In 2002, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino called the New York Yankees “The Evil Empire.” Since then, the term has taken on a life of its own. The Yankees even play the Imperial March at home games. Keep in mind, Lucchino said this after the Yankees signed Jose Contreras. Since then, the Yankees traded for Alex Rodriguez, signed Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, Carl Pavano, Johnny Damon, resigned Rodriguez, signed CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira in one off-season, and spent this off-season signing Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and may not be done yet. Those are a ton of big name free agent signings. However, now a new team is threatening to out-Yankee the Yankees. The Los Angeles Dodgers have been on an absolute spending spree since the team was sold to Magic Johnson et al in 2012. They’ve taken on bad contracts from other teams, overpaid for players, outbid for international signings, and show no signs of slowing down. So why are the Yankees still baseball’s Evil Empire?
The last time the Dodgers won the World Series was 1988, and have only won the Series six times since 1959. In comparison, the Yankees have won the World Series five times since 1996, and have been to the Series seven times in that span. Nothing makes the casual fan hate a team more than constantly winning. Though the Yankees have won the World Series just once since 2000, they are still in the playoffs every year. Since 2000, the Dodgers have won more than 90 games just four times.
The Yankees and Dodgers had the two highest payrolls last season, and it wasn’t even close. At the beginning of the season, both the Yankees and Dodgers had a payroll over $210 million. No one else in baseball was even over $160 million. While the Yankees are trying their hardest to get under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million this season, the Dodgers are going in the other direction. Just this morning, they announced the official signing of Clayton Kershaw to a 7-year, $215 million contract, the highest annual salary in MLB history. They are also one of three final suitors for Masahiro Tanaka, who will be almost certainly receiving a contract averaging over $20 million per year. The Dodgers are quickly changing what it means to be a high payroll team.
The last element to look at is the front office of both teams. The Yankees are run by the Steinbrenners. There is a history of no-nonsense, professional to the point of beards not being allowed on the field. They are sometimes mistaken for a team that does not have fun. Winning the division is expected, and rarely celebrated. The Dodgers front office is not so strict. Last year, the Dodgers jumped in the pool in Arizona after securing their division. While the front office publicly scolded the players that jumped in, imagine if the Yankees had done that. Fans and ESPN would have exploded for weeks or even longer. Reports would have extended into the winter meetings. ESPN is a huge part of the perceptions of both teams.
For years, the Yankees have been one of the most hated teams in baseball. However, a new era is on the horizon, as the Dodgers are making a case to become the Darth Vader of the west. With a carefree attitude and an open wallet, the Dodgers are trying to make big spending cool. They need to be careful though. If they are able to put a World Series win or two in their back pocket in the next few years, fans will grow old of their story. After all, as they should learn from the Yankees, no one likes a perennial winner.