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A meditation on hating the Yankees


To be honest, when I first became a baseball fan, I didn't care about the Yankees. I was a Senators fan in the twilight of the franchise, when the legendary Ted Williams managed the team, and in those days the Yankees were in their late 1960s slump. They didn't even show up on my radar screen; TBQH, the Orioles were a bigger concern to that young fan, because it seemed like every time the Senators would get on a winning streak, the O's would come to town and grind them into dog food again. The return of the Yankees to power over the next two decades was invisible to me because I was alienated from baseball (curse you, Bob Short!) but as I regained my interest in the game in the late 1980s, I got more into the history of the game and began to perceive that something was very rotten in Denmark.

To this day, I nourish a cold, ongoing hate for the Braves, Cardinals, Yankees and Dodgers. The first is a family matter; as the Senators left Washington in 1972, so the Braves left Boston in 1952, killing my father's interest in baseball until we moved to Washington in the fall of 1968. The rest are a matter of understanding the history of baseball as a business, and how the owners of those three teams exploited the weaker teams in the league to their advantage. Bill James* and others have described the general structure of baseball in the 1940s and 1950s as a system in which the richer teams bought good players from the poorer teams and relegated poor players to those teams, aggravating a structure in which the rich teams had larger systems of farm teams in which to develop talent. There was no draft and no free agent draft pick compensation in those days, and the reserve clause kept players bound to their teams until the teams were good and ready to get rid of them. Under those circumstances, it was very difficult for a poor team, usually in the bottom of the standings to grow a cadre of young players with which to challenge the Dodgers and Yankees, and in fact the Phillies didn't improve until new ownership allowed them to build a farm system of their own. The same is true of the former Browns, who moved to Baltimore in the 1950s and after a long decade of misery became successful as the Orioles, and of the A's, who continued to serve as a Yankees farm team at the major league level in Kansas City for a decade until purchased by Charles Finley. It is no coincidence that the Yankees' collapse in 1965 came just two years after Finely shut off the pipeline that had taken good players from Kansas City to New York and returned castoffs in the other direction.

The Cardinals and Dodgers? More of the same, if not quite as egregious as the Yankees. The Dodgers get an extra dose of hate from me for Walter O'Malley's role in supporting the exodus of the Senators from Washington in 1972; his persistent ridicule of would-be purchaser Joe Danzansky was a factor in killing the sale that would have kept the team in DC, and under his leadership, the Dodgers were every bit as manipulative as the Yankees and Cardinals. I have no beef with the team's move from Brooklyn to LA; there were good financial reasons for this, and one has to remember that baseball is a business, but I hope Mr. O'Malley is frying in Hell, and I curse his team.

So here we have three teams which for decades used their wealth to unbalance the playing field as much as possible in their favor, mercilessly exploit players until the coming of Marvin Miller and the rise of the players' union, and engage in conduct which was demonstrably bad for the game in the 1940s and 1950s. Two decades which, we are told shamelessly by most of the baseball media (not coincidentally based in New York) were the Golden Age of baseball. Feh. We are well aware that most teams are (and have been) run by wealthy fanboys who really had no idea how to win baseball games or make money at it*, but the corruption of the game by men of wealth who DID understand both is not something you should be celebrating, Yankees fans. You have forty pennants and twenty-seven World Championships because for three decades your team systematically plundered its fellows in the American and National Leagues. To this day, the Yankees enjoy a massive advantage in revenues that in other sports would be shared equitably with the other teams in the league, but is used to attract free agents and draftees who are after the big paychecks.

John Helyar** and others have pointed out that the recent labor troubles in baseball really aren't between the teams and the players' union. They're really between the big money teams like the Braves, Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox and the small-market teams: the A's, Twins, Royals, Reds...in fact, most of the other thirty teams in the major leagues. Until the small-market teams manage to pull together and inflict a revenue-sharing arrangement on the big-money teams such as exists in the NFL, this situation is going to continue, and we're going to continue slowly slipping toward the kind of imbalance that existed in the days of our parents & grandparents. Which I suspect would be just fine by Yankees fans, but baseball isn't supposed to be just for the benefit of New York.

UPDATE: Almost forgot Thom Loverro's splenetic rant on the topic of the Yankees' 27th, which reinforces a couple of the points I made supra. One sometimes forgets that George Steinbrenner was as big a fanboy as any other owner, and his absence has been good for the team.

*The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract is a gold mine for this sort of thing, but it's scattered through the player comments and chapters on each decade. Not that you should have a problem with this. :)

**Pretty much any Bill James book ever, the annual stat books excluded, and also Michael Lewis' outstanding Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.

*** See his The Lords of the Realm.