Text and photo by Bob Smith
Just what these troubled times need – with 10 percent unemployment, a pending H1N1 epidemic that President Obama has declared an emergency, two never-ending wars, and a gradual coarsening of the American psyche, something wondrous and nearly completely unexpected has happened – the New York Yankees are once again in the World Series.
How did they do it? How did this downtrodden, ragtag bunch of fresh-faced youngsters overcome the odds to compete for the richest prize in all of sport? Even a cursory glance at the events of the past 13 months show that lady luck can still – even in an era when breast enlargement ranks as the top graduation gift for female high school seniors – be the only logical reason for unexpected glory.
“The Yankees win! Thuhh…Yankees…win!” Such has been Yankees radio announcer John Sterling’s impassioned, from-the-heart cry at the end of 110 regular season and playoff contests during 2009. His spitting, sputtering, shaking,
nearly tearful simulation of a professional sports broadcaster is bellowed into his microphone at incus-splitting decibels, and why not? Sterling, who reportedly was cannily dipping his fingers into the Yankee press room’s public ice cream bins during the previous season and has been shown on regional sports programming wearing light colored socks with dark suits, probably can’t believe what he’s seeing. Oh, the greatness and glory of the most storied franchise in the history of the free world! For the Yankees, as any clear-thinking sports fan knows, are the architects and the experts of what clearly is the hardest form of “the grand old game” to play: checkbook baseball.
Since 2000, the Yankees have gone without a world championship, despite the disadvantage of having a payroll that’s about twice as large as that of the second place ranking team. For 2009, the Yankees regular reason payroll was only about $1 million over the $200 million mark as play began in April; that’s nearly $8 million less than their mark in 2008, yet far eclipsing the mark of the second place club, the New York Mets, who parlayed their reported $149 million payroll into a next-to-last place National League East finish. So the logical question comes to mind: How can any franchise overcome the enormous burden of having so much money that even their AAAA relief pitchers such as Damaso Marte can wipe their asses with twenties if they so choose?
Indeed, this latest sports miracle, every bit as startling as Tony Garea and 600-pound, overall-clad country bumpkin Haystacks Calhoun somehow defeating the wily Japanese duo of Professor Tanaka and Mr. Fuji for the WWWF world tag team title in 1973, seems all the more incredible the more one thinks of it. How in the wide, wide world of sports can a team overcome the obstacle of having the highest paid first baseman, the highest paid shortstop, the #1 and #4 highest paid starting pitchers, the highest paid catcher, the highest paid closing relief pitcher, and, of course, an insurmountable problem in having to deal with the world’s highest paid athlete – self-kissing, public-tanning, Kate Hudson-mounting, supplement-admitting third baseman Alex Rodriguez? Indeed, of the sport’s 20 highest-paid players, only six cash paychecks issued by the New York Yankees!
After failing to make the playoffs in 2008, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, reportedly facing the ax after failing to “bring home another world championship” (the words of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s son, Hank, one of several relatives that the aging “Boss” has open-heartedly given top ranking jobs to), acted like a man defeated. His lazy off-season was highlighted only by giving new free agent contracts to pitchers C.C. Sabathia (only $161 million) and A.J. Burnett, and, as an afterthought, picking up first baseman Mark Teixeira at the bargain basement price of only $20,625,000 per annum.
Add to that the worries of opening a new, tax-break laden Yankee Stadium; manager Joe Girardi’s penchant for pulling pitchers throwing shutouts in favor of lefty-righty switches in the sixth inning; radio color person Suzyn Waldman’s frequent on-air mood swings (“Oh, my goodness gracious!”); and the day-to-day problems of running a profitable TV network (the beloved YES Network, which features such journalists as the esteemed Michael Kay, whose work in hosting sports autograph parties is the stuff of legend), and the prospect of winning baseball games seemed so impossible.
And yet, here they are, about to take on the Philadelphia Phillies in the fall classic. Like the incredible “Miracle On Ice,” Taylor Hicks, and the Garea-Calhoun tag team, such are the upsets that serve as such a tonic for our societal ills. And, like our dear Republican friends love to do, it only goes to prove: If you have a problem, throw bales of money at it.
And of course, who gives a flying fuck about franchises in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Washington, D.C.? They’re only de facto farm systems for teams such as New York in the first place. All is as it should be. All is right in the world.
The Yankees win! Thuhhhh…Yankees…win!
Robert Smith steadfastly refuses to give up using Brylcreem, and when he chooses to drink beer, he prefers Fort Schuyler.