Please spare me all the rhapsodic prose about the Yankee Mystique, and the “aura”, and “knowing how to win” and coming up big for the games that count, and so on and so and so on.
There is nothing mysterious about it. The Yankees win because they have the biggest payroll in baseball.
Now you may look at their line-up and say, well, who the heck is getting all that money? Paul O’Neil? Scott Brosius? Chuck Knoblach?
Not exactly. Big money looks like Mo Vaughn. It looks like Alex Rodriguez. It looks like Juan Gonzalez. It looks like Cal Everitt. It looks like all those “star players” that you hear about all the time, who set records for largest salaries, and biggest egos. The Yankees used to be the prime offender.
But that’s from the old days when George Steinbrenner called the shots and micromanaged the team into mediocrity, before he got smart and left baseball to the baseball men, and before Pat Gillick, the smartest manager in baseball, left the Blue Jays to try his luck in Baltimore, and then Seattle, and before Oakland decided to concentrate on young, talented pitchers.
The new big money talks more eloquently. Steinbrenner now lets his baseball people call the shots. The money is still big, but instead of being squandered on a couple of big, bloated Cadillac’s, it is wisely distributed among a dozen or so Accords. Fine cars. Reliable. Solid. Durable. Instead of Mo Vaughn or Carlos Delgado, and a cast of nobodies, the Yankees feature Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada. None of these with the exception of Rivera are the very best, or the very biggest. But no other team can afford such an all-round stellar cast.
Baseball loves to believe that he money doesn’t make a difference. In the case of teams like Boston and Baltimore, it’s true. But Baseball acts as if any team can come along and assemble a durable winner, and take on any other team for the championship. The truth is, that the Yankees, spending their huge cable dollars wisely, are almost invincible. They have won four of the last five World Series, and show every sign of winning four of the next five. It may not be with O’Neill, Clemens, and Martinez, but they have some talented rookies coming up, young players like Soriano, and the money to bring in superb free-agents like Mussina to round out the line-up.
So what we have is that the richest team is going to be favored to win almost every year. And what needs to happen is for the Yankees to recognize that their huge payroll is financed by the game of baseball– not by the Yankees playing themselves– and that some kind of revenue-sharing is necessary to preserve a competitive league.
This year, Oakland and Seattle made credible runs at the World Series. Neither team could really match up to the Yankees. It’s deceptive because you think the teams are similar, but the extra money that the Yankees spent wisely– on a Mike Mussina instead of an Alex Rodriguez– made all the difference. Oakland will probably have to give up Giambi as a free agent this year. Seattle will probably never have so many players having career years all at once again.
If you made a list of the best players by position in baseball, surprise, surprise, there aren’t many Yankees on the list. Forget the hype about Jeter’s allegedly brilliant defense in the playoffs– Rodriguez is better. Giambi is a better first baseman, and Roberto Alomar is the best 2nd baseman. Ivan Rodriguez is the best catcher, and there is no best 3rd base. Shannon Stewart is a better lead-off hitter than Knoblach.
Where the Yankees do have the best is obvious: Mariano Rivera has no peer as a closer.
The trouble is, no other team has as many second or third best players.