Buying an umbrella in New York
You can learn a lot about what New Yorkers think in just a simple conversation
The number of teams who've made the Series in the past 30 years is surprising
The Yankees have a ridiculous lineup on paper ... but that doesn't mean much
So, I have this New York tradition. Every time I come to town I buy a flimsy and wildly overpriced umbrella in some vaguely shady store that sells preposterous New York souvenirs like those miniature Statues of Liberty with Donald Trump's face on it. I call this a tradition; mostly it's a necessity because I NEVER remember to pack an umbrella, and then ALWAYS find myself caught in the New York rain about 27 blocks from where I need to be. I have, through the years, purchased enough cheap New York umbrellas to dome Seattle, not that these umbrellas actually WOULD dome Seattle since they are custom made to blow inside out roughly 12 seconds after purchase.
In any case, I walked into this store on Seventh Avenue to purchase TWO of these New York classic umbrellas (since this time I managed to get my whole family stuck in the rain with me). And I walked smack into the middle of one of those beautiful, sarcastic and movie-like New York conversations. You should know up front that I love New York. I love the little things, I love the rhythms, the crustiness, the smoke rising from the vents, the smells of whatever it is the street vendors are REALLY selling, the death-defying cab rides, the tabloid wars, the revolving doors, the ludicrous prices, the self-reverence, the way so many New Yorkers assume that everyone who lives outside of the city lives on a farm, the pastrami piled high enough to block the sun. And as much as anything, I love New York conversations. If you keep your ears open in the city you will catch Nora Ephron scenes, Bruce Springsteen lyrics and Martin Scorcese sequences.
Anyway, I walked in on this great conversation built around the Yankees and the signing of Mark Teixeira. As you might guess, there's a slightly different reaction to the signing inside the city than there is out. I would say that outside New York there are a few people who seem -- oh, what's the word? Let's say, "perturbed" by the Yankees recent spending spree. CC Sabathia for $161 million. A.J. Burnett for $82.5 million. Teixeira for $180 million. Yeah, it has inspired black plague panic throughout the land, mass hysteria, calls for inquiries and salary caps and the formation of brute squads. I guess the general hum is best summed up by Roy Firestone, who understatedly called the signing of Teixeira, "a dark day for sports in America."*
*Much like I love New York, I also get a huge kick out of the hand-wringing, town crying and generally overwrought reaction to the Yankees and these Brewster's Millions type of sprees. Sure it's unfair. Sure it's annoying and even a bit depressing to see a team like the Yankees (or the Red Sox, or the Mets, or the Angels -- hey, lots of teams try to buy happiness) rake in millions and millions more than other teams and then spend that money on securing the best players, not unlike Mr. Potter taking control of the bank during the Depression,**
**Mr. Potter: "You saved the Building and Loan. I saved all the rest."
But I love the New York frenzy for two reasons. One, I think baseball is much more fun when the Yankees are a truly despicable team that every non-Yankee fan in America can hate without conscience. There were too many shades of gray in 1998, when the Yankees were a pretty likable bunch, and again in 2001 when the World Series was going on while Ground Zero still burned. It's more fun when the Yankees do stuff like this and give us a clear cut, pro wrestling type of villain.
Two, more significantly, it always gives me great comfort to see the following facts:
-- Over the past 10 years, eight different teams have won the World Series. In all, 15 teams made the World Series -- half of the teams in baseball.
-- Over the past 20 years, 14 different teams have won the World Series. In all 22 teams made the World Series. Now, we're at more than two-thirds who have reached the Series.
-- Over the last 30 years, 20 different teams have won the World Series, and only four -- Cubs, Mariners, Rangers and the Expos/Nationals -- have failed to get there.
That's extraordinary, if you think about it: Almost 90 percent of major league teams have reached the World Series in the past 30 years. And the four teams that didn't reach had their good moments, too. The Cubs have made the playoffs six times and, well, only their Cubbiness has kept them from reaching the Series. The Mariners won 116 games in 2001, the most for any team ever. The Montreal Expos had some excellent teams and might have won it all in '94, year of the strike, when they had the young Pedro Martinez, and a lineup that had an in-their-prime Moises Alou, Larry Walker and young Wil Cordero and Cliff Floyd. The Texas Rangers have made the playoffs three times and while there's some dark cloud simply hovering over that franchise, you never get the feeling that the Rangers are hopeless.
By comparison, NFL teams that have not made the Super Bowl the last 30 years include: The Jets, Browns, Chiefs, Saints, Cardinals, Lions, Jaguars, Texans and Vikings, That's 10, almost one-third of all the teams in the NFL.
I don't mean to make this sound like a defense of baseball's system. The system's lousy. The Yankees over the last 14 years have spent a half million dollars in payroll more than the Boston Red Sox or any other team (they have spent 1.2 billion more than the Kansas City Royals), and it has paid off, they have made the playoffs 13 of those years, reached the World Series six times and won four. So, money (to some degree) can buy you love.
But it is also amazing how baseball, the game itself, defies the takeover efforts of corporate raiders. The Yankees won their World Series when the team was, to a large degree, home grown. They famously have not won a World Series since paying big bucks to sign Mike Mussina and then Jason Giambi and then taking on the A-Rod contract. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay last year reached the World Series with the second smallest payroll in baseball; no Rays player made more than $6 million last year. And here's a beautiful bit of trivia for you, one you can definitely use at parties: According to the indispensable USA Today Salary Database, only one team in baseball history has won a World Series with a $100 million payroll. That team? Yep, the Red Sox (twice, 2004 and 2007).
I'm not saying that the Yankees will not win in 2009 -- that's an awfully good team now, absolutely the best that money can buy. But just remember that key fact: 20 teams have won a World Series in the last 30 years. And by comparison:
-- Only 14 teams have won the Super Bowl over the last 30 years.