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The Evil Empire: Deconstructing the New York Yankees

Y! A! N! K! E! E! S!
Here come the Yankees
They’re gonna learn to fear the Yankees
Everyone knows they play to win, cause
They’re the New York Yankees
Yankees fight song

————

It’s official. And it is just as I have always thought.

The New York Yankees are evil.

Call it how you see it. When it comes to baseball fans, there are two types: those who love the Yankees and everybody else. And everybody else hates the Yankees. There is no in-between.

Whatever they did, they are evil incarnate. You don’t have to take my word for it.  Read the law.  Last year a panel of trademark judges in Washington ruled for the Yankees against a merchandise company who wanted to use the phrase Evil Empire in marketing sportswear.

The judges said: “In short, the record shows that there is only one Evil Empire in baseball and it is the New York Yankees. Accordingly, we find that [the Yankees] have a protectable trademark right in the term . . . as used in connection with baseball.”

“Yankees suck,” is what rival fans chant at them in America’s other stadiums. And it is Boston, home of the Red Sox, the old enemy, where hating the Yankees is a pastime almost as big as baseball itself.  That antediluvian hatred centers on the person of one George Herman Ruth, the greatest baseball player of all time and the first superstar in American team sports.

As for me, an Atlanta Braves fan, I don’t think the modern-day Yankees suck. They are in the American League and the Braves play in the National League. So I don’t think they suck at all.

I prefer to think of them as Satan’s children.

 Déjà vu All Over Again

You’ve seen it all before. It’s a recurring nightmare. The Yankees always win. Well not always. But they always seem to be about to win. They have 27 titles World Series teams. The closest rival is the St. Louis Cardinals with 11.  Boston has won 7.

Even the Yankees don’t always win. The 2003 Florida Marlins, one of the biggest underdogs in World Series History, beat the Evil Empire in one of the most unlikely Series ever. One of the poorest teams in baseball beat the perennial champions.

Bookend that with this: The 1998 Yankees won 125 games, including playoffs and the World Series, which even eclipsed the feats of the Ruth’s famed Murderer’s Row of the 1920s.

As 1970s manager Billy Martin, a former Yankee player said: “Everything looks nicer when you win. The girls are prettier, the cigars taste better. The trees are greener.”

Indeed.

So, how did it all this irritating winning begin?

The Evil Empire came slithering (like Mothra the all consuming Japanese monster caterpillar and Godzilla foe) into existence over a hundred years ago.

Before the Wright  Brothers flew the first plane.

Before the Ford Model T.

Before the War to End all Wars.

The team began with the founding of the American League in 1901. The Baltimore Orioles were one of the league’s original eight clubs; after two years, the organization was replaced by a New York City-based franchise, which became known as the Yankees in 1913.

They completed their totalitarian takeover of baseball (thus its history) in the 1920s when one man, the first superstar in American sport, reinvented baseball and made the Yankees synonymous with “America’s Pastime.”

He was so prodigiously possessed of talent that the original Yankee Stadium in the Bronx was called The House that Ruth Built.

“I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can,” said George Herman “Babe” Ruth

Ruth may not be the greatest American sportsman ever. There are Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali to consider.  But he is undoubtedly the greatest baseball player of all time. And he did it without steroids. Hell, he was on natural steroids. Ruth was a stud. No one ever hit the ball as successfully as he did. He was famous for eating batches of hot dogs and glasses of beer before games. He seemed rarely to sleep. One of his baseball roommates said, “I never lived with Ruth. I shared a room with his suitcase.” When aroused by heckling fans, on several occasions he charged the seats.

From 1914-1935, the Babe revolutionized the game. Traded from the rival Red Sox in 1920 for $100,000 (1,200,000 today) by far the most ever paid for a player pre-Ruth.  The deal haunted Boston fans for nearly a century. While the phrase “The Curse of the Bambino” did not come into being for more than half a century, it didn’t take long to notice a dramatic change in fortunes between Ruth’s old and new teams. Between 1920 and 1964, the Yankees won 29 American League pennants and 20 World Series. The Red Sox won one pennant and no World Series titles.

Up to the Yankee trade—that is six seasons—Ruth had been an elite pitcher. He hadn’t even started to concentrate on hitting.  Soon after he switched to playing the outfield with the Yankees, he became the greatest hitter in the game, popularizing the home run, with towering long blasts, the like of which no one had ever seen before. During his twenty-one year career, Babe Ruth he hit 714 home runs, an unbelievable feat at the time, with an equally substantial .342 average.

Ruth retired as the career record-holder in home runs, RBIs, total bases, walks, strikeouts, on-base percentage and slugging percentage as well as the single-season record-holder in home runs, total bases, walks and slugging.

In 1969 (baseball’s 100th Anniversary) was named the greatest baseball player of all time.

The “Ruthian” Yankees won their first AL title in 1921 and their first World Series championship in 1923. In the 1920s, Ruth and first baseman Lou Gehrig were part of New York’s Murderers’ Row lineup. They led the Yankees to a then-AL record 110 wins and a Series championship in 1927. They won again in 1932. A pattern was developing.

From 1936 to 1939, the Yankees won the World Series every year, with a team that featured Gehrig (the Iron Horse who never missed a game and died of ALS) and outfielder Joe DiMaggio (who married Marilyn Monroe) who had a 56-game hitting streak during New York’s 1941 championship season.

The Yankees set a major league record by winning five consecutive championships from 1949 to 1953. They then went to the World Series nine times in the next 11 years.

The great players of the 50s and 60s were Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford.

After them the Yankees went into relative decline.  The team reached the World Series four times between 1976 and 1981, winning in 1977 and 1978. But they did not earn another title until 1996. Followed by three consecutive titles from 1998-2000.

A Nickel Aint Worth A Dime Anymore

So what makes the Yankees so special?

Money, honey. In 2014, Forbes magazine ranked the New York Yankees as the fourth most valuable sports team in the world, behind Real Madrid of La LigaManchester United of the Premier League and Barcelona of La Liga, at a value of $2.5 billion.

 So they do it the new-fashioned way. With cash.

“They spend more money that anyone else,” says my friend Kerht, a former journalist now publisher, who though from Indiana, has been a Yankee fan all his life.  “And they always had great players and managers.”

He says: “George Steinbrenner  (the famous Yankees owner of the post-Vietnam era) was a raving maniac who spent more money than anyone else.”

George Steinbrenner bought the club in 1973 and regularly invested in new talent, using free agency to acquire top players. Baseball is the only sport league that doesn’t have a salary cap which limits the amount a team can spend on players. He made money with the Yankees who always had great players, but he constantly fought with his managers and players. Steinbrenner was a professional busy-body.

And crazy? Crazy like a fox. He also made a fortune by establishing the first nationwide network sports cable deal, broadcasting Yankees games across the USA. Ted Turner, the “Mouth of the South,” later did the same for the Atlanta Braves, calling them “America’s team” and annoying Yankees fans no end.

Good.

When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take it

The fork in this particular road has two lanes: Love Street and Hate Avenue.

Hating the Yankees is easy.

Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko once said, “Hating the Yankees is as American as pizza pie, unwed mothers, and cheating on your income tax.”

You can hate them because of their payroll, which was around $240 million at the start of the 2014 season, the second highest of any American sports team and the free agent superstars the team attracts in the offseason. The Los Angeles Dodgers in the last two or three years now spend more than the Yankees, renewing an old rivalry from the 50s when the Dodgers used to play in Brooklyn. But going all the way back to the Ruth acquisition, the Yankees’ philosophy is simple: Buy a guy. And if he doesn’t work out, pay him to go away and buy a better guy.

You can hate them because their music sucks. See the top of this article for their theme tune, Here Come the Yankees, one of the most annoying songs ever attached to a sports team. Another song strongly linked to the team is “New York, New York,” a ditty which famously maintains that if you don’t live in New York, your life is meaningless. While the Frank Sinatra version is traditionally played after victories, when the Yankees lose they torture everyone by playing  the Liza Minnelli original version.

During the 5th inning, the grounds-crew performs their field-tending duties to the strains of “Y.M.C.A.“.

And perhaps the most egregious song in music history, “Cotton-Eyed Joe“, which rivals Living Next Door to Alice for sure stupidity, plays during the 8th inning. As if that isn’t enough to drive you completely insane, the organist will sometimes play the “Zorba the Greek Theme“, accompanied by clapping from the audience.

Hate is too weak a word.

You can also hate the Yankees for their snobbish posture as the princely potentates of America’s provincial pastime. (Baseball is played in Latin American, Japan, Korea and Australia but they are not invited to the World Series except as spectators).  Beyond this going to a Yankees game is as pricey as hell. The average ticket price is $60, which is certainly out of pocket for Average Joe.
You can also hate the Yankees for your own hometown traitors who cheer for them, because of tradition (your father and your father’s father hated them) or just because every year they are potential champions, because they have the best uniforms and caps, because they have the longest list of legendary players and world titles.

Okay. Deep breath. Now that is over.

There are plenty of reasons to love the Yankees. Most of them are the players. What a cast. My personal favorite is Yogi Berra, the most lovable player ever in any sport. So funny they named a cartoon character after him: that’s right, Yogi Bear.   The greatest catcher in the history of the game, he played from 1946–1965 for the Yankees. He is one of four players to have won the Most Valuable Player of the American League three times. As a player, coach or manager, Berra appeared in 21 World Series, winning 13 of them. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

But he is also perhaps equally famous for his quotations, a series of malapropisms, intended and unintended, which rival only Samuel Goldwyn, the movie mogul, for sheer hilarity. See the subsections of this piece.

Here are some others:

Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical.

You can observe a lot by watching.

Always go to other people’s funerals. Otherwise they won’t go to yours.

I really didn’t say everything I said.

If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.

If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.

And my favorite: It ain’t over till it’s over.

(which this article is)

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