There are many soft drinks, but only one Coca-Cola. A multitude of burgers, but only one McDonald’s. Armies of dolls, but only one Barbie and one G.I. Joe. These varied items combine to encapsulate the idea of “metalanguage,” entities that echo a higher meaning beyond their own physical composition. In fact, it could be said that the aforementioned items are synonymous with the American way of life. Just as the late Pope John Paul II seemed synonymous with forgiveness and Nelson Mandela often appears to embody the very notion of reconciliation. And such is the case with the one and only New York Yankees, the most valuable sports franchise on the face of the Earth.
To love the Yankees, or hate the Yankees? That is the question. For some, it’s the quintessential question. For example, long-time Cubs lover Hillary Clinton now claims she’s “always been a Yankees fan.” Clearly, the New York senator knows where her bread is buttered. Rooting for the Yankees is both as simple and elementary as breathing for most New Yorkers. And rooting for the Yankees has become just as chic as hating them.
There are many reasons to be down on the Yankees, or at least poke fun at them. But whether you love or hate them, the Yanks and their rivalry with the “Red Sox Nation” have evolved into a microcosm of globalization and America’s rapidly changing norms. From the blurring of gender roles to gang-style behavior to multiculturalism to making nice with China to Japanese imports, nothing succeeds like the Yanks vs. Sox.
No longer content to be merely “New York’s Team” or “America’s Team,” the Yankees have already become “The World’s Team.” They have the game’s highest payroll and highest paid player in Alex Rodriquez. The Yankees are perhaps baseball’s most globalized outfit. Of the starting eight on most nights, every single player except one comes from either East Asia or the Caribbean. In studying the major and minor league roster, one might note that the Yankees now have players from Taiwan, China, Japan, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Venezuela. Graham Lloyd, one of their key relief pitchers in the mid-1990s, was from Australia.
This translates into big bucks when you factor in the amount of Yankee merchandise sold overseas in countries like Japan, radio and TV broadcasting rights, and even the Yanks’ odd-sounding deal with a major UK-based soccer franchise. Then there’s the agreement recently inked with the mainland Chinese leadership in Beijing for player development. Not many people know the Yankees recently signed the first-ever contracts with Chinese players. (Fewer people may know that the famous human rights dissident Harry Wu was once a promising shortstop for his college team in China.)
These are not your grandfather’s, nor even your father’s Yankees. Why? You could start with their announcer Suzyn Waldman crying during the broadcast after the Yankees lost their most recent playoff series. As Tom Hanks said in “A League of Their Own,” “There’s no crying in baseball!” (If you want to cry, you should have tried my beautiful, sweet and late mother’s meatloaf!) The Yankees try very hard in their own way to be politically correct and blur gender roles, even if it means carrying a very unprofessional, always annoying, if well-meaning female announcer – especially since she won a sex discrimination suit earlier in her career.
The Yankees also paid a pro-rated, June-to-October $28 million to Roger Clemens this year only to have him go down with blisters on his feet garnered from his baseball shoes. The blisters allegedly led to an elbow injury. Can you imagine Clemens caught up in the Bataan Death March? Do we laugh or cry?
Truth be known, the Yankees sometimes have to jump through extra hoops to win. Merely winning isn’t enough. They have to win with a globalized team that understandably appeals to America’s most cosmopolitan city. The Yanks are locked in a not-so-secret war with their heated rivals the Boston Red Sox for Japanese pitching talent. You could find homegrown pitchers just as good or in some cases far better for $10 million, real American talent (pitchers like Ted Lilly, Scott Kazmir, Brian Bannister, Jeremy Sowers, Cliff Lee or Ben Sheets), rather than paying $50 million “posting fees” to Japanese teams merely for the rights to negotiate with “their best” players. But that’s not conducive to using sports as a building block of the emerging World State. You ask why this is happening? Well, the New York Times have ownership links with the Boston Globe, which in turn has a stake in the Red Sox. It is there you will find the almost religious nature of the Red Sox drive to build a multicultural team.
Not surprisingly, the Sox have become a team dressed in gang-style baggie clothes, using pink bats (on Mother’s Day), flashing jewelry, props, “I’m the greatest hitter in the game” bravado, dreadlocks, tattoos, showboating at the plate, an in-game dating show for male fans and a plethora of Japanese language ads and TV commercials. The fact that the Red Sox were sadly the last Major League team to integrate only propels this in-your-face, militant and debased furor.
All of America’s critical institutions are social constructs, including baseball. Like the NBA (palming, dunking, not playing defense, Dream Teams losses in the Olympic Games), the NFL (sociopathic behavior, helmet first hits, a lack of discipline in blocking and tackling) NHL (armies of players from foreign countries no one’s heard of, fist fights), baseball is now exhibiting similar signs of losing its traditional and fundamental appeal. A lack of “small ball” or bunting and hit-and-run skills, base-running acumen, hitting the cutoff man on a relay throw from the outfield, knowing how many outs there are and even getting out of the way of the ball while up at bat all come to mind. The disjointed nature of postmodern life has crept into the sporting skills of our top athletes.
Yet, there are many more reasons to love the Yankees than hate them.
First of all, they are a clean-cut team that won’t tolerate players in earrings or weird facial hair that seems a page out of “self hatred” in the psychologist’s textbook. The guys look like ballplayers. Reggie Jackson has become the biggest promoter of new Yankee slugger Shelley Duncan, who has apparently, if not wonderfully, become “one of Jackson’s people” in spite of his white skin. (Jackson had been quoted by the New York Times about his race-based love for “my people.”)
The team features a bevy of devout Christians like closer Mariano Rivera and left-handed starter Andy Pettitte. Catcher Jorge Posada raises money for an obscure disease that has sadly affected his own son.
First baseman Andy Phillips cared for his mother and wife when they were sick and injured.
Promising reliever Joba Chamberlain, an American Indian, was cleaning out toilets only a few years ago. Now, armed with a 100-mile-an-hour fastball, he will be able to earn the dollars he will need to care for his loving father, who is in turn beset by various physical ailments.
Relief pitcher Edwar “No D” Ramirez has a father who is a veterinarian and does much to help animals.
Former catcher Will Nieves, who hails from Puerto Rico, was cut in mid season but stuck around to wish the player who replaced him good luck and all the best.
Clearly, this is a team that, despite its baggage, features a good number of players that are exemplary role models for our children on many levels.
Talent-wise, the Yankees score more runs than any other team and boast an array of young stars that are the envy of most franchises. They have “more arms than Vishnu” and every single one of them appear ready to become stars, including Chamberlain, USC’s Ian Kennedy, the University of Florida’s Alan Horne, not to mention Phil Hughes, who flirted with a no-hitter at Texas during his rookie season. Clearly, with all of this young pitching talent, a new dynasty is in the making. In fact, there are no less than a dozen promising young pitchers in the Yankee organization.
Weighing all things, even the small dust, the Yankees are us and we are them, for better or worse, as a nation and as a world. Some good, some bad, lots of wasted talent but still so much more promise for the future, despite their miscalculations and human weaknesses.
The time has come for new allies, especially in the face of new enemies. Globalization is a post-modern reality. World War II is long over and it’s past the time to hug the Japanese. China and the Politburo in Beijing need the Western world to help guide its transformation. Our youth need a clean-cut team to show them how to dress and act. As American culture has been adopted by the world, so too must Americans be more open to interacting with foreign peoples, ways and cultures – at least on the baseball diamond.
God may have a favorite team, but He doesn’t play favorites. Character should always trump race, even in our very tribalized world.
For a quarter billion dollars, you may not get the very best team nor the very best players while rooting for the Yankees, but you do get some of the very best people. People working together across racial, cultural and religious lines towards a common goal. As Herb Brooks said of the 1980 Miracle on Ice gold medal Olympic hockey team, “I’m not looking for the best players. I’m looking for the right players.”
So in terms of “metalanguage,” if you have to choose between loving and hating the Yankees, there can only be one choice:
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