I am going to try to touch on every MLB team this year and hopefully have repeat posts about teams throughout the season. Earlier today I posted about going to a Twins game on Thursday and my take on their season so far and the hopes for the rest of the season. Here I'm taking a look at the Yankees identity this year and over the years that I have been aware of them since I started getting packs of 1992 Score baseball cards and started really obsessing about baseball.
Today I was excited to do some baseball watching around the league either from MLB Network, MLB.tv, or the local channel for the Twins and the very first game on the schedule was the Yankees playing the Mariners on MLB Network (via YES). I was struck to see a Yankee lineup in their second year after Jeter: Ellsbury, Gardner, ARod, Teixeira, Beltran, Starlin Castro, Headley, Gregorius, Romine. There are a few older power hitters who are getting paid a ton of money in there: ARod, Teixeira and Beltran; speedy veterans: Ellsbury, Gardner and Castro; a couple of younger guys: Gregorius and Romine, and Chase Headley who oddly seems to fit as a Yankee, but not on this Yankee team.
It used to be that the Yankees would be full of players I hated. I grew up half way between Boston and New York and for some reason I was drawn more to the Red Sox at an early age. I think it was that they were underdogs, had fun players like Tim Nehring, Nomar Garciaparra, and Mo Vaughn. I remember saying "I'm Billy Hatcher" while playing whiffleball in the early '90's and later playing as Troy O'Leary and Mike Greenwell. There was something about those players that was scrappy and fun and there was something about the Yankees that was too put together and hate-able. In the early '90's the Yankees were based around Don Mattingly and couldn't quite get over .500. The Red Sox didn't have much more going for them at the time and maybe I was getting a subconscious attachment to the Sox from going to my Grandmother's house in Wellesley, MA every other weekend and seeing her Boston Globe's on the coffee table.
In 1994 the Yankees broke through as one of the best teams in the majors and the next year Derek Jeter debuted on Mattingly's last Yankee team along with Wade Boggs (after he turned from a Red Sock to a Yankee), Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill. I would see those players and cringe. By 1997 the Yankees established themselves as what I hated in a team. They bought their lineup. They had Cecil Fielder, Tino Martinez, Tim Raines, David Wells, David Cone, Dwight Gooden, and Hideki Irabu. It was an All Star team like George Steinbrenner had picked out his favorite baseball cards and also picked out Irabu who was hyped to be the Nolan Ryan of Japan (he wasn't, George ended up thinking he was more of a "fat toad").
The 2001 Yankees were at the height of their home grown/ freelance gunslinger identity under Steinbrenner that was dashed by the Diamondbacks at the last possible moment of the World Series. That team fielded Jeter as the centerpiece, Posada, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius (who was a pesky 3B who was the physicality of "I am good because I am a Yankee" to me), Chuck Knoblauch (who was one of the best 2B's in the majors until he could no longer make the throw to 1B and ended up hitting Keith Olbermann's mother in the face with an errant throw), O'Neill, Justice, and Soriano. It was an All-Star team on the field... maybe not all in the same year, but every one of them was an All Star in their career at least once. It was a sweet feeling to see Luis Gonzalez break his bat off of Mariano Rivera and beat the Yankees on the final pitch of the season.
This year's Yankees have more likable players. ARod is an odd person, but as a Red Sox fan I wanted him to do well as the Yankee fans booed him and moaned about him through his PED suspension and October inabilities. Teixeira puts in effort and seems like a nice enough team player despite how ridiculous he looks in pinstripe pants. Beltran was an underdog. He was a Royal, an Astro, and a Met and he carried those teams to out-perform. He didn't come to the Yankees as a star, he has an understated personality for his great talents and he refuses to slow down as his career winds down. Ellsbury was a Red Sock but he didn't leave on bad terms, he won a World Series with the Sox and the Yankees picked him up as a speed player and not a basher to play alongside Gardner who plays with equal hustle and humility. Gregorius is tasked with being a young player taking over for Jeter, whose shoes he can never fill, but he is a slick fielder and kind of a baseball-smart choice for a team like this. The one player who did not seem especially smart for the Yankees was Headley who was the kind of player who was a Gold Glover and Silver Slugger for the Padres and always projected to be a star once he got out of pitcher friendly Petco Park. He hasn't hit especially well for the Yankees and has looked more like the Steinbrenner wish list players who didn't pan out from 1997.
The Yankees are no long Jeter's team and they're no longer George Steinbrenner's team. They aren't Mattingley's teams of under achieving, but Yankee fans won't humble themselves to say this is ARod's team. Teixeira is often overlooked or hurt, and Beltran is too quiet for it to be his team. CC Sabathia has faded away through weight problems, drinking problems, and age. Rivera has retired but a team has never been a closer's team, and Aroldis Chapman has yet to start his tenure due to a domestic violence suspension. Castro is the new guy although he should be a fan favorite too, and Ellsbury and Gardner don't hit enough bombs to be the face of the Bombers. Bird is out for the year McCann is a bit of a jerk and the pitchers need to pan out.
Who are the Yankees? They are a team of connections. Ruth played with Gehrig, Gehrig played with DiMaggio, DiMaggio played with Mantle, Mantle played with Mel Stottlemyer who was the Yankees pitching coach in the future, and Thurman Munson came up the year after Mantle retired, Munson played under Billy Martin and Berra who were teammates of Mantle's, Munson played with Reggie Jackson who played with Dave Winfield, Winfield and Mattingly had Berra as their Manager and Mattingly played with Jeter, Jeter played with ARod and who ever the next guy is, they will play with ARod. Yankees fans have the hope that the next guy is Aaron Judge, a top power hitting OF propect who is 6'7" and 275 and is just waiting to get called up. The Yankees have these connections through their history and they can either continue those connections and regain how hate-able they are or Judge, Gary Sanchez, or any other prospects or big overpaid free agents of the future don't pan out and those connections will break and they might be just another team...
No, let's face it, they will still be hated for their fans reminding everyone of their World Series champions, romanticizing them as the number 27 for the World Series' they have won (let us not forget they threw a ticker tape parade as AL champions after they lost the World Series against the Pirates in 1960) and doing their obnoxious "roll call" from the bleachers. They will be hated for as long as Michael Kay is in the TV booth as he maintains his crown as worst announcer on TV. That guy is garbage.