"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Observations From Cooperstown: World Series Afterthoughts

At times, the 2009 Yankees could be infuriating. As a team and as individuals, they displayed a few disturbing tendencies. Let’s consider just some of the following:

In what has become an annual ritual in the 21st century, the Yankees stumbled out of the gate in April, looking all too much like the 2008 team that finished well short of the postseason…

In an early-season game against the Indians, Yankee pitchers were torched so badly that they appeared to be auditioning for spots on the staff of the Washington Nationals…

The catcher, Jorge Posada, sometimes ran the bases as if he were Rich Gedman on acid…

No-hit backup catcher Kevin Cash actually took up space on the roster…

The bullpen, spearheaded by the erratic tossings of Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, and Jonathan Albaladejo, imploded over the first two months of the season…

The top left-handed reliever, Damaso Marte, pitched so badly in the spring that the Yankees couldn’t figure out if he was hurt or just plain awful…

The first baseman, Mark Teixeira, started and finished the season by hitting with all of the dynamism of Miguel Cairo…

Angel Berroa, a no-hit, no-field infielder, actually occupied a place on the 25-man roster…

In losing their first eight head-to-head matchups with the archrival Red Sox, the Yankees looked like the “Little Rascals” playing a pickup game on a sandlot…

After sailing through the first four innings, A.J. Burnett coughed up a five-run lead against the Red Sox on the way to a nationally televised defeat at Fenway Park…

Brett Tomko, already deemed not good enough for teams like the Padres and Royals, actually took up space on the Yankees’ bloated pitching staff…

The left fielder, Johnny Damon, sometimes played his position as if the monuments were still in place on the field at Yankee Stadium…

Hideki Matsui, ravaged by two painful knees, ran so slowly that critics claimed he was headed toward retirement at season’s end…

In their last series before the All-Star break, the Yankees endured a discouraging three-game sweep to their pesky West Coast nemeses, the Angels…

Joba Chamberlain, once hailed as the premier pitching prospect in the organization, lost several miles from his fastball and failed to silence the critics who claimed he belonged in the bullpen…

And yet, in spite of it all, the 2009 Yankees emerged as the best team in baseball, first in the regular season and then in the postseason derby.

The above list of infractions isn’t intended as a means of nitpicking. Rather, it points out that how we, as diehard fans of a team like the Yankees, notice the flaws that emerge during the course of a long, seven-month season. The closer we examine a team, the more we see the warts, the bumps, the crevices.

All teams, no matter how talented, endure slumps, encounter problems, and suffer through embarrassing errors. The best of teams find ways to overcome their difficulties, to make up for their shortcomings. The Yankees were just such a team in 2009, winding their way through a maze of missteps to become the game’s world champions.

Hardly perfect, the Yankees rarely made it easy for themselves in 2009. As a result, they rarely made it easy for us, the fans and followers of the team. The Yankees often coasted through the first six innings of games before suddenly taking control from the seventh inning on. Ultimately, they did what needed to be done to pull out a championship: they played better than their opponents—from the Twins to the Angels to the Phillies, each progressively better than the last team.

For doing just that, the Yankees are, and deservedly so, the world champions…


I find it funny that so many critics in the media are trying to minimize the Yankees’ 27th world title by pointing at the size of the payroll. In some cases, these are the same writers and broadcasters who claimed during the spring that the Yankees hadn’t spent their money well—that they just weren’t good enough. Citing the struggles of the bullpen, the lack of a quality bench, the absence of defensive range in the field, those critics felt the Yankees were no better than the second-best team in their own division, not to mention all of baseball. So which is it: did the Yankees really buy another world championship, when they supposedly lacked the necessities to match the Red Sox only a few months earlier? Critics, you can’t have it both ways.

In reality, the Yankees spent their money well during the off-season. Their talent level was top-notch from the start—championship level, in fact—but was undermined by an early season hip injury to Alex Rodriguez and the inconsistencies that come with a young bullpen. Once Rodriguez started to play, the offense came together. Once the youthful relievers, like Phil Hughes and David Robertson, came up from Triple-A and pitched to their potential, the pitching staff attained needed balance. And, oh by the way, those young relievers came at little financial cost, having nothing to do with the alleged “buying” of a championship.

Brian Cashman also aided the cause with some minor in-season tinkering. Realizing the Yankees needed better depth, he engineered deals for veteran backups in Eric Hinske and Jerry Hairston, Jr. Neither player was acquired at significant financial cost, but rather through old-fashioned horse trading.

So let’s stop the nonsense about how the Yankees merely spent their way to the World Series. Such clamoring might make the critics feel good, but it just doesn’t jive with what they were saying in the spring, just a few months ago. The critics need to stop changing their stories and try working out a different explanation.


Finally, I caught this note in the transactions column, and I just couldn’t let it go without a comment. During the World Series, the San Francisco Giants announced the hiring of Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens as their hitting coach for the 2010 season. For those fans who remember the Yankees’ ineptitude of the early 1990s, this is the same Bam Bam Meulens who emerged as a heralded prospect in the organization only to flop badly for the Yankees of the Mel Hall/Roberto Kelly/Matt Nokes years.

Meulens had exceptional raw talent, including enormous “Death Valley” power, but lacked the basic understanding of how to play the game. Possessing little sense of the strike zone, he flailed away at pitches, striking out often and rarely drawing walks. And yet this is the same Hensley Meulens that has been entrusted with the task of turning around a makeshift Giants offense that strikes out too much and walks too little.

Now that I’ve had some fun at the expense of Meulens, I need to be fair. Meulens is actually an extremely intelligent fellow. A native of Curacao, he speaks five different languages and has drawn strong reviews for his work with young hitters in the Giants’ minor league system. He communicates particularly well with the Giants’ young Latino talent, a good characteristic that bodes well for his relationship with a future star like Pablo Sandoval. So Meulens may do very nicely in his new role.

Just don’t be surprised when sometime in the next ten years, the Yankees announce that they’ve hired Jorge Posada to be their baserunning coach.

Bruce Markusen can be reached via e-mail at bmarkusen@stny.rr.com.

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1 monkeypants   ~  Nov 6, 2009 9:52 am

[0] Solid piece, and funny stuff about Meulens (BTW, is the entire Giant's coaching staff now made up of Yankees of the late 80s-early 90s?). However, this line --- Once the youthful relievers, like Phil Hughes and David Robertson, came up from Triple-A and pitched to their potential --- struck me as slightly revisionist.

2 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Nov 6, 2009 10:17 am

I think the 0-8 to the BoSox was the 'we are dead, they all suck' catalyst for the spring panic (I feel like saying, 'Among the young'uns'!) It was grim, it was Boston, it gave them a major lead ... but it was so early.

After Rodriguez returned, our winning percentage, including playoffs was something astronomically good, all-time good. It is not a coincidence. Straw that stirs the drink?

The money thing is complex and we need to be careful not to trivialize those who mention it. Of course you can spend money foolishly, or you can spend it well. But if you have it to spend you have the CHANCE to spend it well, that other teams do not. The Yankee revenue stream lets them do that. We are lucky, and we should at least acknowledge that much, no?

Love the Jorge as baserunning coach line, Bruce. Ouch.

3 rbj   ~  Nov 6, 2009 10:46 am

I have no problem with the payroll. You spend money to make money. IT is called capitalism.

It isn't just the Yankees vs. other baseball teams, it is also baseball vs. other sports for talented young athletes.

4 monkeypants   ~  Nov 6, 2009 10:59 am

[3] I'm all for capitalism, but I can understand that a sports league thrives (in theory) by selling a product (a sport) part of whose attraction is competitive balance---not strictly parity, but the notion that different teams have a good chance to win the big prize, that the playing field is not tilted heavily in favor of one or a few teams. So, I can see how some fans would feel that the Yankees have an unfair competitive advantage (whether I agree with them or not is another issue).

BUt the thing is, the Yankees are operating within the rules. Moreover, the owners seem to like these rules, and most importantly the players seem to like the rules. No one seems to want any sort of hard salary cap or the like.

So, if fans don't like it, they should exercise their right and simply stop buying the product. That would, eventually, force the owners and players to reconsider the competitive system that they have put in place. Yet even in poor economic times, the fans continue to come out in droves.

5 Raf   ~  Nov 6, 2009 11:00 am

The critics need to stop changing their stories and try working out a different explanation.

Nah, it's much easier and more effective to go Z0MG, $200M!!!!1!1!!!!1one. The hate and transparency is so obvious, no one was or is shouting for a salary cap until the Yankees won. w/e :)

A native of Curacao, he (Meulens) speaks five different languages and has drawn strong reviews for his work with young hitters in the Giants’ minor league system.

Even when he was a prospect, he had a strong work ethic. It's unfortunate that he never learned to control the strike zone, he seemed to be a really good guy. I know I rooted for him to make it. The writing was on the wall, when the organization decided to start Pat Sheridan over him. Then they moved him back to 3b, then Hayes then Boggs were acquired and that was it.

The Yankee revenue stream lets them do that. We are lucky, and we should at least acknowledge that much, no?

I have no problem acknowledging this, but the problem is that the critics want it both ways. The Sox could've had Teix. They didn't want him. The Sox could've had Rodriguez. They misjudged the situation. The Braves were in on Burnett. The players that the Yanks signed or extended were @ market rates. In some cases, players have taken less money to play with the Yanks.

The league needs to figure out what it is they want. They can't keep moving the goalposts every time the Yanks win. The Yankees "buying players" meme goes back to purchasing Babe Ruth from the Red Sox. It's getting a bit old.

6 Bama Yankee   ~  Nov 6, 2009 11:14 am

It a shame that teams like Tampa Bay never make it to the Serious because of their small payrolls and the Mets, Yankees and Cubs just use their high payrolls to dominate the Fall Classic year in and year out...

7 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Nov 6, 2009 11:18 am

Come on guys. I'm a fan all my life, the Boss saved me and the team (in that order!) but ... we DO buy players. Old or not, Ruthian in its time scale or not, it is true. We can buy MANY players, we can replace aged stars with younger equivalents. Yes, it is what free enterprise is all about and the rules allow it, but it does not mean it is lame or trivial if a Blue Jay fan turns off the game (and they have) because they are in the AL East and handicapped badly. I often point out to those fans that there is an accident of bad luck there, that teams in the AL Central or West can make the playoffs with teams less good, but though this is true, it doesn't ease their frustration much.

I also analogize to soccer in Europe, where Real Madrid, AC Milan, Barcelona, Chelsea, Juventus, Marseilles, Man U ... the same handful of teams are ALWAYS in the major club championships and competing for their league trophies. It becomes major news when an interloper club actually pushes into the mix. The revenue generated by international games, merchandising, and sometimes extravagant owners (Chelsea) just makes this ... the norm.

I find forced parity boring and interchangeable but I DO understand those who feel differently. Yes, the Yankees 'play by the rules' we do nothing remotely wrong and a lot right (compare J Loria and his raiding of the fans and the league) but I still say it is wrong to trivialize the other view, and Raf, once you acknowledge this 'luck' it doesn't really address the core issue to say (some) critics want it both ways. The luck lets us sit here today and discuss adding Holliday or Bay or Doc Halladay to what we have. Most cities aren't even able to TALK about that.

Me? I say I'm lucky to be a Yankee fan. Baseball is likely to be consuming into the fall, every year.

8 ms october   ~  Nov 6, 2009 11:20 am

[0] don't forget the high jumper and the unlucky one

jorgie as the baserunning coach - do as i say, not as i did

[4] i am really not for capitalism and certainly not for hyper- or unbridled capitalism - but i have to say i love that the yankees spend like crazy and people bitch and moan about how it is an unfair advantage, but are much more hesitant to believe that about spending in other areas. so spend away yankees.

9 monkeypants   ~  Nov 6, 2009 11:26 am

[8] or unbridled capitalism

Well, MLB is certainly NOT unbridled capitalism, with a cartel of owners, a powerful union of players (and umps), and monopolistic set of TV contracts (national monopoly with Fox, local cable monopolies), revenue sharing, minimum salaries, no-trade draft picks, etc.

I suspect that if the capitalism were less bridled, teams like the Yankees would have less of an advantage gaming the system! But that's speculation on my part.

10 Yankee Mama   ~  Nov 6, 2009 11:28 am

The truth is while I'm not crying for the Steinbrenners, they would be a whole lot richer if there was a salary cap because all the extra revenue would go into their pockets. As it is, they funnel money back into the team because it's a wise investment to have a winning team. The post-season revenue alone makes it worth it.

Yes, they buy players, but there are other teams who can, but won't. Pohlad never would.

As a friend of a family who owns a ml baseball team, they absolutely love, love, love the check they receive every year from revenue sharing, just for owning a baseball team. For them, it's found money and every year they say the same thing; Thanks G-d for the Yankees."

11 monkeypants   ~  Nov 6, 2009 11:28 am

[7] I'm not trivializing the opposing point of view at [4]. But I think the opposing view is often exaggerated, because there is little evidence that more fans are turning off the game than tuning in because of the supposed lack of fairness. Still, MLB must tread lightly and work hard to sell its product to a wide audience, and that means ensuring at least the facade of competitive balance.

12 ms october   ~  Nov 6, 2009 11:30 am

[9] oh i know - i am not referring to mlb , which in many ways is not even a capitalist system - i am referring to other stuff that i am trying hard to avoid here :}
i am keeping my focus on my enjoyment of the yankees payroll - which can be an advantage, that i love for 2 very different reasons

13 Raf   ~  Nov 6, 2009 11:33 am

Blue Jay fan turns off the game (and they have) because they are in the AL East and handicapped badly.

Who signed Vernon Wells? Who signed Alex Rios? Who signed AJ Burnett? The Jays are spending money

The luck lets us sit here today and discuss adding Holliday or Bay or Doc Halladay to what we have. Most cities aren’t even able to TALK about that.

Right. And if you were an Indians/Braves fan in the 80's? If you were a fans of the Senators? Pirates? Phillies? Browns?

Every year, the league has its doormats, teams who have no shot at anything.

14 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Nov 6, 2009 11:35 am

[11] Well put. There's a fair bit of evidence (see the soccer analogy) that superteams, or Evil Empires generate passion, interest, energy, compared to bland parity. Yankee Mama, agreed that many owners aim only to cash their luxury tax cheque - the gaming the system guys are the Lorias and Pohlads. It is interesting to me, and suggest MLB is marketing badly, that the luxury tax report each year is seen as further evidence of Yankee iniquity, instead of data that shows how things are being balanced out. Monkeypants, is it just a 'facade' they need, then?

BTW, a losing Yankee team would NOT have anything like the revenue they have. Remember, some of us lived through the ... Horace Clarke Era! I contrast Toronto and hockey where the utterly, wretchedly useless Leafs sell out every year.

15 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Nov 6, 2009 11:41 am

Jays tried to spend, did it badly (as we have at times, Carl P?) and got up to 80+ million which put them at their lose some money but not a ton level. They are now crippled by those contracts (Wells is the worst MLB contract ever, most likely. Posnanski coined the verb 'to Ricciardi' in honor of that: means a lunatic signing). Our luck is that we never are crippled now. That's my point. We go to 200 million and MAKE money. No one else can do that, Raf. It isn't gaming the system, but it is fair (as I keep saying) to acknowledge the reality. Focusing on the idiot writers who gloat over bad Yankee signings then grumble about Yankee wins misses that, I think.

I'll say it again: I feel very lucky as a baseball fan.

16 Yankee Mama   ~  Nov 6, 2009 11:49 am

[15] Well-said. I will add that when the Yankees didn't make the playoffs last year, the same writers said that finally there was parity in baseball. Make up your mind!

17 Joel   ~  Nov 6, 2009 11:52 am

[10] Amen. George Steinbrenner bought a very so-so franchise in 1973 that CBS was only too happy to get rid of. None of the success of this era was pre-ordained.

Yankee dominance over the last century is just as much (if not more) about the cheapness of other teams than about the Yanks outspending the field. The Yankees have (mostly) been blessed with ownership that cares more and wants it more. The ongoing success of the Yankees two major rivals (Angels, Red Sox) can also be attributed to ownership that very badly wants to win and mobilizes the resources to make it happen.

It starts at the top. The "obscene payroll" crowd ought to point their fingers at owners who are very happy trading essentially risk-free profits for on-the-field mediocrity.

18 Raf   ~  Nov 6, 2009 11:56 am

That’s my point. We go to 200 million and MAKE money. No one else can do that, Raf.

Can't or won't? Until teams open their books, I'm going to take their complaining with a grain of salt. Especially considering that the whining for a cap is coming after the Yanks won it all for the first time since 2000.

19 Joel   ~  Nov 6, 2009 12:06 pm

[18] Exactly. And the Yanks payroll didn't go to $200 million overnight. The spent and made. And spent and made. And all along built the brand. And here we are today.

20 Yankster   ~  Nov 6, 2009 12:12 pm

[10] I totally agree. The steinbrenners have a business model that says put the money back into the team to increase the enterprise value. Many other teams instead use their teams as a source of rents. It's just not very intelligent of the bloviators to fail to recognize this difference in business model. I also find it odd that most don't even caveat their criticism by mentioning teams that don't even make it to the playoffs despite their outsized payrolls.

For once I'd like to see the steinbrenners honored for not looting their teams and cashman honored for having a higher proportion of his payroll play through the playoffs than any other playoff team (I can't remember which article did the numbers showing this, but my bet is the Bruce op-ed guy at the Times).

21 monkeypants   ~  Nov 6, 2009 12:13 pm

[14] It is interesting to me, and suggest MLB is marketing badly, that the luxury tax report each year is seen as further evidence of Yankee iniquity, instead of data that shows how things are being balanced out. Monkeypants, is it just a ‘facade’ they need, then?

Interesting observations. I think that the 'facade' of competitive balance (or perhaps better, competitive fairness) is a minimum. Ideally MLB could point to reality instead of promoting facade.

That they do not...well, I am just conspiratorial enough to wonder how much it is in the interests of the owner and commissioner to paint such a bleak picture? After all, if enough owners convince enough people that the system is "broken"....and the only solution is a hard salary cap...then the owners win and the players lose. And when players like Rollins pop off about the Yankees salary, it only helps the owners in the long run!

22 Raf   ~  Nov 6, 2009 12:18 pm

I am just conspiratorial enough to wonder how much it is in the interests of the owner and commissioner to paint such a bleak picture?

It's very much in their best interests. At the very least, several teams got shiny new stadiums using this bleak picture.

They're running out of teams...

23 a.O   ~  Nov 6, 2009 12:21 pm

So, if MLB puts in more revenue sharing and a payroll cap, then some other team goes out and gets a few free agents and wins the WS, does that team "buy" a championship? Or do the Yankees "buy" the championship for them?

24 monkeypants   ~  Nov 6, 2009 12:26 pm

[22] And the commissioners team...er, his "former" team...got a nice little boost by being transferred to the NL. You know, as part of the "realignment" scheme that was supposed to be so radical and necessary.

25 OldYanksFan   ~  Nov 6, 2009 5:51 pm

[2][7] Well said Hoss. I'm not sure how anyone can deny that our money is a big advantage. Certainly, our 13 PS appearances out of 14 years can't be attributed solely to the combined genius of Cashman and Steinbrenner. This is the way the system works, and we happen to be fans of the team that benefits the most from it.

Do y'all feel guilty? I do at times, but it's more fun to have great players and October baseball almost every year, so I can live with it.

And why people get upset with the media is beyond me. Of course they will complain about our financial advantage. Complaining is an Americn right. These guys aren't journalists, they are entertainment writers. Their only goal is to get read and generate hits/sales/revenue. I'm mean, while this country spirals into a decad long recession, SOMEONE has to tell us whether Brittany is wearing panties or not, and stir up the mob about the big, bad Yankees.

My guess is once in a great while, there is an intelligent, thoughtful article on the Yankees and their role in baseball. But who reads stuff like that? Timmy and Buck and Joe? The story is not about the Yankees... it's about David and Goliath... and the Yankees just happen to be Goliath. And Goliath lives in NY which makes him that much more of a monster.

Hoss and I were around in the mid '60s and '70s. Think anyone complained about the Yankees then? Think ANYONE wrote about the Yankees then? We were so bad, we couldn't even be David.

We... Yankee fans, are lucky. There is some burden rooting for the Yanks, but the benefits far outweigh the negatives. We are rich, handsome and bi-racial... and everyone is jealous... and so they hate us. Big fucking deal. Nothing to get upset about.

Let everyone root for David and against Goliath. That's human nature. It's what I expect and how I would feel if I didn't root for the Yankees.

Hey.... let them eat cake.... cause we got the most filet mignon!

26 OldYanksFan   ~  Nov 6, 2009 6:09 pm

Ultimately, a salary cap hurts the players, so I doubt we will ever have one. The players union is too strong. Certainly, a payrole minimum would be smart, as it would attract owners who were more interested in the sport, rather then the commodity. Also, a way to make sure that shared monies are reinvested in the team as opposed to going into the owners pocket would help.

We might even see another round of playoffs one day. The more rounds there are, the better the chance that the best team does NOT go to the Series, and that a lesser team might. As it is now, the best teams wins the WS far less then 1/2 the time. Maybe we will have another expansion, 32 teams with 8 divisions of 4 teams each. That way, 25% of MLB makes the 'playoffs'. Hell, for parity's sake, we can even have 2 WC teams from each league... and now we have 12 out of 32 teams in the playoffs!

That way, between this system and the terrible umping, we might have two .500 teams in the Series!!!

Viva Parity!

27 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Nov 6, 2009 7:37 pm

[0] Bam Bam had a couple good power years over here in Japan with my Yakult Swallows, but was still a free-swinger. I didn't know he was from Curacao...Andrew Jones is as well, right? 5 languages is impressive!

28 Eddie Lee Whitson KO   ~  Nov 6, 2009 9:58 pm

on the money issue, I will put imbalance aside for a moment, and ask fans to consider their teams on these questions:

1. has their team done all they can to optimise their revenues?

2. has their team invested as much of those revenues back into the team?

3. has their team invested wisely in a mix of established talent and young promise?

What scares people now is that the yanks are doing all three and at least 2 of them better than the rest of the league. Is some of this a function of market scale and scope? yes. Is part of this a reflection of ingenuity and business acumen? yes it is. I have no time for teams who take revenue sharing dollars and still retain earnings that are not going into their teams and neither should their fans.

If you look at the yankees, they make money (net) only, yes only, if they go deep into the post-season. That is why I love this team. The entire system expects, and is built upon, achieving excellence.

What does your team stand for?

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver