The New York Yankees are winning again, which means it’s time to rev up the complaining and criticizing. You will hear, with their $183 million payroll and All-Star lineup, that the Yankees are too big, too powerful, too rich. They are ruining the game and trying to buy a pennant, which is wrong because they are trying to buy a World Series.
Today’s Yankees, well, they’re a nice team. The Yankees of yesteryear were a dynasty, the greatest in sports.
The Yankees of long ago did not simply try; they just did. They won far more and with greater authority than today’s Yankees. For the better part of five decades in general and one remarkable 18-year span in particular, the Yankees shattered any pretext of competition.
Today, when he walks into the clubhouse, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is literally surrounded by the most expensive team assembled in any sport. Here a Gary Sheffield, there an Alex Rodriguez, everywhere a Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, Jason Giambi, Jose Contreras, Javier Vazquez or Hideki Matsui, all acquired via free agency or trades.
And don’t forget the home-grown Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera, Yankees for life, probably, because the Yankees can afford to keep them.
Cashman, the 36-year-old Catholic University graduate, is, along with owner George Steinbrenner, responsible for putting it all together. Cashman was asked during spring training what he made of the relentless drumbeat of criticism and the accusations that his team is single-handedly destroying the competitive balance in baseball.
“The criticism has been the same whether it’s 1924 or 2004,” Cashman said. “It’s the same stuff, year after year. All I know is they’ve been complaining about the Yankees for quite some time. Since I’ve been here it’s been that way, and it was well before me and it will be well after me.”
The complaining, briefly supplanted by panic when the Yankees stumbled out of the gate before winning 10 of their last 12 games, might be the same. But the tone is decidedly different. It is a serious, angry tone, tripping alarms and punctuating fire and brimstone warnings that unless something is done the game will be ruined. Heavy stuff.
But the Yankees are different, too. They are not as good as they once were, back in what many wistfully recall as the good old days of baseball.
For all their wealth and success during the last decade, for all of Steinbrenner’s ceaseless presence and pressure and need to spend that supposedly unfairly tips the scales, the Yankees are no match for their ancestors, who dominated the game like no other team in any sport.
“Nobody wanted to change the system then,” notes author and former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton.
It began, of course, after Col. Jacob Ruppert bought Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox in 1920. The first pennant was in 1923. From that point, throughout the 1920s and 1930s and into the 1940s, they were baseball’s best and most recognizable club.
But Yankees supremacy reached a new level after World War II when, from 1947 through 1964, they won 15 pennants and 10 World Series — including five straight — in 18 seasons. One of the rare times they did not finish first, 1954, they had 103 wins in 154 games.
With Hall of Famers like Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle and the ever-present Yogi Berra, plus an endless supply of replacement parts, they were so good, so coldly efficient that it was said that rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for U.S. Steel or General Motors, depending on your industrial giant of choice.
Then, as now, they were baseball’s richest team.