Alex Massie

The Fall of the Yankees

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Ross Douthat has a fine post  - from a Red Sox perspective, no less - on the decline and fall of the New York Yankees. For the first time in what seems like a generation the Pinstripers won't be playing in the post-season. Buster Olney explains why in terms of trades and drafts here. Messrs Douthat and Olney make some very pertinent points.

But, as I dare to suggest, in a piece I wrote for the New Republic last year, can it really be a coincidence that the age of Bush has coincided with eight years of Yankee failure (ie, no world Series triumphs)? I think not. The Bush administration's bad karma has leaked into the Bronx and somehow turned the Bombers into a baseball version of Bush's presidency...

The Clinton-era Yankee dynasty was remarkable for one thing above all: These were Yankees you could love. Or at least not hate. They had a mixture of suave youngsters and scrappy veterans that sportswriters love. Four titles were added between 1996 and 2000. These were happy, innocent years of fat--so much so in New York, in fact, that providence even permitted the Mets to participate in a Subway Series in 2000. The doyen of baseball writers, Roger Angell, was not alone in setting aside his "long-standing coolness toward the club", concluding that "The Yankees--who'd have thought it--had become lovable".

But that was before the excesses of the Bush years. In 1996, the Yankee payroll was $66 million; this year it was $195 million--a spending splurge even the federal government might admire.

The parallels continue. As the United States has squandered goodwill internationally, so have the Yankees domestically. And one can see why.

In fact if Americans could apply their understanding of baseball to the country's relations with the rest of the world, then perhaps they would be better placed to understand how the United States came to have an image problem. After all, the New York Yankees are to Major League Baseball what America is to the rest of the countries of the world. The Evil Empire indeed.

The Yankees are a sporting hegemon; a "rogue franchise" doing--we're often told--great and possibly irreparable damage to the game. No other franchise has won more than ten World Series titles; the Yanks have hauled in no fewer than 26. Baseball is unipolar.

No wonder baseball deemed the Yankees are hyper-power in need of taming. Baseball's luxury tax--the millions of dollars paid by the Yankees to small market also-rans such as Kansas City and Pittsburgh--represents, in an American era marked by conspicuous tax giveaways to the already wealthy, a collectivist move to meet Karl Marx's famous demand: "from each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs." It's Gulliver brought low by baseball's Lilliputians, just as, conservatives like to remind us, the United Nations desires to tame the United States.

Like the United States, the Yanks are immensely rich, accustomed to getting their own way, suspicious of those who did not appreciate their point of view, and not always especially diplomatic in dealing with their friends and rivals alike. George Steinbrenner's attitude to free agents--if we want him, we'll take him--is paralleled by the Bush administration's disdain for international institutions: Laws, or market realities, that apply to lesser nations don't apply to us...

Sure, the Yanks might have more fans than any other side--like the United States, perhaps--but amongst baseball fans collectively, the Yankees are a minority taste, just as admitting to an admiration for the United States has become a risky proposition at dinner parties around the world.

In the circles I move in, it's considered poor form to admit to a fascination with, let a alone a liking for, the Bronx Bombers. Doing so is akin to supporting the school bully or admitting that you voted for George W. Bush in both the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections. It's not the sort of thing you mention in polite society. The Yankees are my sordid little American League secret and, to borrow from Yeats, my own "terrible beauty."

Oh, and there's one other thing for Massachuestts and the Red Sox Nation to consider before they vote for Barack Obama in November:

Maybe the Republican Party itself is bad for the Yankees. After all, the Bronx Bombers haven't won a World Series under a Republican president since the Eisenhower administration. Just seven of their 26 titles have been won while the GOP possessed the White House.

There you have it: if McCain really is a third Bush term, then the curse will continue. On the other hand, if Obama wins perhaps the good times will roll again in the Bronx.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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