional baseball history played in the Majors for ten years, which my grandfather did not). The Expos played only an hour away and even the Red Sox were a smidge closer to me in proximity than the Yankees. If there’s one reason I can definitively point to, it’s Derek Jeter. He started it all for me. Once I became a Jeter fan, I became a Yankees fan. To me, being a Yankees fan is loving your team like any other baseball fan. I’m not sure if one team’s fans are as crazy, idiotic or any other damning adjective than another team’s fans. All I know is I couldn’t imagine not being a Yankees fan. I love watching them play and I love the fond memories.