Dude, if we don't hate the Yankees, the terrorists have won.
-- Bob Van Voris
A timid 8 year old boy hovers on the fringe of a crowd surrounding a member of the Milwaukee Braves signing autographs. The player leaves, the crowd disbands, and the boy shows his empty yearbook to his dad. The dad says to an usher "Hey, he really wanted an autograph...can you help us?" The usher escorts them to a dark and dingy spot adjacent to the runway between the clubhouse to the dugout. We're on one side of a chain link gate. The dad whispers "Eddie Matthews" and the boy squeaks "Mr. Matthews, would you sign my yearbook please?" Mr. Mathews stops, chats for a moment, and signs. Every player who walks by does the same; they are kind and considerate and chat amiably for a moment. Warren Spahn, the greatest pitcher of modern times, is charming and compliments the father on his nice fountain pen. He looks about eleven feet tall. Hank Aaron is already on the field when they arrive, but Hank's brother Tommie says he'll try to get Hank back before game time. Pleasant, kind, and warm men make this boy feel on top of the world. With one exception. Isn't there always one exception? The backup catcher on this team, a rookie, walks by three times and says "Catch you later, kid." Three times he goes by, three times "Catch you later." Who cares?? Bobby Bragan the manager, Del Crandall, Lew Burdette, Roy McMillan, Frank Bolling, Matthews, Spahn, and many others all sign. Heroes, names only read about, become flesh. Box scores become faces and voices. But Joe Torre, that backup catcher, for whatever reason, ignores that boy three times. Three times looks him square in the eye and says "Catch you later". And later never comes.
Now this man manages the New York Yankees. The Yankees we're supposed to love, as they represent the fallen in New York. They don't represent me. Because the Yankees will gladly destroy baseball. The current Yankees are just like that 1963 rookie. Me first, second, and third. They are as single-minded as a plantation overseer of 200 years ago. Only one thing matters, and all other actions are in place only to make that one thing happen. For the overseer, it was profit: whip, beat, work to death all for that. For the Yankees it is winning. Loyalty means nothing; as soon as someone cannot perform with the best at their position, out they go, replaced like the ever-younger girlfriends of a Mafia don. Few players will voluntarily retire as Yankees. If they do, they quite likely could have played several more years elsewhere. Tradition means nothing. Player development means nothing. The entire world is the Yankees' farm system.
But are you really the winner if you're the only one in your league? Oh sure, there are ostensible competitors, but as it becomes less and less likely for the little guys to succeed, players will recognize their best chance for a World Series is with the big boys. And the leagues will grow more and more remote. There is no limit to the size of the salary differential between bigs and littles. None--as currently situated, the gap can become infinite, and will become closer to that every year. When the gap was smaller, the bidding in an auction for talent was somewhat fair. We could hope to assemble a good team, play tough, learn the ropes, and make a move. But today, when the Yankees sit there, waiting to pluck the best player off each other team, we have no chance. No more waiting for our team to develop and improve, no hoping that the phenom in the minors will become a big star. If he does, he's gone. Most teams can offer only perpetual mediocrity, a guarantee to be also-rans forever. A select few will offer both more money and the only realistic chance a player will have for a championship. Every Jason Giambi who wants to play in the World Series will see that and choose those few. These few teams will become a veritable all-star circuit, and those in the lower levels will develop and feed and hope to get lucky now and then. But luck will be merely hanging with the big boys until the inevitable injury or slump causes them to drop out.
Fewer and fewer of the teams will be able to compete on this level, and eventually we'll have several all star teams and all the rest interchangeable Washington Generals or their equally anonymous descendants, the New York Nationals, with a fan base comparable to that of the Nationals. Maybe then the owners will get together to defend their sport, but I suspect it will be too late. Baseball is already losing fans; it is slow and gradual, with no clock, no limits, no violence, no blood, and when well played, no movement. My wife says only in baseball could a perfect game be one in which absolutely nothing happens. We are a culture that likes big and immediate. What a grim prognosis. The many fans baseball has will look elsewhere for a fairer place to spend their entertainment dollar. Maybe the casinos?
Contraction won't help. We could go back to eight team leagues, and the Yankees with a budget 10 or 20 times that of the Royals, will get all the players they need. The one with the most money will always be able to attract the best talent, and no matter what is done, if the same team always has the most money, it will always attract the best talent. Even if it cannot win every year, it will win frequently. When that gap is 30 times or 40 timers, will the owners get together then? 100 times? As the rich teams become more and more successful, their revenues will increase and increase, while the revenues of the lesser teams will continue to decline. There is no limit to the size of the gap; it will only continue to grow. One feels that if there were only four teams in each league, the Yankees would be happy, as their odds of success would be higher. But the rest of the nation would pay baseball the attention it now pays lacrosse. And once gone, it is unlikely it would ever recover.
Which is, as I hope I have made clear, a shame. Baseball is a game played by men. Not monsters, not teenagers, not thyroid cases, but men who pit their strength and skill one on one against another man. Anyone can dream of playing baseball. Freddie Patek made it. Tom Gordon made it. Small men with giant hearts and powerful ambition. Men who persevered and overcame. And baseball, while a team sport, has the perfect balance of team and individeal. It has real team records real individual records. Football players are as anonymous as they can be. Who is inside those monkey suits? Can't see them, can't hear them, can't interact with them. And the specialization. Third down back. Kick returner. Long snapper. The team can substitute endlessly, carry a number of players, and lose all knowledge of any individual. Basketball has become streetball, with boring one on one matches that sacrifice all aspects of the team for individual glory. I know many kids who would rather lose a game than be dunked on. But baseball requires multiple skills, a team working together, and innumerable little things done well for success. It is the game of real people, and when real people lose interest, it will die a slow, protracted death that will be an agony for many of us.
Miraculously, the Yankees lost the 2001 World Series. And a few more since....but the rest of us gloat over their relative failure, knowing that The Boss and The Fans are as unhappy and disappointed as we are.
Note: There are apparently any number of Yankee haters on the web. Here's one I found who gave me permission to link to him. Should anyone know any others, please send the info to me: