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The Guardian

The New York Yankees aren’t evil any more, they’re just boring

The Bronx Bombers are in danger of losing their place as the premier franchise in baseball after a series of ringless, sizzle-less seasons The New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge strikes out, again. Photograph: Gail Burton/AP For roughly a century, the New York Yankees have stood at the center of Major League Baseball’s universe. That’s where you live when you win 27 World Series titles, are continuously near the top of baseball’s payroll list, and play in one of the biggest sports markets in the world. Traditionally, the Yankees have been in it to win at all costs. In December 2002, the Yankees, furious after losing twice in the playoffs following a run of four titles in five years, beat out their Boston rivals in a battle for Cuban free agent Jose Contreras. “The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America,” said then Red Sox president Larry Luchino. But now, nearly two decades later, the Yankees aren’t evil any more. They’re just boring. Down the years, the Yankees pissed fans off because they were better than your team or more ruthless – and quite often they were both. Now New York’s Bronx Bombers are a buzz-free snooze-fest who don’t seem to bother anybody. They’re an identity-less ballclub searching for something, anything that can kick start a restoration of their once-glorious franchise, one reason why 21 games into their season, they had featured 21 different lineups. And while winning more consistently would help, there’s little chance that this flavorless group lights up Broadway like the great teams of the past. These days the mighty Yankees are more likely to emulate the on-field strategies of scrappy Tampa Bay, as New York did during the 2020 playoffs when they tried to “out-Ray the Rays”, going with an opener in a disastrous loss that preceded another early-round ousting. Amazingly, they tried it again against the Rays this season, drawing sharp criticism from their own television play-by-play voice Michael Kay for being “too cute”. The Rays have now defeated the Bombers in six straight series. Imagine that, the New York Yankees, adopting “if you can’t beat them, join them” tactics against a franchise that’s some 25 slots below them in salary? And it’s not the first time in recent years. After the 2017 season, they ousted long-time manager, Joe Girardi, who was fresh off leading his club to within a game of the World Series, in favor of rookie skipper Aaron Boone. The former infielder was billed as the sort of new school, analytics-embracing manager with great “connectivity” that much of baseball has started to lean towards. So far the change hasn’t yielded that elusive 28th title, and Girardi remains the last manager to win it all in the Bronx. But it’s not just World Series that are absent from the modern Yankees, it’s the intrigue. Their first sack of titles came along with the uncomfortable relationship between Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Later, there was the schism between Joe D and The Mick, with Mantle eventually dethroning DiMaggio in the Bronx. In between winning fists full of rings there was a famous fight at the Copa, and Berra’s colorful Yogi-isms. Their last dull lull, which began in 1965, ended with the arrival of owner George Steinbrenner in 1973, who was brilliantly described in the Guardian’s obituary as “a bully and a brat, devoid of humility, class, and civility, born on third base, deluded that he’d hit a triple, and convinced he had to tell the whole world how he’d done it.” And while Steinbrenner made the evil empire more malignant – to fans of other teams, at least – his reign was never boring. New York under Steinbrenner, from his soap operas with Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield and the legendary Berra, to his drunken sailor spending and continuous trading of top prospects, was a trainwreck you couldn’t take your eyes off. The Yankees have been associated with sporting titans such as Joe DiMaggio throughout their history. Photograph: -/EPA Between 1996 and 2000 came the mostly peaceful dynasty of four titles in five seasons. They were won in spite of Steinbrenner, and were anchored by the steady hand of Derek Jeter, who, to be fair, did once date Mariah Carey, and may or may not have offered fully branded “gift baskets to one night stands.” That calm was interrupted by the trade for headline machine Alex Rodriguez in 2004, bringing a new drama, surrounding his relationship with Jeter. The once-supertight shortstops’ relationship took a drastic turn after A-Rod told Esquire that the Yankees captain “never had to lead”. The pair won one World Series title in 2009, before three-years of chaotic, non-stop, eye-popping A-Rod coverage that brought back memories of the Steinbrenner “Bronx Zoo” era. In 2013, A-Rod sued the Yankees team doctor for misdiagnosing his hip injury – a warmup for his eventual lawsuit against MLB for their suspension of the third baseman for his use of performance enhancing drugs. A-Rod eventually returned, drawing fury from fans and beanballs from opposing pitchers, before retiring in 2016, taking the last vestiges of star-driven, interesting Yankees baseball with him. Today, the Yankees are in Year 12 of a run of zero titles and zero World Series appearances, while the closest thing they have to controversy is what to do with their disappointing catcher Gary Sanchez. Their longtime general manager Brian Cashman is considered untouchable despite his recent lack of rings, mostly because the team nearly always makes the playoffs, even if they don’t make the World Series, and the current chairman, Harold Steinbrenner, prefers a more stable, less bombastic organizational framework. Cashman has built another talented, but faceless team, who are incapable of winning the World Series. A unit as sterile as the Yankees policy of trimmed hair and beardless ballplayers. Who do you want to watch on this team? Aaron Judge? He was billed as the franchise’s next Derek Jeter, but has struggled to stay on the field and has even been mentioned in trade talks. Giancarlo Stanton? He has been mostly a bust and has hemorrhaged the team financially. Gerrit Cole is an ace, no question, but after that, the rotation lacks stability and character. The Yankees have been surpassed by the Red Sox, who gobbled up four titles between 2004 and 2018 around the larger than life David Ortiz. By the Dodgers, who have dominated the payroll list in all but one season since 2013 and grabbed the premiere free agent pitcher last offseason in lightning rod Trevor Bauer. By the Rays, who have reshaped the way baseball teams are put together, all for pennies on the dollar. Even the New York Mets, with their new Twitter dabbling billionaire owner, the best pitcher in baseball, and recent scraps in the tunnel, have a more intriguing product. Yankees fans are noticing: tickets to a recent Wednesday night game against the Braves could be had for as little as $8 on the resale market. No, the Yankees have nothing going on. They have no bluster. Even Reggie Jackson, the ultimate symbol of Bombers swagger is now working for the hated Houston Astros after departing New York’s payroll. And their ballpark, built to model the original Yankee Stadium, is a homogenized, Las Vegas like monument to the past that doesn’t measure up to the real thing. Just like the team that currently plays inside it.