In sports, we always search for the compelling storyline; something to bring casual viewers within inches of their television screen or the field of play. It could be an underdog making an unprecedented run, a lovable player exceeding all expectations, even a matchup between two bitter rivals looking to forever one-up each other.
My favorite, however, is the villain in sports. The New England Patriots and Golden State Warriors of the world make their respective sports all the more entertaining simply because you can’t stand to see them win. You root for your favorite team and whoever plays the most-hated franchise in the sport — and you love it, every second of it.
Just like on Sunday, the narrative was alive in the NFL matchup between the Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I don’t particularly care about the Steelers, and my life is not impacted positively or negatively with their results, but I wanted them to take home the W. They failed thanks to a controversial ruling, and I cannot say I was happy about it.
I straight up wanted the Steelers, the team opposing the Patriots, to win just because they squared off against New England. That’s what a villain does; it draws you into games that mean little or nothing to you.
Like the Patriots, Warriors, and in the same realm, the Chicago Blackhawks, all North American leagues have the undying villain stirring the pot of sports fandom. For a long time, the New York Yankees were no different. If you don’t call yourself a Yankees fan, you despised the confident smiles of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, the prospect of watching Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera on the hill was dreadful, and you never wanted to see Joe Torre raise his arms up in celebration. They made baseball fun by making baseball un-fun, to a degree.
Those Yankees are back. We might fear them, but to an extent, they’re great for Major League Baseball. We have a team to utterly and unwaveringly loathe, and there is no better franchise to slip that boot on than the Bronx Bombers.
They’re once again that team with the gargantuan payroll and unparalleled talent based on the money. The Yankees have returned to being the yearly “championship or bust” squad that never rebuilds, and only reloads.
In acquiring Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins (and new owner Jeter, ironically), New York has returned to straight up buying talent. The 2017 National League MVP moves to a franchise with American League MVP finalist and Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge, and record-setting young catcher Gary Sanchez, who isn’t to be overlooked at the plate. In addition, respectable hitters Greg Bird and Didi Gregorius will be thrown into the mix from the left-handed side of the plate.
The best part about the names mentioned above? They’re all 28 years old or younger. These Yankees are here to stay, at that’s a good thing for baseball. George Steinbrenner is long gone, but it feels more like the Steinbrenner Yankees squad than anything right now.
And in current times, baseball’s immediate need for a good narrative is a true villain. The last few World Series champions have been heartwarming stories of overcoming adversity, and teams triumphantly capturing long sought-after championships. The Houston Astros brought a flooded, emotionally drained city the Commissioner’s Trophy in 2017, the Chicago Cubs broke a 108-year drought by snatching an elusive ring in a thrilling Game 7 in 2016, and the small market Kansas City Royals knocked off richer, more skilled teams with their infectious chemistry and historic base running abilities.
New York hasn’t made the Fall Classic since their 2009 championship run. Since then, the Yankees fell into mediocrity, and fans were left without a villain, so to speak. Now, in 2018, the Yankees are the favorites to win the AL East division, and look poised to wreak havoc on MLB with the newest rendition of “Murderers’ Row.”
A cherry on top to the fresh version of dynastic Yankees, though it’s hard to say they’ll win four World Series titles in five seasons, is the new manager, Aaron Boone. If you’ve been a baseball fan for awhile, you might remember Boone as a tough, gritty player for the Yankees squads who got on everyone’s nerves. To have a piece of the Yankees of old at the regime of the current New York club makes the villain mask they will don even darker.
Baseball is in a golden age of parity and competition. We don’t have a villain, or at least we didn’t for the past seven or eight years. These New York Yankees should be embraced, and for anyone outside of the hardcore New York fanbase, they will be abhorred.