You are free to hate the Yankees again. Don't you feel better already? Any temporary admiration you might have felt for nice guy Joe Torre and his band of humble, lunch bucket-toting grinders ended when they stole Roger Clemens. Adding a pitcher with five Cy Young Awards to the winningest team in history seems as excessive as one of those mountainous corned beef sandwiches you get in a New York City deli. Rooting for the Yankees is, to modernize a phrase, as much fun as rooting for Microsoft.
But consider this: Despite all your caterwauling about "competitive imbalance," not to mention the revenue envy of your average Kansas City Royals fan, the Yankees' acquisition of Clemens is good for the game. "Everyone hates the Yankees because they win all the time," says Rick Pattison, one such Royals fan from Topeka, Kans. "Like everyone hates the Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bulls because they win all the time. The Yankees are going to win the next five years."
Of course, they won't—and the fun lies in seeing who's going to knock them off. The 1998 Yankees, for instance, were the first team this decade to win the World Series after leading the majors in regular-season victories. "We're not giving the Yankees a damn thing," was how Cleveland Indians general manager John Hart reacted to the Clemens trade. "We're coming after them. We haven't fired our trade bullet yet." As the July 31 trade deadline approaches, expect the Indians to go after Philadelphia Phillies righthander Curt Schilling or lefties Denny Neagle of the Cincinnati Reds or David Wells of the Toronto Blue Jays.
The jostling among the Yankees, Indians and Atlanta Braves—those teams have won six of the eight pennants since the 1994-95 strike—is great theater, not to mention a reminder of how quickly baseball changes. When this decade began, the Yankees had the worst record in the American League, and the Indians and Braves had the worst attendance in their respective leagues.
The competitive situation does need attention—it's a problem when the Minnesota Twins cut their starting shortstop, Pat Meares, over the same amount of money ($3.4 million) the Yankees will pay their backup catcher, Joe Girardi—but it's not as horrible as commissioner Bud Selig would have you believe. Five more new ballparks will open over the next 13 months, and another five are in the funding stage. That leaves only four teams with major unresolved stadium issues: the Twins, Marlins, Expos and A's. Can you say relocation?
"Why should we all be punished for clubs who don't do the job from a baseball perspective and a marketing perspective?" asks one middle-market general manager, naming Kansas City as an example of a mismanaged team hiding beneath the cover of a small market.
Yes, in getting Clemens the rich got richer, but the Yankees didn't buy him. What's more, they won 125 games last season in large part because of their scouting and development. Homegrown players took 42% of New York's at bats in the World Series and pitched 53% of its innings. The San Diego Padres lost the Fall Classic with only 12% of their at bats and 3% of their innings pitched provided by players they developed.
Selig likes to believe every team should have "faith and hope" of being competitive when the season starts. He also still leaves a tooth under his pillow at night. Poor franchises are a fact of sporting life, just as they were in the good ol' days. Those who want to turn back the clock ought to check out the 21 seasons in the American League between 1934 and '54 in which the White Sox, Browns, Senators and A's never came within seven games of first place except for two fluke wartime years for the Browns when many regular players were enlisted in the service. Those four clubs lost more than they won 62 times in their combined 84 seasons during that span, which means half the league had almost no shot at the World Series for more than two decades. The Yankees, meanwhile, won 13 pennants over that period and, beginning in 1949, won 14 in 16 years. Then as now the game prospered—Yankees be damned.