I must preface: I hate the Yankees.
In fact, ‘hate’ is not strong enough a word. I loathe the Yankees. I abhor the Yankees. There just aren’t any words adequate enough to capture the full extent of my emotions.
Rooting for the Yankees is like hoping the star quarterback hooks up with the prom queen. If you like to see the rich getting richer, believe in trickle-up economics or hopes Starbucks sells another frappuccino then maybe the Yankees are the team for you. For my taste, if it came down to a choice between abolishing the Yankees of the H1N1 virus, I would actually think, “hasn’t that poor strain been through enough?”
Yet, despite my passionate distaste for pinstripes I am still able to contain my opinion for the good of journalistic integrity. Just because I hate them doesn’t mean that I can’t admire their significance.
To wit: The New York Yankees are the most important team in professional baseball.
For the reasons of business, commerce, politics, TV ratings and general interest the Yankees are the keystone species in this fragile ecosystem called the Major Leagues. Without the New York franchise in place, baseball would be slowly decomposing in a sweltering canyon with buzzards racing in to pick the carcass.
The success of the Yankees is legend; 26 world championships, an endless procession of Hall of Fame members, a myth immortalized in Hollywood pictures. To the victor go the spoils. So has it been for the Yankees this past century.
This is why the Yankees are so critical. Our reaction to them is polarizing. Only two possible opinions exist: Love or Hate. There is no neutral ground. No other team can generate that level of excitement.
The success of the Yankees is always assumed; it is a forgone conclusion. Any team faced with the task of beating the Yankees four out of seven times in the months of October/ November is staring at a near insurmountable obstacle. Because of this, beating them would becomes a sweeter outcome. The sting of losing to them (sorry Twins and Angel fans) will linger for a while.
Lucas didn’t make Darth Vader a ruthless badass because he felt like it. Vader was a ruthless badass because he had to be. The entire fate of the universe hung in the balance. It was Lucas’ way of upping the ante.
The Yankees reprise the role of the badass cyborg without a heart. They have been World Champions before and they will inevitably do it again. Their mere participation in the post season raises the stakes.
Other teams create apathy among casual fans. “Who’s playing?” they pretend to care. The Yankees bring the element of extremes. People will tune in because they want to see them succeed. Or they will watch to enjoy witnessing their failure. But no matter what, people will pay attention because they are playing.
The Boston Red Sox erroneously believe that the Yankees are their arch nemesis. The truth is the Yankees play foil to all. They are everyone’s arch nemesis. They are the standard by which all teams, baseball or otherwise, are measured. Dynasties of every kind and in every arena are considered to be “the Yankees of _______.” Fill in the blank with ‘Women’s Collegiate Lawn Bowling’ and the analogy still applies.
Statistically, the Yankees were the best team in baseball this year. But the post season is a different animal. Statistics are meaningless; distracting, even.
Heart, faith, momentum. The intangibles win baseball games this time of year.
But the Yankees seem to have that, too.
In a search for the words that aptly describe the Yankees, a simple one comes to mind: it.
It is the word we use when we want to call attention to the qualities that make something unique. It is the word we use when every other adjective struggles to make an appropriate match. It is the word we use when no other will suffice.
Yoda had it, too, but Lucas called it the force. For the 2009 Yankees, it seems to be with them.
And, like it or not, baseball is all the better for it.