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Yankees are living proof that you cannot buy chemistry

Don’t know about you, but I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, now that the 2008 New York Yankees are dead in the water, toast, done for, kaput, R.I.P.

As you read this, there are maybe 15 games left in the regular season and the only hope the Yankees have for playing in October is if they run the table. And if they do, I’ll buy a lottery ticket.

The playoffs just ain’t the same when the adored/hated Yankees are scheduling tee times instead of keeping some other playoff team up all night worrying about how to handle the dreaded Pinstripes. As this is written, the Yankees (76-67) are in fourth place in the AL East, a place in which they haven’t woke since 1992. And they haven’t been worse than second place in September since 1994.

I mean, who can get excited about the New England Patriots with Tom Brady out for the season? Or the Los Angeles Lakers if Kobe Bryant couldn’t suit up? Without the Yankees, the playoffs just don’t have the mystique. This season, though, I’m not surprised that they’ll soon be cleaning their golf clubs.

I wrote back on April 17—as a friend of mine likes to put it, I’m not bragging, just reporting—when the season was barely two weeks old, that Yankees fans were in for “a long, cold summer.” Even then, I could sense there was something missing. Just watching them on TV, the Yankees seemed far more passive than passionate, more bummers than Bombers.

OK, so they’re in the AL East, the toughest division in the American League, the only five-team division in the majors that has four teams with more wins than losses.

The real bottom line, though, is that the Yankees’ payroll is $207.1 million—or, to put that in perspective, $70 million more than the No. 2 Mets’ $137.4 payroll. A dozen Yankees make $11 million per season or more, led by Alex Rodriguez ($28 million). Incidentally, Tampa Bay—which has led the AL East most of the season—is 29th among the 30 major league teams with a $33.4 million payroll.

But that’s the way the Yankees have done it since the George Steinbrenner era started back in 1973, the year he bought the team from the CBS television network. You know, buy the pennant and the World Series. Money has never been a stumbling block for ol’ George, now 78 years old. According to the Baseball Almanac Web site, Steinbrenner once said, “Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next.”

Look what the Yankees did when Jorge Posada’s shoulder injury ended his season in late July: They went after and got Ivan Rodriguez from the Detroit Tigers, along with his $12.4 million salary.

Speaking of injuries—yes, the Yankees have had their share. Among them, Posada, pitchers Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain, and designated hitter Hideki Matsui. But then, which team this season hasn’t had to deal with a sprained this or a broken that?

The Steinbrenner philosophy is, if you can’t build a championship team, then go buy one. The problem, though, is that the Yankees are living proof that not even the Steinbrenners—papa George or his sons, Hank and Hal—can buy chemistry. And, as I’ve mentioned before, even though baseball is a somewhat one-on-one game—pitcher vs. batter—there is still a need for some genuine camaraderie. Not the fake stuff, high fives in the dugout, etc., but the real thing.

It’s pretty obvious that the Steinbrenners aren’t blaming manager Joe Girardi for the team’s dismal season. They have announced that he will return in 2009, but five’ll get you 10 that if it becomes obvious they won’t make the playoffs, Girardi, just like the Joe he replaced—Torre—will be job hunting before the final out of ’09.

Torre, by the way, was 12-for-12 making the playoffs and Girardi is about to be 0-for-1.
Now, as the Yankees start looking ahead to 2009 and moving into their new Yankee Stadium, there is no doubt that George’s boys are quietly making plans to remodel their team. They need better pitching, .300 hitters who tend to get their hits with runners in scoring position and sluggers who don’t hit most of their home runs in 10-2 losses. And there are several free agents who will be on the market in three weeks.

The Yankees have won the World Series 26 times, including 1998, 1999 and 2000, but haven’t won it since then. And as soon as it becomes official that they are out of the playoffs this season, don’t be surprised if general manager Brian Cashman’s is the first head to roll. Never mind that he didn’t throw any gopher balls or strike out with the bases loaded even once.

Anyway, Yankees, have a fun off-season counting your money and watching the playoffs and the World Series. And maybe we’ll see you next year.

Rick Woodson’s column appears each Friday in the Rochester Business Journal print edition. Listen to his weekly program, “The Golf Tee,” at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280.

(c) 2008 Rochester Business Journal. Obtain permission to
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