These days, we New Yorkers are all gripped by a collective fear that the good times have come and gone, and who can say when they’ll be back? Right now, it feels like never. But the New York Yankees do not operate this way. The interlocking NY stands, perhaps alone, as the last symbol of New York’s self-evident, world-sanctioned superiority. The Yankees expect to be the best, period. It’s tough to ﬁnd anything else left in New York that holds that kind of power. You can sell that. You can sell that anywhere.
So while the rest of us are tightening our belts and bracing for the worst, the Yankees are opening a state-of-the-art, $1.6 billion stadium. While the executives at AIG are held out as venal masters of destruction and shamed into giving up their bonuses, the Yankees are spending $423.5 million on three players. While the housing market tanks and nobody will buy so much as a pair of socks unless they’re 75 percent off, the Yankees dished out two and a half times more money this off-season than the rest of the American League combined.
It’s not that the Yankees didn’t take their licks, just like the rest of us have. Last year, the Yankees missed the playoffs for the ﬁrst time since 1994, when there were no playoffs. But their response was not to cower, or to reevaluate their methods, or to try to play by the same rules as the rest of the world. They did not renounce their ways: They went all-in. Downturn in the economy? Hey, screw that. That’s loser talk. You see those three top free agents they have there? We’ll take all of them, thank you. The Washington Nationals built a brand-new stadium and watched attendance fall to half-capacity by the second game? Pshaw, like we’re the freaking Nationals. The rest of baseball cutting ticket prices and slashing the payroll? More for us, please!
Oh, and if all that weren’t enough: The Yankees, as always, dominated headlines off the ﬁeld as well, starting with the since-forgotten DUI arrest of phenom Joba Chamberlain, segueing into former manager Joe Torre’s “tell-all” book of his time in the Bronx, and culminating in the grandest spectacle of all, the ongoing psychodrama that is Alex Rodriguez, busted with madams, busted with steroids, busted with injuries, busted, busted, busted. A-Rod has become the city’s Octomom, a bubblegum gossip distraction from the all-encompassing misery. The Yankees are in the entertainment business, and whatever else you might say about them, they never, ever, fail at that.
In Yankee Land, it is always 1927, and 1961, and 1998. It is not enough merely to win: The Yankees must dominate. Even without a World Series championship since 2000—2000! It really has been that long!—that is the brand. If the Yankees aren’t world conquerors, lording their ﬁnancial and cultural superiority over the penny-pinching peons that make up the rest of baseball, then who are they?
Okay, so the Yankees are not entirely immune to the economic crisis—Bank of America just last month dropped out of a rumored $20 million annual “signage” deal at the new stadium, and the team hasn’t quite sold out their pricey luxury boxes—but you’d have a hard time convincing Mark Teixeira of that. The absurdly muscular ﬁrst-baseman agreed to an eight-year, $180 million contract right before Christmas, outbidding the Angels and the Red Sox, and one could make the argument that he’s the Scott Boras client that Boras would love Alex Rodriguez to be. He’s polite to a fault, robotic when answering questions, and does nothing but talk about how much he wants to win, take it one game at a time, give 110 percent, and so on, ad nauseam.
“The reason I signed with the Yankees is because it’s not about one player. I knew I wouldn’t be the center point of everything going on,” Teixeira says. “Anytime you have the biggest contract on the team, it does add more difﬁculty to your job. Here I can be just one of the guys.”
This is absolutely true, and at the center of what makes the Yankees different from every other professional sports franchise on earth. Teixeira is the highest-paid ﬁrst-baseman in baseball history and the third-highest-paid player today (behind A-Rod and Derek Jeter), and, somehow, he is an afterthought this off-season. Greta Garbo loved New York City because, among the millions of people, it was the one place she could be left alone. In almost any other city, Mark Teixeira would be on the front of every program and piece of memorabilia. Here, on the most famous sports team in the world, with everyone watching, is the only place he can be left alone. (It also doesn’t hurt that he’ll be living in Greenwich, Connecticut.)