12/23/08 6:30 PM EST
Yanks are back to being the Yanks
All is right in world when Bombers are making headlines again
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
You hate them.
It has been two weeks since this story first was posted on MLB.com, and right now you love them more and you hate them more.
You're talking about them more, you're texting about them more, you're blogging about them more, you're e-mailing about them more and you're sticking your chest out farther or you're more disgusted or worried or amused than before.
Those damn Yankees.
Now it's really like old times again in Major League Baseball. Like 1920-30s and 1940-50s old times, at least in terms of love/hate omnipresence. It remains to be seen what life after the next regular season will be like, of course, but these guys are going to a new ballpark in style, give them that much.
Seriously. Mark Teixeira, too?
Is anyone else making moves this offseason? Oh, yes. We've seen one here and there. Francisco Rodriguez to the Mets, that was big -- and they got J.J. Putz for the bullpen, too. Rafael Furcal is staying with the Dodgers. The Red Sox pulled at least a minor coup in acquiring 22-year-old Junichi Tazawa, who could become the next Daisuke Matsuzaka. There have been some other assorted dealings. But it's a Yankees offseason so far.
No other team in worldwide professional sports -- not Manchester United in English football, not the Dallas Cowboys in American football -- has a stronger and longer tradition of evoking two equal and opposite reactions from fans quite like the New York Yankees. It's because of months like this one, at a time when the game is not being played on a field but over power lunches and in public debate.
The Bronx Bombers closed up the Winter Meetings by signing the top starting pitcher in this year's free-agent crop, CC Sabathia, for seven years and $161 million. Then they pounced on the No. 2 free-agent starter out there, A.J. Burnett, who has preliminarily agreed to five years and $82.5 million. Boom. Boom.
Now they lowered the boom once more. Teixeira -- reported to also having been considered by the Red Sox, Nationals and Orioles -- reportedly has agreed to an eight-year deal worth $170 million.
That's $413.5 million committed to three baseball players.
Three guys, like you and me, except they will wear pinstripes and will be expected to return the Yankees to postseason status -- and far more than that, for they will be expected to resume the World Series championship ticket that has stalled at 26 since 2000.
The Yankees have the best overall player in baseball, Alex Rodriguez, who plays for the largest salary. They have the franchise player who sells so many jerseys, Derek Jeter. They have a new Yankee Stadium coming in April, the stuff of dreams.
Whose jersey do you customize, anyway? Do you need a bigger closet?
If you hate the Yankees, is it more fun than ever right now?
Do those guys have more money committed to three players than your local city has grossed in its history since incorporation?
Plenty is wrong in the world right now. America is in a recession, jobs are vanishing around the clock, holiday shopping has declined, the auto industry had to beg for money, retirement funds are in question and "Ponzi scheme" now is in the public lexicon. But Britney Spears is back on top and the Yankees are back to being the Yankees, at least in raising your emotions. And that last sentence was posted two weeks ago, even before Teixeira agreed to replace Jason Giambi at first base.
What the Yankees don't have right now is a current streak of postseason appearances. That vanished in 2008. The Yanks had gone to the playoffs in 12 straight years. This year they watched as the Rays, of all people, rose up out of nowhere and not only had their first winning season, but also made it to the World Series. The Yankees did not win the American League Wild Card, either; the Red Sox did.
"You kind of took it for granted around the Yankees that there was always going to be baseball in October," great Yankees lefty Whitey Ford said 20 years ago.
What the Yankees don't have right now is a World Series trophy of any recent stature hanging around the offices. In October 2000, they were handed a 24-inch-high Tiffany-made trophy featuring 30 flags, one for each Major League team, with latitude/longitude lines symbolizing the world, and 24-karat vermeil stitches representing those on a baseball. Etched on the base are the words, "Presented by the Commissioner of Baseball," along with the signature of Bud Selig.
Where did those days go? That was the third straight World Series championship for the Bombers and the 26th overall, the most among major professional teams. The fourth in a row was stolen with Luis Gonzalez's hit against Mariano Rivera at Arizona in those tense and unforgettable times. In those days following 9/11, as baseball saw its first November, there was an unprecedented solidarity between the Yankees and seemingly all Americans; even those who annually hated the guys in pinstripes found themselves pulling for them in 2001.
It is another winter's respite in the national pastime, and once again the Yankees leave you no choice but to fall into one of two camps. It is so hard to find anyone who is indifferent. This writer's son, a Cardinals fan seemingly insulated from concern about a club over in the AL East, with enough to think about on campus, sent a text message from college right after Sabathia's news broke: "cc yanks o no."
You might have either sent one or received one something like that. Now another text has arrived on this BlackBerry from the same son in St. Louis. It read simply:
If you love the Yankees, then you have to love the swagger from the front office. You might not be 100 percent sold on the durability of either frontline starter they just nabbed, and you might wonder if one All-Star first baseman really will be worth all that much after Giambi's past stint in pinstripes. But you look at your new stadium and your marquee talent, and you think eight consecutive seasons without another World Series championship is long enough. You can't customize that new Sabathia jersey fast enough at the MLB.com Shop, and you're sharing the sentiment of Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, who said in a New York appearance recently that "you can't get enough pitching." You look forward to a competition for rotation slots next spring, so different than last spring's youth march.
Can you imagine how crazy it is going to be in the rush to get tickets for the Yankees' first home opener at their new place on April 16 against the Indians? Fortunately, they have scheduled an exhibition series there against the Cubs on April 3-4, giving people a chance to see what baseball feels like in the new cathedral.
From now until then, it is going to be a constant argument. Yankees fans are going to tell you they just got back to the postseason, and possibly to the World Series. Non-Yankees fans are going to cite a trend that towers over any other trend in modern Major League Baseball: Competitive balance. It's everyone's game.
The fans of Philadelphia just got to enjoy that parade that they had waited for season after season since their 76ers won the NBA Finals in 1983. You eagerly note that the Rays were just the latest example of all comers taking over the autumns of your life. The Rockies got to the World Series in 2007. The Tigers ended a 22-year drought of Fall Classics in 2006. The White Sox won it all for the first time in 88 years when they dispatched the World Series newbies from Houston in 2005. Let the Yankees spend all that money, you say; clubs with modest payrolls are finding a way lately.
But spending is no issue so far, and the headlines have been breathtaking. With Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain coming back, re-adding Andy Pettitte or maybe yet another free agent like Derek Lowe or Ben Sheets would mean a serious fight for jobs in the rotation among guys like Phil Hughes. Mike Mussina went out on the top of his career, retiring with 20 wins.
"We, obviously, have a need to improve our starting rotation, period," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "It's not just one -- it's more than one. My intent this winter is to try to improve the club obviously any way I can, but the main focus is going to be the rotation."
Then he grabbed Teixeira.
The Yankees seem like they are determined to do whatever it takes to be in position to end the drought of postseason appearances at one year. Should they make it back to the World Series for the first time since losing to the Marlins in 2003, there would be a strong likelihood of Jeter having another shot at being Mr. November. The season is starting later than ever, and it could end almost a full week into November.
By then, maybe the world already will have changed. Maybe the economy will be better. It will be a full year after the election of Barack Obama as the United States president. Maybe there will be another Yankees parade, coming up the Canyon of Heroes, where the sidewalk along Broadway is paved with tributes to past parade heroes like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Winston Churchill and Jesse Owens.
You love them.
You hate them.
The Yankees are back.
The Yankees are going to bomb.
You wish your team had their pockets.
You're glad your players don't have that pressure.
It is a crazy world right now, but it feels a little more normal for some reason now that the Yankees have had this kind of month.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.