If you read this blog, the chances are good that you hate the Yankees. I know I do. I enjoy watching them lose. I enjoy how they constantly overpay for talent (Raul Ibanez excepted). I enjoy the fact that Yankees fans have to endure John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman on the radio. And I enjoy watching the scene at the Yankees’ overpriced stadium, with its overpriced, empty seats and empty atmosphere.
But I look a recent article by CSN’s Ray Ratto with bemusement. He compared Yankee Stadium’s current atmosphere to the Coliseum’s last week during the ALDS. Ratto proclaimed the great Oakland fanbase, as it magnanimously came back for the last week of the season and the playoffs to create the kind of 10th-man crowd rarely seen in baseball.
The fact is, the fans in Oakland made Oakland a cool place to play the last few weeks, not out of obligation, but because the players taught them how to overcome their annoyance at the people who run the franchise. And it certainly wasn’t out of anticipation for a new stadium somewhere, either.
It was the moment that made the ballpark, and the comparisons with Yankee Stadium have never been more apt.
As A’s fans, we’ll always have that moment, the 2012 season (July-October, anyways), and the improbable tally of 15 walkoff victories to hold in our hearts forever and to keep us hopeful for the future. Maybe someone will write a book or make a movie about it. If moments were enough to sustain the A’s, we’d have no worries about the future of the franchise. The harsh reality of the situation is this:
- All four teams in the LCS have payrolls over $110 million, and have been at or above that level for several years.
- Three of the four teams have won the last three World Series.
- The exception, the Tigers, went to the ALCS last year and the World Series in 2006.
The teams that are left in the postseason, they aren’t satisfied with disparate moments. They want success. They demand it regularly. They have the revenue to pay for that success, and that’s exactly what they do: pay for it. With that comes raised expectations, such as winning the World Series every year in the Yankees case. They aren’t the A’s, who are famously beneath 50 feet of crap. Sustained success is not something A’s fans can realistically demand every year because the franchise doesn’t pay for it, and neither do the fans. So Ratto can smugly claim superiority, but the real story is that A’s fans had zero expectations going in, making the whole season feel like we were playing with house money. Yankees fans, well, they are the house. They expect returns. Should they not be entitled to the same kind of disaffection many A’s fans have felt? We all vote with our wallets, right?
Disaffection means people walk. For the A’s, it means people don’t pay for cheap tickets. For the Yankees, it means people don’t pay for expensive tickets, whether on the primary or secondary market. Going into 2012, Yankees regular season tickets were 238% the cost of A’s tickets, according to FCI. Nosebleed seats for the ALCS, which start at $41 and escalate quickly up to $1,500, remain available for potential Games 3 and 4. StubHub has an enormous inventory of available ALCS tickets. Sure, the Yankees are gouging their fans. But even in the old Yankee Stadium, where tickets are generally cheaper, the Yankees choked plenty of times in the playoffs. Did the 10th man have any measurable effect there? It certainly didn’t get them over the hump. In Game 5 of the A’s-Tigers ALDS, Justin Verlander quieted the crowd with strikeout after strikeout. The fans’ only release came after the final out, when a long and deserved standing ovation greeted the fallen heroes. What the Yankees are experiencing now and the A’s did from 2007 to 2011 are not fundamentally different. The only real difference was the level of expectations for both teams.
This great postseason we’ve witnessed so far this year has reminded me a lot of a really good NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. You have your major conference powers like Duke, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Kentucky (Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals). They’re the teams that constantly make the Sweet Sixteen (third and fourth rounds), even the Final Four (semis/finals). Then you have your Cinderella teams, the mid-major schools like Belmont or George Mason. Frequently overlooked, and with a fraction of the resources the big schools have, no one expects these teams to win. When they do win it becomes a big story. That’s what the A’s and Orioles represented this year, along with the Moneyball A’s and recent Tampa Bay teams of the past.
Sometimes those Cinderella teams get to the Final Four. Almost invariably, they don’t win it all. The last Cinderella team to win the NCAA basketball championship was Rollie Massimino’s 1985 Villanova squad, and they’re arguably a Cinderella because Villanova was perennially competitive in the hoops-crazy, big money Big East. The last win-it-all Cinderella story in MLB was the 2003 Florida Marlins ($49 million payroll), and unlike Villanova, they sank into mediocrity shortly after the World Series. It’s great to revel in these stories, but let’s remember that they’re exceptions, not the rule. The Yankees and Tigers beat the Orioles and A’s, respectively, because they can afford $20 million/year aces like C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander. More than ever, it seems as though premium pitching comes at a premium – and is worth the investment. Try as everyone can – and Billy Beane does – to beat the house, the house usually wins. And that’s nothing to be smug about.
Update 7:28 PM – This Grantland post and mine came to similar conclusions.