This Magazine Staff
Please note: I wrote this piece last week, and was about to post it when the news of Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle’s death in a tragic plane accident hit the media. I have held it to allow that terrible story due weight.
Why We Love It When The Yanks Lose
They’ve got all the money; most of the influence; a giant talent pool; a massive, loyal, patriotic following; and for the most part a deferential media that can be lulled into repeating the mantra of their superiority. There are truly good people working the gears of the organization, though most everyone agrees the head guy is a bit of a fish. Even those of us who are not citizens of the Yankee nation understand and respect the justifications for their legendary status. Their history is littered with storied heroes and noble tragedy. They wear an undeniable greatness about them. And yet we do so love it when someone manages to bring them low.
The Euston manifesto folks can relax, because I’m talking baseball, not geo-politics, though maybe an examination of New York Yankee schadenfreude would prove germane to an understanding of why, while everyone is equally pissed off and terrified that irrational, tyrannical North Korea managed to rub George Bush’s nice suit in the dirt last week, some of us don’t so much mind that dirt was applied to that particular suit. And if anyone doubts that schadenfreude was out there after NK’s big boom, let me point to the eminently reasonable Paul Well’s blog comment on the subject, a reference to Bush’s famous, now infamous, Axis of Evil speech:
Note to self:
In future, try not to write any speeches justifying an invasion of Iraq by saying Iran and North Korea are evil too.
A quick perusal of the Daily Show website will get you much, much more of this kind of sentiment, and that even from within the United States. But back to baseball.
For those who don’t follow the sport, the very expensive, very powerful New York Yankees baseball club, winners of the American League Eastern Division, were eliminated from the World Series playoffs by the lowly Detroit Tigers, a team that managed to squeak into the play-offs on what is known as “the wild-card.” Really, in baseball terms it wasn’t even close. In the face of Detroit pitching, the Yankees much-celebrated batting line-up, the so called “Legion of Doom” gathered up their equipment and went home like so many dejected pre-schoolers looking for a snack before bath time. As a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, a team genetically determined to hate both the Yanks and the Tigers in head-to-head play, it was very, very easy to pick a favorite. Watching the Tigers hand the Yanks their butts was unbelievably delicious.
The reason fans of other baseball teams get an undeniable guilty pleasure from seeing the Yankees humiliated, especially by such an unlikely bunch as the Detroit Tigers (who just three years ago sported one of the worst records baseball has ever seen) is not because we don’t like the idea of either the Yankees or athletic superiority. It’s not because we don’t believe the most-talented team should win. And nor is it because we have any particular animosity toward the good people of New York. Instead, it’s a question of intention and method. The impulse to hate Yankees speaks to the baseball purist’s instinct that the best, most correct, most pure way to win the World Series is to compete on a level playing field, to compete fairly and in the spirit of good sportsmanship.
Which is exactly what the Yankees tend not to do. This is a baseball team that spent $194,663,079 on player salaries this past season (source: USA Today). That’s more than double the total payroll for the Detroit Tigers ($82,612,866), the guys what beat ’em. My dear Blue Jays, despite a number of expensive additions to their team during the last off-season only spent $71,915,000 in total payroll, and they tended to beat up on the Yankees all season as well. The closest team in payroll to the Yankees is the Boston Red Sox, and they are $74 million shy of the New York number. They are the entire Blue Jay payroll (plus a couple mil) shy of the New York number.
Obscene? A lot of folks think so, but what are you going to do? It’s not like the New York Yankees have stolen this money. It’s not like they spend money for evil purposes. No, they have a lot of money, so they spend a lot of money, buying up every superstar they can find in an effort to win the World Series (which they have not done since 2000).
In baseball, New York is thought of as America’s team. I know a lot of people would disagree, but the numbers don’t lie. Major League Baseball official merchandise sales generally show Yankees-wear selling more than any other team’s. It would be easy to interpret this as implicit support for a win-at-any-cost mindset — and some might then even transfer that conclusion into a discussion of America’s role in the world.
Some might, but not me. Why not? Because this year it was Detroit’s turn to prove that win-at-any-cost does not always translate into winning. And Americans are loving it. Reports this morning show Detroit Tigers gear flying off the racks at MLB faster than anything else, including Yankee stuff. If the perennial popularity of the Yankees suggest that many Americans endorse win-at-any-cost, the Tigers are proving that many more Americans disagree (though they still like winning). Canadian sales of Tiger gear have gone through the roof as well, but that’s probably just our legendary anti-Americanism talking.
Now, you go off and figure out the implications of all this for the Democrats.