How the Yankees Ruined Baseball

It’s early in the month, but it seems fair to say, “so much for September.”

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It’s early in the month, but it seems fair to say, “so much for September.”

No disrespect to the mythmaking October plays that loom large in baseball lore, but September is prime time for baseball’s most dramatic moments. It’s the time of year when teams that have been competing day in and day out for seven months meet their fate in pennant races that typically decide who makes the playoffs and who ponders what might have been.

With the emergence of the Tampa Bay Rays last season, September baseball seemed certain to live up to its billing. The American League Eastern Division would come down to a battle between the ultra-rich New York Yankees, the very, very wealthy Boston Red Sox and the upstart Rays. Money wasn’t everything, it seemed, as the Rays and Red Sox won the last two American League pennants. The success of the Rays, in particular, gave fans of the other two teams in the division, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles, hope that they weren’t doomed to permanent second-division status.

The Yankees spent close to half a billion dollars—$423.5 million to be exact—last winter to bolster their competitiveness with the Rays and Red Sox. While the magnitude of the spending was staggering, particularly during the deepest recession in decades, it wasn’t surprising. Spending money is what the Yankees do. Most young players go through their ups and downs before finding their groove. The Yankees don’t have the patience to endure the downs, so they usually acquire their talent on the free agent market. The great irony is that in the early ‘90s they built their teams by drafting young players and developing them into stars, creating the core of a team that won four straight titles. Yet, they have now abandoned that approach for one that didn’t work very well in the ‘80s.

What’s different this time is that the Yankees are getting an exceptional return on their spending spree. First baseman Mark Teixeira ($180 million for eight years) is on pace to hit 40 home runs and has solidified the middle of the batting order. Pitchers C.C. Sabathia ($161 million for seven years) and A.J. Burnett ($82.5 million for five seasons) are the team’s top two starting pitchers. In addition to the new players performing at an all-star level, several veteran Yankees, notably shortstop Derek Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada, left fielder Johnny Damon and designated hitter Hideki Matsui, have maintained their excellence despite reaching their mid- to late 30s, an age when the slow erosion of athletic skill can turn into a free-fall.

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