It was during the series that a Yankees fan I know emailed me to complain about how some Red Sox fans were making noises at him -- again -- about that old, tired payroll thing.
Old and tired as it may be, that didn't prevent us from rehashing the entire argument.
My point to him, in the end, was this. I don't actually expect people born in the Bronx, or any of the boroughs for that matter, or New Jersey, or upstate New York, whose father brought them to their first baseball game at the old Yankee Stadium, to make rooting decisions based on their team's payroll. On both sides of this rivalry, many fans are simply born into it.
I have also argued publicly Red Sox fans don't deserve blame for steroid revelations about 2004 Red Sox -- at the end of the day, being a fan is not about being rational, and it is not about some kind of spectator's responsibility to police the morality of entertainers. Some people do use their team's success or failure to prop up or affect their own sense of superiority over other fans of different teams -- and that kind of transference is something I'm well and truly sick of.
But the comparison I ultimately drew for my Yankees fan friend was between the flapping of gums over payroll that Yankees fans must contend with if they sport the NY logo, and the perennial SpyGate references still being flung at Patriots fans.
Might both be blown out of proportion? Probably. But these things are also undeniably based on fact.
Bill Belichick is probably not the nicest person in the world. I would hate to be a reporter trying to deal with him at one of his press conferences, and even as a fan I don't usually get much out of watching the coach away from the sidelines.
Meanwhile, it is also a fact that the Yankees payroll remains some $70 million above the next-highest payrolls in baseball, which, by the way, belong to the Mets and Tigers, not the Red Sox (they're fourth). Not only is that $70 million difference the biggest sequential gap between payrolls on the list, but it's also large enough on its own to field the Colorado Rockies, Texas Rangers, the Baltimore Orioles, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Minnesota Twins, the Kansas City Royals, the Washington Nationals, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Oakland Athletics, the Tampa Bay Rays or the Florida Marlins. In fact, both Florida teams combined could fit within that difference in payrolls between the Red Sox and Yankees.
In the years between the last Yankees championship and this one, two of the players that figured prominently in this World Series for New York were brought to the Bombers' roster rather than Boston's as a direct result of the Yankees' superior bidding power: Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez.
Then again, this is hardly the first year that the Yankees have led the league in payroll. For the 8 seasons before this, they did it while losing in the postseason, and even sitting it out one year. Meanwhile, the Mets and Tigers' expenditures didn't even net them playoff appearances. Money is obviously not the only factor in victory.
But that's sour grapes, and that's human nature. As a Patriots fan, I can't expect fans of other teams to be happy for me when the Patriots win. I can't expect them to want to root for Belichick. I can talk till I'm blue in the face about how it's not like other NFL head coaches aren't megalomaniacal, pathologically competitive jerks -- in fact, that's practically the personality profile of a head coach. But I know full well that it would be hard for me without familial and local loyalties to New England to be a fan of the Hooded One.
As fans, we are thinking in symbols.We are thinking in terms of us vs. them. There is no more subjective state of being.
On top of that, this year, there's something else that's different, and similarly symbolically significant, about the Yankees -- their new Stadium. If you haven't already, I recommend reading Deadspin's "Why Your Stadium Sucks" post on the new Yankee Stadium for an excellent primer on all that's wrong with the place.
It's not as if the Yankees are the first or only team to use public financing for a stadium. In fact, in New York the Jets and Giants are being built a new venue with public funds as well. And as an entertainment corporation (essentially), they are not going to be able to solve the global economic situation.
But think about this from a rival fan, or even a nonpartisan's point of view for a minute. You read things like this from a resident of the Bronx:
I think Yankee Stadium sucks because it was built on valuable parkland that was taken away from the community and they haven't been fully replaced. It will be at least another 2 years; possibly longer, until that happens. I think the stadium sucks because the attention paid to the construction of the bleacher areas is an insult to those fans that cannot afford the pricey seats. It sucks because the stadium's lights are on 24/7 and those residents who live a mere 100 ft across the street can get no relief from them. It sucks because the police become super aggressive toward the community during games by blocking streets, putting up barricades to direct fans from the garages and train stations right into the stadium so there is little or no pedestrian traffic to the local businesses.
And then you watch the games in that echoing, soulless arena. You look at the empty $2000 seats behind home plate during the clinching game of the damn World Series, and later you read the tepid defense that those seats were empty because people were instead "inside an adjacent restaurant with a lavish food spread that comes with the steep price of admission." And you wonder, given that pricing, how many of them are also among the Manhattan captains of industry who played such a central role in the mortgage mess that's formed the unfortunate backdrop to the new Stadium's grand opening in the first place.
And then, in the end, in the last gasp of baseball before the long winter, you watch the wealthiest group of baseball players in the world celebrating their 27th World Series championship -- more than any other team in history, on that field.
Poor sportsmanship it may be. Sour grapes? Probably. But in that moment, it's hard to be inclined to wish them well.
After all, it's not as if they need it.