You know how hard it is for the co-creator of “Pennant Pursuit, the Boston Red Sox Trivia Game” to write this.
It can’t be avoided though. The New York Yankees have, and not for the first time, upon reflection, demolished the oft-stated accusation that Major League Baseball is no longer a sport, but a business. This was always a false dichotomy, for from the days of rag-tag 19th Century baseball to the present, The Great American Pastime That Does Not Require You To Cheer Young Athletes Guaranteeing That They Will Spend Their Retirement In A Brain-Damage Haze has always been both, with each side constantly yielding to the other.
Coming off a disappointing season (the all-time most successful team in pro sports history missed the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years) and faced with an aging, injured, question mark-filled roster despite the highest payroll in the game ($228,995,945; the Houston Astros, in contrast, spend about 24 million, or less that the Yankees paid their steroid cheating third-baseman), and faced with baseball’s team salary luxury tax, which charges teams with a payroll exceeding 189 million for every dollar over it, the Yankees discarded their announced business plan of cutting back on salaries to avoid the tax threshold, and instead went on a spending binge. They snapped up most of the top free agent stars peddling their wares this winter, committing themselves to a staggering boost in contract obligations that will approach a half-billion dollars by the time the dust clears.
Anyone who tries to argue that this made business sense for the Yankees has an impossible task. Yes, the TV ratings for the Yankees sagged and attendance was down last season, because Yankee fans are spoiled rotten (The team has won more World Series championships than the next three most successful teams combined), but the franchise remains a money machine. There is no set of calculations by which the recent spending spree doesn’t subtract from the bottom line—especially since even with all that moolah being handed to players and their agents, the Yankees still look like long-shots to make the play-offs. But the Yankees recognize, as all the responsible baseball teams do, that they are a public service, a cultural touchpoint and a spiritual center for their city, and that the team’s fortunes are inextricably connected to New York’s image and the self-esteem and pride of its residents. New York, in legend, lore and truth, is about the biggest of big, brash cities always striving for the flashy success and the rich jackpot, and the New York Yankees are as much a part of that identity as the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. The Yankees don’t care if the city’s new mayor is a vocal foe of the “1%”: the team stands for the spirit of enterprise that declares that success is nothing to be ashamed of, and that there is nothing wrong with cheering winners, and aspiring to be one.
To be absolutely clear: I hate the damn Yankees. Yet I admire them too, especially now. They have a job to do, expectations to meet and a city to lift up, and no matter what it costs, they are going to do it, or go down trying.