After a day off, our next Pinch Hitter is Jeff Sommers, a lifelong Yankees fan living in Philadelphia (but with his roots in the Bronx). In his family, Jeff’s in the middle of five generations of Yankees fans, a lineage that began with his grandmother, who was a diehard fan of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Up next was Jeff’s mom, who was “so devoted a Yankee fan that she left the Stadium in tears after Al Gionfriddo stole a World Series homerun from her hero, Joe DiMaggio.” Jeff and his brothers grew up idolizing Mickey Mantle, Jeff’s oldest son was a Don Mattingly guy, and now Jeff’s 8-year-old and 10-year-old granddaughters focus on – who else? — Derek Jeter.
Jeff’s been a college English professor for the past 38 years, and for his blog post, he wonders whether losing Robinson Cano will have an impact on the Yankees that goes well beyond money and statistics. You’ll be able to tell that Jeff wrote this well before the Masahiro Tanaka signing, but I think his point still stands.
Forgive the terrible pun, but it allows me to make an important connection: The movie is all about Walt Disney’s pursuit of Mary Poppins, a “free-agent” of a sort. That turned out just fine for Walt as he landed Mary, and she joined the roster of Disney immortals, alongside Mickey, Goofy, and Donald. And this is relevant today, only weeks after Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ “Mr. Bank,” made a grievous mistake in letting Robbie Cano get away. Was Cano worth $30 million for 10 years?
To the Yankees, the answer’s yes.
If you’re reading this blog, I don’t have to convince you that the Yankees aren’t any ordinary baseball team. In fact, they’re not really even a sports franchise. There’s no point in comparing them to the Dallas Cowboys or Manchester United or the Montreal Canadiens. Instead, I want to connect the Yankees to Walt Disney World (WDW).
Thanks to a bit of research (Mouse-metrics?), I discovered that WDW has been drawing in the neighborhood of 17 million visitors annually, dating back to 2010. Yet Disney has spent $3 billion in the past two years updating its amusement parks around the world. When I was a kid, there was Disneyland. Then WDW in Florida arrived, followed by three more amusement parks in Orlando. In the past couple of years, WDW has doubled the size of Fantasy Land, added new monorails in Tomorrowland, and replaced the Star Wars simulator with a new one, just to name a few improvements. (And Disney has bought up ESPN, Marvel Comics, and the Star Wars movies along the way as well.)
Why? Because their customers demand “new attractions.” The same old, same old gets old. Unlike other baseball franchises whose fans are happy with an occasional World Series appearance, we all know that the Yankee Universe is based on the assumption that the post-season is a birthright and that pennants and World Series will follow regularly. I acknowledge that winning is an attraction in itself, but the Yankees won 85 games last year, and really who cared? We watched mostly to see Mo and say goodbye to Andy and wait for Jeter’s return.
Of course, the best new “attraction” would be another parade down Wall Street after a World Series win, no doubt. But day in and day out, the Yankees need not just wins but highly-paid stars, and more than highly-paid stars, they need icons. With Mariano’s departure, the near-finale of Jeter, and A-Rod’s implosion, the Yankees will be out of icons before we know it.
Granted that Robbie Cano may not have put fannies in the seats, but he had a legitimate shot with another five years of production, to get some Hall of Fame shout outs and a retired number in Monument Park.
With his departure, who do the Yanks have potentially to fill the shoes of icon-attraction?
Maybe CC returns to form for another five years. But that’s it. I like the Ellsbury, McCann, Beltran, and other signings – but none will end up in Monument Park. My fingers are crossed that they sign Tanaka and that he lives up to his billing. But they had a potential icon in hand.
Walt didn’t let Mary Poppins fly over to Paramount or 20th Century Fox, and the Yankees made a mistake in letting Robbie get away.
Being “saddled” with 10-year contracts should worry other teams, but not the Yankees. Can the Yanks afford a bottomless bottom line? The better question is can they afford a Yankee Stadium that’s only half-filled? I’m not saying they should have coughed up $300 million for Robbie, but they had driven the price down to $240 million. For that investment, they would have had probably five to six more terrific years from Cano, followed by the possibility of retiring his uniform. Imagine a Dominican player in Monument Park in the Bronx! My 2-year-old grandson would have been just about 12 when Robbie’s farewell tour would have been underway, and he’d have his own lifetime favorite pinstriper.
Instead, we face five, six, eight years — who knows how long — before another iconic attraction might show up. It’s time to open the bank, Mr. Steinbrenner, sign Tanaka, and keep your fingers crossed. Disney understood that people don’t rush to a rusty, old amusement park with last year’s rides. The Yankees should have understood that too.
Associated Press photo