Yankee perception endures

The evolution of baseball seemingly will include one constant, arguing about the Yankees

Originally Published: October 27, 2003
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

I've been spending a lot of time lately with old magazines, "Baseball Magazine" and "Sport," as well as "Baseball Digest." And it's amazing how many of the stories and columns we read today are little more than rehashes of stories and columns written 50 or even 100 years ago.

For example:

"The sacrifice is used in the hope that it will contribute to the production of one or two runs, but one or two runs are seldom important in an age of slam-bang hitting with the emphasis on big innings, meaning four-, five-, or six-run innings, or even more."

A passage from Moneyball or an excerpt from Billy Beane's incredibly popular new motivational tape, "How to Win Friends and Boss Around Managers"?

No, that was written by Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Gordon Cobbledick in 1948. And he was echoing the sentiments of Ed McAuley, another prominent North Coast columnist. Their arguments didn't carry the day, exactly. Baseball never went back to the bunting ways of the Dead Ball Era, but to this day we're arguing about one- (and two-) run strategies.

George Steinbrenner
Steinbrenner is often overbearing and always aggressive.

We're also still arguing about the Yankees. A few minutes after running across Cobbledick's column about the sacrifice "hit," I found this:

"In winning four straight American League pennants and world championships, the Yankees have not won popularity. If anything, as they travel along the path to a victory record unique in baseball, they are also moving through a gauntlet of unparalleled emotion that ranges from fear, envy, distrust, disgust and displeasure to downright hatred."

If you know your baseball (or at least your Yankees) history, then you know this could have been written only twice: not long after the 1939 season, or not long after the 1952 season, both of which ended with the Yankees winning a fourth straight World Series.

Those words were written by Milton Gross and published in the September, 1953 issue of "Sport." The very next month, the Yankees would win their fifth straight World Series, for a record that no one has really come close to breaking since. Gross' article was titled "Why They Hate the Yankees," and one wouldn't imagine that the Yankees were hated less after they won that fifth Series.

But why did they (and we, which is the point of today's column) hate the Yankees?

"Much of this can be discounted as provincial hometown antipathy. Some of it as misunderstanding. Some as misinterpretation. But all of it cannot be written off as the self-pitying voice of the sore loser crying in his beer, and that is because the Yankees, in addition to their talent for winning, also have shown other less commendable talents.

Their organization has methodically put together teams that have won 19 pennants and 15 World Series. But instead of displaying the manners and grace of a champion, too many times they have exhibited the stuffy haughtiness of the self-styled aristocrat. On the field, the players ask no quarter and give none, but unfortunately, this admirable trait does not reflect into the front office, which has a sharp oversensitivity to criticism, yet is not at all loathe to indulge in criticism itself."

Sound familiar? There certainly have been times when our Yankees have exhibited stuffy haughtiness, and there's oversensitivity in abundance

In 1953, Bill Veeck ran the St. Louis Browns, probably the poorest franchise in the major leagues at that time. Veeck didn't like the Yankees, which shouldn't be a huge surprise. What's surprising are his complaints.

"Under this system, the rich clubs get richer and the poor clubs continue poor. With all that TV money they're getting, the Yankees can continue to keep outbidding us for talent. They've signed $500,000 worth of bonus players in the last couple of years, paying for them out of the TV money we help provide. We poorer clubs are helping cut our own throats. None of us is every going to catch up with the Yankees at that rate. They take our money and outbid us. Some of these other club owners are blind to the whole thing. They take their trifling TV revenue and feel like they're well paid. Meanwhile the Yankees are making fools of us."

There are a couple of ways to look at this.

The easy way is to say, "Why should we care if the Yankees have significantly greater resources than all the other teams? After all, it's always been that way, and yet Major League Baseball still thrives."

The hard way is to say, "You know, it's not just Steinbrenner's Yankees who have enjoyed a huge financial advantage. While the Yankees have certainly been managed intelligently over the years, without their 'natural' financial advantage -- well-heeled owners, an under-served metropolitan area -- the Yankees wouldn't have won nearly as many championships."

Both the easy way and the hard way are essentially correct. Getting back to the central theme here, I would suggest that people hate the Yankees for one reason: they win. Yes, there's some hometown antipathy, and management could show a bit more humility when the Yankees do win. But how many people hated the Yankees in the late 1960s or the late 1980s, when they were struggling? I don't remember paying them any mind at all; they were just another overpaid, under-performing team that happened to wear pinstripes.

So, yes, for most of us it's simply the winning. Sour grapes. For me, though, it's more than that. I honestly believe that when the Yankees win, it's unhealthy, because when the Yankees win that becomes the topic of conversation. The Yankees haven't won since 2000, and yet people still tell me all the time how horrible it is, that the Yankees win every year.

You and I both know they don't win every year, but it somehow seems like they win every year. Which isn't good for anybody, really. Two years ago, a generation of baseball fans was created in Arizona. One year ago, a generation of baseball fans was created in Orange County. And this past weekend, a generation of baseball fans was created in south Florida (assuming, of course, the owner doesn't squander all this new-found goodwill).

And, friends, that's good for baseball. There's a fine line between hating the Yankees and hating what the Yankees mean. I don't exactly know which side of the line I'm on, but I do know that Josh Beckett is going to be one of my favorite pitchers for a long, long time.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.

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