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Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Narrative Likability Factor" & The New York Yankees

A Yankee win this evening would bring their playoff magic number to 1.  With both Tampa Bay and Minnesota neck-and-neck in terms of overall record, the Bombers still need a good week to assure themselves home-field advantage, but it seems a foregone conclusion, at least, that they'll once again be part of the drama of October baseball.

Earlier this week I discussed the invention of Narrative Likability Factor, a metric for baseball humanists.  NLF definitely gives priority to players and teams which have overcome obstacles and adversity, have suffered from perpetual underdog syndrome, have long-suffering fan-bases, and are replete with soulful, underrated players and coaches.

It probably goes without saying that the franchise which won last year's World Series, owns more championships than any team in professional sports history, consistently boasts the largest payrolls and revenues in the league, and caters primarily to the most affluent citizens of the nation's largest city does not score particularly high on the Narrative Likability scale.  In truth, the Evil Empire acts something like an inverse curvebreaker.  Their presence in the playoffs helps to raise everybody else's score.  Even the Phillies, two-time reigning NL Champs boasting multiple MVP winners and Cy Young candidates, seem like pesky underdogs compared to the team that ousted them just under a year ago.

Still, it seems necessary to set this bar, no matter how low.  The following narratives will probably only be appealing to that unfortunately preponderant sociopathic strain in American culture known as Yankee fandom, but here goes:
  • The Boss Is Lost:  He is one of the great antiheroes of baseball history, but that doesn't necessarily make George Steinbrenner's career any less compelling.  We engorge ourselves on baseball villains as ravenously as on baseball's virtuous paragons.  In the event that - God Forbid! - the Yankees hoist another banner in 2010, there will undoubtedly be an entertaining postmodern perversity to the posthumous treatment of the curmudgeonly demagogue with "win-one-for-the-gipper" sentimentality.  His psychotic hellspawn - Hank and Hal - accept the trophy in his honor and blubber, through forced blood-tears, about their early years, hiding for weeks in tight, dark corners of the Steinbrenner mansion, quivering in response to the Boss' tendency towards filial cannibalism.  "We didn't know it then," Hank whinnies, "but he was just preparing us for the reality of the business world.  I will think of him most fondly every time we negotiate a new competitive-bargaining agreement."
  • El Capitan:  Derek Jeter has been so uncharacteristically bad this year, posting by far the lowest OPS (707) of his fifteen-year career, that even his most rabid apologists have questioned the wisdom of resigning him to the kind of outlandish contract ($15-$20 Million/year) that seemed a foregone conclusion when the season began.  Several New York columnists, finding it more and more difficult to defend Jeter's performance, which has gotten progressively worse over the course of the season, have already resorted to commending him on rising to the occasion in October.  Captain Clutch, we all assume, will be right back to his old exploits (980 career OPS in ALDS) when the playoffs begin.  If this premonition proves accurate, prepare yourself for a even greater chokeload of Jeter love from Joe Buck and the rest mainstream media in the ALCS and World Series.  Jeter's postseason prowess is the well-placed dimple which provokes a father to call his plain-jane daughter "beautiful."
  • Flipping the Script:  The Yankees biggest offseason acquisition, Javier Vazquez (10-9, 5.07 ERA) and Curtis Granderson (779 OPS), have had rather mediocre seasons, prompting the typical backlash from the coven of New York sportswriters who worship exclusively at the church of the trinity - Jeter, Rivera, Posada.  New guys suck, basically.  Granderson, who's been dogged by injuries much of the year, has quietly been very hot over the last month, with 8 HR, 22 RBI, and a 912 OPS.  Vazquez has continued to struggle, fueling the pervasive "can't hack it in New York" rants which began as soon as he was re-acquired.  Expect the tune to change if either or both of them step it up in October.  
  • Spend, Baby, Spend:  In the wake of the MLB Confidential leaks at Deadspin, which suggest that teams like the Marlins may be making nearly as much in pure profit as the Yankees by merely pocketing their revenue-sharing dollars (many of which come directly out of the Yankee coffers), the "buying championships" argument is thinner than ever.  If there was ever a reason to root for the Yankees, this is it.  They're annually asked to subsidize their rivals, but then have to listen all year long to bitching about their $250 Million payroll while slimy owners like Jeffrey Loria trade away their best talents the moment they become eligible for arbitration.  At least the Yankees profit-model, as ugly as it may be, especially in the era of Yankee Stadium III, involves putting a competitive product on the field.  You'll need a sizable trust fund if you want to catch an obstructed view of that field, but you'll never have to worry about them starting Emilio Bonafacio is center-field in September.
At the end of last season, after the Yankees made relatively easy work of Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, I was able to take solace in the fact that if the Yankees didn't win at least one championship every decade, we might lose our sense of evil in the world.  The offseason will be even darker this year if they manage to repeat.  

Narrative Likability Factor: F (uck the Yankees!)

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