By Jason Keidel
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As a toddler, when I was learning letters and forming sentences, my mom asked which book I’d like her to read to me. My favorite book — like many kids of my vintage, I suspect — was “The Little Engine That Could.” Cool pictures, snappy verbs and fun story.
It’s been over 40 years since I read the children’s classic, but I’m quite sure said engine wasn’t a blue-blood baseball club worth more than $3.7 billion (according to Forbes), with 27 World Series titles, 40 pennants and a perch as the most important and successful sports team in American history.
No, the Little Engine was about an underdog who huffed and clawed and climbed up rolling hills, defying odds with a sparkling attitude. It didn’t have Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton on board. It didn’t have Russell Wilson visiting for a week. And the book was written in 1930, long before the world heard of George Steinbrenner.
Beyond the obvious reasons the world west of the Hudson hates the Yankees and their fans is the sprawling history of success. Add hubris to history and you have an often obnoxious fan base swathed in those “Got Rings?” T-shirts.
But there has to be a middle ground between the native arrogance of New Yorkers, who feel a World Series is a birthright, somehow added to the U.S. Constitution, and the feigned, transparent modesty from Brian Cashman this week. The longtime Yankees GM said that his Bronx Bombers are just the Little Engine That Could, basically happy to be in the same room as the World Series champion Houston Astros, and particularly in the same division as the behemoths from Boston. Cashman feels the Red Sox’s signing of J.D. Martinez makes them the chalk of the division, if not the league and sport.
Maybe Cashman was being cheeky, but it’s a bad look. Say what you will about the Yankees — and everything possible has been — they are the big boys on the block, in the Big Apple and in our pastime. The Yankees are so bit that only a team from the NFL (the Dallas Cowboys) is worth more, at $4 billion. Everything about the Yankees, from their history, to the names burned in our collective history, to their opulent new stadium and the prices to sit in said stadium is outsized.
The Yankees are so burned into the sports vernacular that Vince Lombardi’s first goal as head coach was to make his Green Bay Packers the New York Yankees of football. When tourists return from a trip to New York and either complain or marvel at the size and speed of everything, that’s what the Yankees represent, the mythology of money and skyscrapers and the House That Ruth Built.
Had Cashman stuck with his questionable assertion that the Red Sox are the favorites in the AL East — particularly after signing Martinez, who hit 45 homers last year in fewer at-bats than anyone in history — then you could just say he’s being cute, engaging in some winter gamesmanship. But there are only turbo jet engines on River Avenue. No turboprops, or other smaller-scale models. The Yanks are Howard Hughes, not the Wright Brothers.
This clever characterization of the Yankees won’t win or lose a division, pennant or World Series. But just the notion of the Yankees as a forlorn franchise or a baseball pauper is just so laughable and counter to everything we believe and have been told about the team that has stuffed Cooperstown with the bulk of baseball’s immortals.
Try wearing a single-digit on your back in pinstripes. You can’t. They’ve been taken by some really big engines that could, or already did.
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