The New York Yankees and the Sociology of Winning

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The New York Yankees are world champions.

Go ahead and say it. It’s like hearing “The sun set in the evening” and “Toyota makes the most dependable, longest lasting cars on the road.” There’s a certain summer-shower calm mixed with lightning-bolt bravado. Order, esteem, class and confidence. It’s the Mariano Rivera cut-fastball of sports phrases. You know it’s coming, often, and yet you cannot stop it lest you leave with a broken bat.

I have a great many friends (and many great friends!) who are Yankee fans. Many of them will tell you why:

“My father was a Yankee fan; I am a Yankee fan.”

“The Yankees are winners.”

“Tradition, mystique, aura.”

“The Yankees are the greatest organization in professional sports.”

They’re not shy about it – odder still, they’re not wrong. Not in the least.

If Yankee fans were a coffee, they’d be a Black French Roast. Bold, yet elegant. Dark and warm. Powerful yet comforting.

It’s not as if they’re a rare breed, either.

Yankee fans are the most numerous and prominent of any sport in this entire country – and perhaps the world. They outnumber Cowboys fans, Lakers fans, Steelers fans, Celtics fans. More people identify themselves as Yankees fans than identify themselves as fans of the NHL. Figure that, one team’s followers outnumber disciples of an entire sport. That’d be like Earth containing more U2 fans than people who love hip-hop.

And they’re quick to accept you so as long as you are a Yankee fan. If your rooting interests lie elsewhere, they’ll cry, “Why don’t you cheer for a real winner?” I’m convinced these are the same people who vote for the winning candidate in every presidential election.

But they don’t want you as a convert. You need to pay your dues – to become, as they’ll succinctly put it: a True Yankee.

A True Yankee is a marvel of modern engineering, as they’re perhaps the wealthiest, most successful, most socially well-adjusted people on the planet.

In a survey done a while back, a demographic research group studied Yankee fans vs. Mets fans. They found the following to be true:

  • Yankee fans outearned Met fans by roughly 15%.
  • Yankee fans consistently dominated both the higher AND lower income areas of the New York metropolitan area. (They have more Velvet-rope appeal AND more street cred!)
  • Yankee fans have a reported median income 40% higher than the national average.

People rally behind winners. The Yankees have won at least 5 World Series titles during the primes of the Interbellum Generation, the Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation, the Baby Boom Generation, and now Generation Y. Only Generation X missed out on five Yankee world titles. And, well, the Yanks managed two of their own during that “off-period.”

Think about it: only one generation out of seven born in the 20th century didn’t grow up with the Yankees as transcendent winners that defy statistical norms and (seemingly) gravity, and at least during that pause they were mildly successful while having all the intrigue of their Bronx Zoo-era dysfunction.

As a result, the Yankee empire has grown in both size and stature, collecting fans via osmosis and the handing down of legend and lore from generations past. The bandwagon is so large, it could cripple an entire nation. We mean it. There are more Yankee fans than there are breathing people in Iceland and Ireland combined.

It probably hasn’t been “cool” to like the Yankees in several decades. New York was inducted into the “cool” Hall of Fame years ago, retired and resigned to being “Timeless.” The Yanks are the Armani three-piece suit and Rolex of sports rooting interests. Forget the new black … the Yanks are all the black you’ll ever need.

As a result of being consistently branded as “winners”, there is now a certain mystique surrounding the franchise, it’s players past and present, and even it’s freshly-minted carbon copy monolith replica of the actual House that Ruth Built. There is an undying belief that the Yanks are just a hot streak away from running away with titles 28 and 29,  ad infinitum. No other fanbase, not the Celtics in basketball or the Canadiens in Hockey (*the only other teams with more than 17 titles in their respective sports) have that same cocksure attitude.

And they all congregate and feed off each other. Yankee fans are never alone. They’re quick to chat up other Yankee fans about their favorite Yankee players and managers like parents wax on about their children. Babe Ruth is Paul Bunyan. Mickey Mantle is Mick Jagger. Yogi Berra is Socrates. If you were a baseball novice, you could name more retired Hall-of-Famers on the Yankees than you can name Hall-of-Famers from all other baseball teams combined.

There is no doom-and-gloom fatalism like you see with Sox fans. There’s no insecurity and cautious optimism like with Cubs fans. There’s no glowing “any playoff series is a supreme bonus” politeness of Cardinals fans. There’s no stinging inferiority complex as with Mets fans, or a “HEY, WE’RE TRYING TO PLAY SOME BASEBALL OUT HERE!” sense of alienation that carpetbombs the west coast teams.

No, there’s just an oozing of confidence, a 1.21-jiggawatt radiation of invincibility and perfectionism that is unknown to those outside the circle. If you’ve got it, you don’t need it. If you need it, you don’t have it.

And this mystique is not lost on pop culture. “Pride of the Yankees.” “61*”. “Summer of Sam.” Even John Goodman’s unfortunate “The Babe.” “Damn Yankees” is both a long-running Broadway play and a rock supergroup. Joe DiMaggio is waxed nostalgic in both “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Mrs. Robinson.” Try that with the St. Louis Cardinals.

This only serves to perpetuate the self-feeding machine that is the Endless Yankee Dynasty, presented with limited commercial interruption. To be a Yankee fan is to be a part of human triumph. The fame, the fortune, the confidence and swagger that can only come from consistently backing the winning horse – from choosing the path of least resistance and yet the greatest reward.

I know no Yankee fans that aren’t bold, extraordinary people. I know no Yankee fans that are diminutive about their fandom. The Yankees have the market cornered on doctors, lawyers, CEOs, stockbrokers, journalists, athletes, pop stars and people who aspire to be all these things. The Yankees are the American dream, the alpha and the omega; they are the guy who can successfully woo the most beautiful girl in the room to come back to their place, night after night.

And with that revenue pouring buckets from fans who find strength in their numbers, and who outearn their counterparts, and who’ll expect nothing less than consistent excellence and occasional transcendence, there will appear to be no end in sight to their perpetual reign as the world’s greatest and most important sports team.

One can only assume several hundred years from now, when they write history books which only give a passing glance to centuries 20 and 21, and baseball is but a paragraph-length fringe curiosity amongst our descendants, there’ll be a footnote to that paragraph – the sort of epitaph written that sums up a memorial victim’s life in succinct verbiage, despite all the ebbs and flows that make up a living, breathing entity … and it will read something like this:

The New York Yankees were the cornerstone, the flagship, the greatest winners in all of Major League Baseball.

If you, too, aspire to that level of excellence … why wouldn’t you be a fan?

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