Like any decent eulogy, the New York Yankees' will be long on emotion, short on hard details and late in conveyance.
In the end, they'd collapsed under the weight of their own gluttony. There are worse ways to go. They'd grown old, which seemed to surprise them. They'd not taken proper care of themselves – drafted poorly and developed worse, unless it was the other way around – so in the end the best they could do was make themselves comfortable and enjoy the coming aroma of fall.
But they'd had a hell of a time. So good, in fact, they're still celebrating the wonderfulness of last decade (and the one before), their prime. There is a generation of Yankees who haven't bought a drink since they can't remember when, not in their town, where memories are everlasting royalty. And well deserved, too.
As one of their own, Mariano Rivera, observed just the other day, "[It] has been a great run, guys." And it surely has. There is nothing in sports quite like a towering Yankee team. And while they haven't been that in a while, few will forget when navy pinstripes became the center of the baseball universe and lovable Yankees roamed the streets. In town cars. With the windows tinted. Still…
And we regret that it has come to this. Not for them. For us. Back when it became evident the game had tilted in favor of the wealthiest franchise in the largest market, when we wondered what would come of the mom-and-pops, and when most feared what the Yankees would make of baseball's power equilibrium, a wise old baseball man said it best: "We need the Yankees to be better. We need a villain. We need someone to hate. It's what makes the sport great and what makes being a fan great."
This, perhaps, is of little comfort to folks in Kansas City or Pittsburgh or Minneapolis.
For a moment, however, let's assume the better the Yankees, the better the game. (If you are unable to assume that, we have a voucher for you.) And, soon, it would seem, there will be no more Yankees. For the first time in five years and the second since 1994, they (likely) will not qualify for the playoffs, and the baseball world (outside New York) will have no one to root against. Not as a matter of principle. Not viscerally. Not in an anyone-but-the-Yankees kind of way.
As we inch toward Yankee elimination, there are no universal villains left. Granted, a few members of the Los Angeles Dodgers may or may not have peed in the Arizona Diamondbacks' pool. Who hasn't? And they carry every bit the Yankees' payroll. They also haven't won a thing in a quarter-century, employ a manager (Don Mattingly) who may have been the unluckiest Yankee ever, and laugh at all of Juan Uribe's jokes.
And the Red Sox. Very close to the Yankees in terms of global repulsion, particularly since their fans promised to go away after one World Series title, got two, and remain somewhat mouthy. But look at them now. From hearse to first? Rakish sartorial choices? Haven't shaved since John Henry bought the Globe? This team was supposed to stink. And maybe it does (the grooming habits make this a possibility), but it wins a lot of games and, be honest, if you had one night to spend with one team in a Southie pub, it'd be this one. And, lastly, the last six months have made Bobby Valentine look exponentially more incompetent, and who saw that coming?
The rest of the postseason bracket is filled with baseball kittens, sleeping tangled up with each other and purring. Nobody hates the Cleveland Indians. Nobody outside Cleveland, anyhow. Until about a month ago, nobody under 30 had even heard of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Oakland A's squeegee raw sewage from their dugout every few weeks, the area is tested semi-regularly for E. coli, and every time a player breaks wind seven standby plumbers in hazmat gear rush into the clubhouse. You don't want to hate the A's; you want to adopt them.
The Atlanta Braves have become synonymous with non-sellouts at playoff games. But, they have helped people understand the concept behind WAR: Combine the Upton brothers, and you get the equivalent of a replacement player. That's something. The St. Louis Cardinals? Tony La Russa retired. The Detroit Tigers? Jim Leyland didn't. The Texas Rangers? The only people who hate Nolan Ryan, we're guessing, are cattle rustlers in west Texas. The Cincinnati Reds? The machine may still be red, but ain't that big. The Tampa Bay Rays are resourceful, fun, interesting and, given the ballpark, a tad musty.
In other words, they are everything the Yankees are not. Except musty.
That leaves the Yankees in a villainous class by themselves, and the coming October a kind, gentle place, free of a team we hate. Or love to hate. No Yankees (probably). No Evil Empire. No Steinbrenners. No defending champion. No dynasty. No Loria. The only team wearing black is the Pirates, and they're neither evil nor in mourning.
And that's too bad.
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