Twin Evil Empires: The Parallels Between the Yankees & the USA
The New York Yankees have been called the “evil empire” of baseball, just as the US has been called the “evil empire” of the globe, especially since the fall of The Wall signaling the end of the Soviet Union. As a sports superpower of the 1990s through to the present, the Yankees rested atop the baseball world at its most controversial times (They have made the playoffs every year except for once since 1996.) Similarly, the US has dominated the world, much like the Yankees dominated baseball from 1996-2009, during perhaps the world’s most controversial time. And now, both are seemingly worse for the wear, though the benefactors of past greatness remain opulent.
Just like there are a great many websites dedicated to the sorry-state of the US, so too are there many highlighting the depravity of Yankee Baseball. Some people hate the Yankees literally as much as they hate the US, and I mean that literally.
Befitting an Empire in decline, boisterous and lavish expenditures on new toys are designed to obscure the fading pre-eminence of the franchise. The new stadium cost $1.5 billion-plus, $1.2 billion of which was stolen from NYC taxpayers. In 2008, $16 trillion was promised to banks to help them get the world out of the banking collapse, leaving the country today with an official national debt of $16 trillion.
The ballpark, which opened in 2009, saw entire sections – think empty houses across the nation – empty for the opening two games of the American League Championship Series last weekend against the Detroit Tigers. Fans consistently booed their once beloved Yankees. “This is a very easy place to play now,” Tigers outfielder Quintin Berry said after Game 2.
The stadium’s architecture, however, is trying to tell a different story, a story of opulence and success.
If architecture is propaganda – and, after all, the banks are the biggest buildings in the cities for a reason – then the new Yankee stadium speaks volumes of where the Yankees stand. Building context “depends on their engagement with the political context of the world,” writes Deyan Sudjic in his book The Edifice Complex. “And in that world the totalitarians and the egotists and the monomaniacs offer architects, whatever their personal political views, more opportunities for ‘important’ work than the liberal democracies.”
That’s right, in the liberal democracies like the US, England and many European nations, the opportunities are reserved not for politicians, but entertainment franchises.
Louis XIV built Versailles after his power had begun to fade away. Enron had not yet finished its postmodern skyscraper in Houston when it filed for bankruptcy in 2001. The Yankees built the new Yankee stadium as that franchise collapsed and the US tried to built the world anew as it collapsed.
The new Yankee Stadium is like an annual, profit-driven corporate festival, 162 days of the year. Everywhere you turn, there is something to be bought; reverse anti-matter ATM machines pulls cash out of your wallet with no regard. And, cementing Steinbrenner’s legacy as a Stalin totalitarian type figurehead, an enormous plaque for George Steinbrenner in Monument Park – bigger than Babe Ruth and Joe Dimaggio – adds a distasteful touch.
Before Steinbrenner, no Yankees owner paraded and celebrated himself so much. Since JFK, no president has given rise to a cult of personality as big as Barack Obama.
Most sports columnists discuss fan disgust with the franchise as if it were merely frustration that the $200 million a year team is hitting only .200 in the post season.
As Bloomberg columnist Jonathon Mahler points out, “there’s something larger at work here, something the Yankees should have seen coming when they broke ground on the new stadium in 2006,” referring to the decline of the Yankees.
The stadium represents much more than owner George Steinbrenner’s egotism, wishing to cement his legacy in the form of the new facility. The stadium instead represents the owner’s phantasmagorical new economic model “based on the delusional assumption that success ad infinitum was a given.” George got drunk, just like Wall Street. Another indicator of this fantasyland economics scheme was the Yankee signing of 32-year old Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $275 million contract after the 2007 season. Through the baseball luxury tax, the Yankees must then pay the 40 cents on the dollar tax to baseball for the exorbitant salary.
This is exactly the predicament the US finds itself in. The assumption that debt could finance the making of history on and on forever. As the US is sorely learning now, this economic model is nothing more than the daydreaming of poser-theorists and drunk financiers. What empty Yankee stadium seats are to the Yankee franchise, swathes of vacant houses are to the nation. Both the Yankees and US, realizing that their appeal is gone, have resorted to bullying tactics to keep the money flowing (Bradford Campeau-Laurion, a 30-year-old resident of Astoria in Queens, said he wanted to use the restroom and didn’t feel like waiting for the Kate Smith rendering of “God Bless America” to end. Fans are required to do as per Yankee Stadium rules. Shortly after getting up from his seat, his version of the story goes, security got in his face. ”I then said to [one], ‘I don’t care about God Bless America. I just need to use the bathroom. As soon as I said that, he immediately pinned my arm behind my back.” He soon was ejected.)
Mahler writes on the Yankees economic mis-vision:
What did that matter? The Yankees had a plan. The new stadium — with its 51 luxury suites, countless corporate sponsorship opportunities, 12,000 square feet of retail space and extortionate ticket prices — would dispense money like a giant ATM; A-Rod would chase a variety of baseball milestones, most notably the career home-run record, in pinstripes; and the Yankees would add to their collection of 26 world championships. Everyone would be happy.
According to team president Randy Levine, “the Yankees today are an entertainment company with a baseball team at its core.”
The theory goes that, as an entertainment company, the fans are now strictly consumers. They don’t matter for team loyalty and performance. Instead, they are revenue generators and will be squeezed for every last dollar. Just like the US does to its taxpayers – individuals to protect the fabric of the nation we are not, but serfs off whom to steal labor.
Of course, sports teams are always trying to maximize their revenue, just as nation-states are always attempting to increase power and control. Just as no baseball team matches the audacity of the Yankees,no nation-state matches the audacity of the United States.
For years, I shared a package of season tickets with a group of friends. I eventually bailed out, but they still had their tickets when the new stadium opened. In order to keep the same seats — which went from $45 a ticket to $100, in large part because they gave ticket holders access to a cheesy stadium bar called the Jim Beam Suite Lounge they had to sign a two- year contract. My friends initially balked, but eventually relented after being assured they would have no trouble reselling tickets on the secondary market. As it turned out, the Jim Beam Suite Lounge wasn’t such a big draw. People weren’t willing to pay a premium for the tickets, and my friends had to sell their extras at a discount. At the end of the season they informed the Yankees that they wanted to move to cheaper seats. They were told they couldn’t, and the Yankees threatened them with litigation if they didn’t pay up.
And you bet your ass New York will prosecute – it’s got to get some of that $1.2 billion back it sank into the new stadium.
Unlike the US, however, Yankee Global Enterprises LLC is not hurting for money. In this way the franchise is more like Wall Street.
Worth about $1.7 billion, the brand commands a regional sports channel, the YES Network, which is the most profitable such channel in the country thanks to high subscriber and advertiser fees. Though seats might sit empty at the stadium on game day, somebody has subsidized them through subscription or ad content or taxes to fund the stadium. There should be no reason the Yankees will ask for another taxpayer bailout.
The future parallels of the Yankees and the US are sure to remain. The star player A-Rod is an admitted steroid user and is having trouble stay in the lineup this post-season, while the US president is increasingly known as a figurehead by the US public beefed up by the military industrial complex and is increasingly having trouble having a say in foreign policy arenas.
Historically, with the Yankees 26 World Series Champions and the US’s countless successful genocide missions, both have set themselves up for quite a fall. As team president Randy Levine told ESPN last year: “We are the Yankees. That is the way The Boss set it up. When you don’t win the World Series, it is a bitter disappointment and not a successful year.”
Similarly, when the US ceases to win wars and borrow at mercilessly low rates to spoil its population so that they go along with said-wars, they can also expect a mutiny, as is beginning to brew in New York with their rejection of Alex Rodriguez.
As Sports Illustrated columnist Michael Rosenberg puts it:
Here is the problem with being a Yankees fan: You’re cheering for Goldman Sachs. Like the folks at Goldman Sachs, the Yankees go through two cycles: They are either obscenely rich and extremely successful, or extremely rich and not quite as successful as they planned, forcing them to hold a conference call with reporters in which they apologize for “not meeting expectations,” and then they resume being obscenely rich and successful.
With Wall Street enjoying record high profits and historically low respect, perhaps there are plenty of parallels regarding the Yankees and Wall Street.
Rosenberg dissects the emotions of the modern Yankee fan:
It is hard to creep inside the subconscious of millions of people, but it gets easier if you’re a sportswriter, so here goes: I think Yankee fans boo A-Rod largely because they just want to feel.
Cheering for him to do really well is not fun; they are paying him too much to settle for really well. So they alternate between booing him and setting ridiculous high standards — for A-Rod to wow Yankee fans, he has to be even better than he has been, and he has been one of the best players in the history of the game.
Similarly, with wars getting increasingly expansive and out of control, the US needs to outdo itself war after war in order to keep the brainwashed sections of the population on its side. The rest see the gaudiness of the US project, just as sensible Yankee fans see the disrespect embodied in their stadium. Just like when you enter the borders of the US you are in a prison, the same is true when you enter Yankee stadium.
Fantasy economics have spurred both entities to reach the points at which they now are. Game theory economics and dependence upon the culturally embedded addictions of sports and nationalism keep the Yankees and the US afloat for now. But, all evil empire’s come to an end.