(I've been really angry about the Youkilis signing and typed this up just to vent. I figured I'd post it here and see how many people feel the same way as I do.)
I’ve been a Yankee fan for as long as I can remember. I’m only 22 years old, so I never saw the Bronx Zoo of the 70's or the miserable failures throughout the 80's. Instead, I’ve only seen positives. I’ve been spoiled by Yankee success (the dynasty of the late 90s and the 2009 World Championship) and by a team ownership that is willing to spend whatever it takes to win. Yes, the Yankee brass have made some remarkably foolish decisions with their money over the years. Brian Cashman decided to try the Javier Vazquez experiment—twice. The Yankees signed Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, Jaret Wright, and Tony Womack. They decided to give Alex Rodriguez a 10-year, $275 million contract when he was already 32-years-old (soon to pass his peak in baseball years.) But it was OK, because the Yankees are loaded and can get away with stupid decisions. One player sucks, and you can just sign someone better to replace him. I understand why many people hate the Yankees, but I was fully confident in the reasons that I loved them.
Today, I lost a lot of respect for Yankee ownership. I won’t blame the team or the players, but rather the new set of ownership headed up by Hal Steinbrenner (son of the legendary Yankee Boss.) With Alex Rodriguez needing offseason surgery, the Yankees were desperate to find someone to man third base for most (if not all) of 2013. A few candidates floated around (AAA players like Eduardo Nunez or free agents like Jeff Keppinger). Instead, the Yankees decided to sign longtime Boston Red Sox player Kevin Youkilis.
Signing Kevin Youkilis is not a bad baseball decision on paper. Youkilis is a savvy veteran who always has patient at-bats and plays his heart out on the field. He’s hit for decent average and a bit of power over his career, and although he’s coming off a bad season, he’s projected to adequately play third base. The contract isn’t bad either. He’s only signed for one year, and the money…. well, the money doesn’t matter because these are the Yankees.
But allowing Kevin Youkilis to put on pinstripes is just wrong. I don’t know Youkilis personally of course, but he has played almost his entire career with the rival Boston Red Sox. And not only has he played with the Red Sox, but he had been a key part of the now-dying Yankees/Red Sox rivalry. He’s been involved in brawls and shouting-matches and the ever-entertaining postgame taunts. He plays with energy and enthusiasm, so he has always hated the Yankees with energy and enthusiasm. But now, Yankee ownership has decided to bring this "enemy" into the camp. Yes, money can make baseball players forget their loyalties in a heartbeat (they’re human after all), but that doesn’t make the tension any less visible.
Tonight, for the first time…. ever, I’ve rethought the Yankees “win-at-all cost” strategy. Baseball is just a game, I get that. But this desperation move begs a question. Would you rather see a) your team sign someone you hate (either a bad personality or a long-hated player on a rival team) and win or b) your team sign an inferior player that you don’t hate and lose. For me, I would rather the Yankees sign some random person off the street to play thirdbase than sign Kevin Youkilis. I’d take Tim Tebow or Joe Biden or that guy who plays the drums on SNL. How can a fan be asked to root for a team and enjoy a team’s victories, if he hates the player(s)? Personally, I’d rather root for a team I love that loses 100 games…. than root for a team with player(s) I hate that wins 100 games.
Not to take this too seriously, but I think this comes down to the age old question of “do the ends justify the means?” Can we overlook bad actions because in the end, it all turned out alright? Or do each of our actions have their unique moral quality? I understand that baseball is just a game, but I think these principles still apply… at least to people like me who take the game way too seriously. If the Yankees win the World Series this year, does it justify the fact that they sold out their fan base and lowered their standards? Can Yankee fans enjoy a World Series victory if it has been tainted by an enemy who has been bribed to fight for us temporarily?
I’ll still watch and root for the Yankees because of all the players I love and respect on the team. Derek Jeter. Mariano Rivera. Andy Pettitte. But it’ll be a lot harder to enjoy their victories because of this decision. I tolerated the Johnny Damon signing because he was never truly hated by New York and never took a vicious part in the rivalry. The Youkilis signing is much different. It’s a lowering of standards (and Boston fans would say the same thing if the Red Sox suddenly traded for Alex Rodriguez or Joba Chamberlain).
The Yankees/Red Sox rivalry has been watered down to almost imperceptibility. Loyalty in sports (from players and owners) has evaporated. And a “win-at-all-cost” strategy (adopted by the Yankees and many other teams) has led to a “betrayal” of fan allegiances. I guarantee that attendance figures at Yankee Stadium will drop markedly in 2013 and with good reason. I love winning as much as the next guy-- it's why I'm a Yankees fan. But at some point... the victories will become hollow.
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