Welcome back, Chris Brown…
In a recent survey, the UK voted the Yankees as the team they hate the most. Admittedly if there’s one MLB team that traditionally shouldn’t be liked, it’s the Bronx Bombers, but here’s a few reasons that might just make you reconsider.
They have nice players now
The Yankees have a history of players with a high level of notoriety across the game. Roger Clemens famously had a reputation of being a brute on the mound, and topped it off by the infamous bat throw at Mike Piazza during the 2000 World Series. Paul O’Neill, while coming across as “passionate” to the Yankee fans, mainly came across as a whiny toddler to the rest of baseball. Derek Jeter was well respected for the way he played the game, but was always booed. Not to mention his infield partner Alex Rodriguez, who divided opinion even amongst the Yankee fans, whether you think of him as a drug cheat or not.
Even the great Babe Ruth had a reputation of being a “show-off”. It seems that for a long time a requirement of wearing pinstripes was making yourself as outlandish and unpopular as possible.
Current Yankees may disagree with this sentiment however, and it was certainly noticeable how many baseball writers were talking about the “nice guys” on the Yankee team last year. Didi Gregorius is the epitome of this, the Dutch Shortstop rarely being seen without a smile on his face, and for those who follow him on Twitter, you’ll see a constant shower of praise for his teammates, both veteran and minor league call ups in his post-game reviews. Take this tweet when the Yankees acquired Giancarlo Stanton as an example:
— Sir Didi Gregorius (@DidiG18) December 9, 2017
Next on my good-guy list is Brett Gardner. This off-season, he won the MLB Alumni Associations’ “Heart and Hustle” award, given to the player deemed to embody the values, traditions and spirit of the game. He has also won the Thurman Munson award, for his continuous visits to sick children in New York hospitals. Finally, he literally won the New York BBWAA “Good Guy Award” in 2015, ‘nuff said?
All through the lineup, the Yankees are packed with players who play the game the right way, Aaron Judge is a (massive) model professional, Greg Bird too. CC Sabathia has a mentor presence amongst the young pitchers, and Masahiro Tanaka pitches without any malice.
Admittedly, there are some Yankees who rub people up the wrong way, namely Gary Sanchez and Aroldis Chapman, but both take a back seat in the Yankee team hierarchy. What’s different now from before is the good guys are out in front leading and representing the team, so you don’t have to pay attention to the nasty ones if you don’t want to.
They’ve stopped buying titles
For a long time, the Yankees famously had one of the most temperamental, impulsive, and stupendously rich owners in George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner ran the Yankees from his enormously deep pockets, and as such demanded which players he would sign. Yes the Yankees had the role of a traditional General Manager, but it was almost an honorary position. Steinbrenner would meet with players, offer them contracts way bigger than they could get elsewhere, and sign as much of the top talent as he could. When the luxury tax was introduced in the early 2000’s, he saw it as an annoyance, but paid little attention. He carried on signing whoever he saw fit. This lead to resentment amongst smaller-market teams, who would continue to lose their top talent to Steinbrenner and his ability to add zeroes to the end of cheques.
In recent years (owing to the passing of George), the ownership has been taken over by his son Hal, and the team has been run somewhat differently. The last big splurge of free-agent signings happened with the 2014 additions of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. These additions went so well that 2 of them just won the World Series with the Houston Astros, and Ellsbury is languishing as the world’s most expensive bench warmer (formerly held by Pablo Sandoval before he moved back to the Giants).
Whisper it quietly, but the Yankees seem to have learned their lesson on this. Brian Cashman, the Yankee GM, has made some incredibly savvy trades to stock up the farm system, which has turned into a production line of top prospects, and the Yankees are benefitting from a youth policy, making it to the ALCS in 2017. Judge, Bird, Sanchez and pitcher Luis Severino are all Yankee farm system graduates, and lit up the league last year. There is still more to come in Miguel Andujar, Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield and #5 prospect in baseball, Gleyber Torres (only #5 because Shohei Ohtani qualifies and he’s spent a year on the DL). The future looks very bright.
“But what about Stanton?” I hear you ask/scream. Admittedly, he is earning rather a lot of money, but the Yankees have the revenue streams to afford him, they’re arguably the most recognisable brand in world sport, and there isn’t a team in baseball who wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to get him. The Giants tried, the Cardinals tried, but Stanton turned them down using his no-trade clause. He reportedly had two teams on his wish list, the other being the Dodgers, and because of Miami’s determination to self-destruct, any team would have been bonkers not to go for him. The Yankees could, the Yankees did, and now they have the reigning NL MVP in pinstripes, hardly a move reminiscent of the “evil empire” days of George Steinbrenner.
They haven’t won for a while
Admittedly we’re not talking about a Cubs-length drought here, or a Bambino curse, but the Yankees last won the World Series in 2009. For a team who won 4 World Series in 5 years in the 90s, and have won 27 overall, it’s understandable for the rest of baseball to dislike a team that wins so much. After all, it’s been more than likely over history that teams have had to beat the Yankees on the way to a championship, so they become an ever-present target.
However, Yankee fans have had a taste of normality over the past few seasons. 2 wildcard finishes in the last 5 seasons is not an expected return for New York fans, at the very least the target is set at winning the AL East. A good crack at the ALCS last year was fun, but there has been some serious rebuilding going on with the expiry of some veteran contracts in recent years. Jeter, A-Rod, Mariano Rivera, Mark Teixiera and CC Sabathia all had big deals, and were all significantly past their prime towards the end of their contracts. They have all left the team now (with the exception of CC signing a smaller 1 year deal this offseason), which has removed the sentimental factor of playing these Hall of Fame candidates, and enabled the team to properly rebuild (without tanking, I may add).
They’re fun to watch
Finally, the Yankees have turned into a team that do the thing that is the most fun to watch in baseball, MASH. Aaron Judge caused severe problems for New York Air Traffic Control by taking aim at passing aircraft with his 52 home runs in 2017. Gary Sanchez followed with 33, and both Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner hit over 20. Greg Bird hit 9 in an injury-shortened season, and is predicted to hit more this year. Oh, and did I mention they now have Giancarlo Stanton too? Fans sat in the outfield bleachers this year are going to have to wear helmets, because the Bronx will rain baseballs.
They also were part of some pretty epic games last year, especially in the postseason. After winning the wildcard game against the Minnesota Twins, they went 2-0 down in the series against the Cleveland Indians, and came back to win 3-2, and lost game 7 of the ALCS to the Astros. Nothing seemed certain in these games, which is all you can ask of for exciting baseball.
So, next time you’re asked who you hate in MLB, you’re not allowed to say the New York Yankees. You don’t have to say you like them, but try and enjoy what is on offer in the Bronx, at least until they revert to type, trade away their prospects and overpay on nasty, horrible veterans, right?
Make sure you get your copy of Baseball Prospectus 2018 hot off the press – order from Amazon by clicking this link!