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Don’t Let These Damn Yankees Sneak Up On You

Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

So you’re probably wondering if it is again time to hate the New York Yankees. Actually, you’re almost certainly not asking that because you haven’t been paying that much attention, and certainly not as much as you would be if the Baltimore Orioles weren’t around on their Killing All Remaining Joy tour.

But here are the Yankees again, winners of their last 11 games, 21 of 25 since trading for Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo, and 28-9 since the All-Star Break. They have gone from ninth place, looking up at Seattle, Cleveland and Toronto and barely keeping their noses ahead of the Ohtanii, to a tie for second, barely a weekend series behind the Tampa Bay Rays, who were declared lovable before Tom Verducci tore them a new one as being BFB.

Bad For Ball.

But the Yankees, who have always been the nation’s BFB default trigger for reasons spanning Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, the postwar era, George Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman, and the Derek Jeter-Alex Rodriguez tag team, are quietly back at it, only not as all-conquering royalty, but as spunky little underdogs coming from off the pace. That is, if you’re not too pot-committed to them as the Evil Empire, which you are certainly entitled to do. It just seems like you haven’t come around on that familiar old theme yet.

It’s not that they’re not trying to look the part. Rizzo and Gallo re-established the team’s links with Little Italy (that is, for octogenarians who remember DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto), and are part of a massive everyday lineup that would put the Football Giants to shame if they weren’t already there. Even with pocket-sized third baseman Andrew Velasquez (5-foot-9, 170 lbs. if he’s even that much), they still average 6-foot-4 in height and well over a ton in weight, and we’re not even including Luke Voit.

And it isn’t that they’re beating up on Jeff Passan’s Leprous 25 Percent, either. Other than 12 games against the Marlins, Royals, O’s and Twins (10-2), they have compiled this run again the elite, the aggressively contending, and a makeup game against the Angels, whatever they are.

That ought to get the Yankees back to their rightful place among America’s Reviled Few, and yet … crickets. Not even their typically bloated payroll, which is second only behind the Dodgers, is enough to rekindle the old jealousies. Frankly, even in our current agonized state as a nation we ought to be able to find a place in that barbecue grill drip tray we call a soul to rekindle an old familiar enmity, and yet, they continue trolling just under the surface of detestability.

And this all may be Tampa’s fault. As they continue to revolutionize the game, and the Andrew Friedman acolyte Farhan Zaidi is making a Rays-Lite in San Francisco, they are helping obscure the Yankee onslaught. Tampa is the only team winning at a comparable clip since the break (25-11), and you just haven’t the energy to follow Verducci’s lead yet because you are intellectually lazy and are hating too many other worthier drivers in our national train wreck. How you can you legitimately hate Tampa, even if they are Edward Norton-style destroying the game you once loved?

The Astros, who you can hate for more recent crimes against society, are also in the standings mix, as are the White Sox, whom you hate because Tony La Russa is the manager and he’s winning anyway. But the Red Sox are ordinary after a quick start, the A’s are hitting the wall at the quarter pole, and you have no idea who or what the Mariners are, or why they aren’t quietly sucking in their anonymous cocoon like they’re supposed to be (reason: lots of intriguing young hitters, as if you cared).

Either way, the Yankees have plenty of cover right now at a time when they should be far more nationally repellent. If there is a reason to worry about baseball’s future viability in a changing culture, this might be it. The enemy is right there just under the surface, and even though the Yankees’ starting rotation has only one guy making more than $7 million, that shouldn’t get them off the hook. Just because those blackguards in Tampa are hiding their spring training guests with their essential smallness doesn’t mean the greater danger isn’t right there, lurking … lurking … lurking.

Now you can’t say you haven’t been told. Then again, you can say in rebuttal that you just might not give a shit. You’ve got the Orioles to nurse, we get that. But do try to remember this little street flare in October, when those planet-eating bastards in the Bronx are laying waste to the game you only recently professed to hate.