Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

The Polarizing 2009 Champions of Baseball

Posted on November 05, 2009 by Don Spieles
With number championship #27, the divide between Yankee fans and haters grows ever wider.

With number championship #27, the divide between Yankee fans and haters grows ever wider.

For the first time since 2000, the New York Yankees are World Series winners.  There game six victory over the Philadelphia Phillies was a hard fought battle that came down mostly to dominant pitching and, to a lesser extent, timely hitting.  After a decade away from the trophy and after a turbulent season, one thing remains the same:  The Yankees are loved or hated, but never ignored.

There is no team in professional sports that raises a higher wall or a greater divide between fans and non-fans than do the New York Yankees.  The detractors state that they cannot find any reason to support the “Evil Empire” while the Yankee faithful don’t seem to understand how anyone could root for another team.  The gap is so wide that any story that shows the slightest civility between Yank fans and others (particularly Boston fans) automatically becomes newsworthy.

So why is it that the Yankee fans are so devout and the haters are so rabid?

On the fan’s side, history seems to be the main advertising point, and it is a good one.  The Yankees now have 27 championships cementing their spot atop all professional sports franchises.  The list of names from their past is a baseball purist’s fantasy roster: Names like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Jackson, Jeter, Clemens, Rivera, A-Rod – just having these baseball cards would be a feat let alone boasting all of these giants on your team’s roster.

The Yankees as World Champions is:

  • Bad For Baseball (82%, 23 Votes)
  • Good For Baseball (18%, 5 Votes)

Total Voters: 28

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Yankee fans put forth a love of the majesty and dominance of the Yankees as the predominant reason for their unfaltering devotion.  They scoff, perhaps logically, at fans of other teams who, when taken as a franchise en total, pale in comparison to the Bronx Bombers.

The detractors are at least equally convinced that their position is correct.  While many of their reasons are laughed at by Yankee fans as lame excuses, the sheer numbers of their arguments give them some buoyancy.

First and foremost has to be the money issue.  The Yankees have the distinction of being the richest (by far) of any MLB team.  Part of this is due to their incredibly large market, being centered in the world’s most populated modern city.  Some the credit goes to the fans themselves.  Yankee clothing and memorabilia are most often tops in terms of sales, rivaled only recently by Red Sox.   The Yankees own their own cable network, which has become the newest tool in maximizing profits for baseball franchises, even if only a few have managed to do it.

Having the money isn’t really the issue for the haters, though.  The real rub is the Steinbrenner family’s willingness to spend it.  Since 1996, the Yankees have had the highest payroll of any MLB team every year but two.  In 1998 Baltimore was tops, in 2001 the Dodgers lead the  way.  In both of those years the Yankees were number two.  And when the Yankees outspend, they really out spend.  Between 2001 and 2009, their average margin of lead in terms of payroll has been $57 million!  This means they outspend the next closest team my more that teams like the Marlins spend all together! With no salary cap on the horizon for Major League Baseball, there is no reason to think that the trend will end any time soon.

The money has historically gone to hired guns which compounds the hatred that’s been built.  Not only does it put whoever is the hot talent of the time on the Yankees, it instill resentment among other fans because they feel like their teams have no shot to complete with the “Bank of Yank”.  When you remove he Yankee fans from the equation, the overwhelming consensus is that the Yankees buy success outright.

One of the most understated reasons for the division between fans and non-fans is, ironically, the fans themselves.  Years and years of regular success has left the Yankee faithful expecting perfection or a very close facsimile.  That expectation in turn has turned the fan base into a rather surly bunch when anything but winning is all come to be.  Yankee fans are known far and wide for being incredibly fickle toward their players, cheering for them when they perform, but chastising them mercilessly when they don’t get a hit in every at bat or a win in every mound appearance.

Rooting for the Yankees is like watching ‘A Christmas Story’ and rooting for Farkus!

Rooting for the Yankees is like watching ‘A Christmas Story’ and rooting for Farkus!

The Yankee haters balk at the idea that New York has the most fans.  While the Yankees fans are almost assuredly correct, the haters point out that since the dynasty years of the late 90’s, Yankee gear is en vogue.  There is a large portion of “fans” that wear the logo but couldn’t name the starting line-up or tell you their record at anytime but the post season.  While this is true of some other teams, anything Yankee fans do is run through a different filter.

Fans of other teams often point out a lack of personality on the Yankees.  This is, of course, exactly the way that much maligned owner George Steinbrenner wants it.  There are rules against facial hair, rules about haircuts, rules about uniform fitting, and such that “The Boss” imposes in an effort to make the Yankees appear more professional.  The problem is that a team that spends over $200 million dollars (about $60 million more that the second place Mets) and who builds a billion dollar stadium with seats so over-priced that they can’t sell them in New York City, doesn’t need to look professional.  They already ooze “business” in every inch of pinstripe, and detractors see little effort to endear the Yanks to the common man.

Finally, non-fans manage to even scoff at the tradition argument.  They contend that a franchise who advertises its rich history but celebrates it by it by ignoring its farm system (the system that produced most of those name mentioned above) in favor of buying championships is phony.  The Yankees won no favor from purists when they tore down the “House that Ruth Built” in favor of a new Yankee Stadium, the playing field of which is virtually identical to the old, but which saw hundreds of millions of dollars poured into amenities like restaurants and lounges that do nothing for the game of baseball, but go a long way to alienate fans, particularly middle class fans in the throes of a recession.

In the end, the only gray area in this one is in the Yankee road uniforms. The fans and non-fans are as far apart as two sides can be.  There are very few teams that, when they bring home a trophy, do so with the knowledge that The Yankees have.  There are two distinct groups that comprise 99% of the world; those that love the Yankees and those that hate them.

And never the twain shall meet.

Don Spieles covers baseball for Sports Then and Now.

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