Is the Yankees’ brand facing an identity crisis?


The New York Yankees brand is supposed to embody more than winning. Simply put, when one speaks of the Yankees’ history, winning is at the top of the descriptive list, but it is not the only thing that creates an image. More recently, while the winning has continued there is a flaw building and that is the lack of visible fire on the field and in the clubhouse.

Paul O’Neill would get ticked off if he struck out in an Old Timer’s Day game. Where’s the fire on this team? (Image: US Presswire)

There isn’t a single player on the Yankees that has the Paul O’Neill bash-in-a-water-cooler mentality on this club. Andy Pettitte may come the closest to showing any real emotion on the field when things are not going his way. I’m not going to suggest the Yankees need players who go as far as O’Neill in showing their displeasure with an at-bat or a missed opportunity, but showing some emotion helps players connect with the fans.

This is not about getting more wins. The Yankees are obviously talented enough to garner plenty of wins. I’m not trying to insinuate that there is a correlation of any sort between winning and showing emotions of frustration on the field. What I am saying is that beyond the performance on the field this team has no distinct character.

Derek Jeter, the team’s captain, is more or less quiet and subdued, portraying the business-like approach to the game. He’s never been a ‘Rah Rah’ type of guy and as he approaches 39 years of age, his demeanor is not going to change. Players have taken to Jeter’s style and this may be an issue when it is the entire team following suit.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see Curtis Granderson show some spirit when he is called out on strikes instead of chalking it up to just another at-bat? Maybe Alex Rodriguez would have gained some respect from fans if he flat out said that his benching was a crock of you-know-what. New York fans are among the most knowledgeable fans in the country no matter the sport. There isn’t much fooling the fans. What draws fans to the team besides winning is a collective competitive attitude shown on the field or court. Give the fans something to watch when you’re not delivering blowout wins.

The recent Yankees squads have instead turned into whiners when the chips are down. Jeter has a comment on virtually every called third strike he sees. I love Jeter, but the more he complains on every strike the more the other players feed off it and honestly the less I want my kids watching it. Nick Swisher devastated a fan base when he complained of being booed because he absolutely stunk once again this postseason. The charismatic right fielder brought a looseness certainly needed in the overly business-like clubhouse back in 2009, but I’m not sure that’s the style the Yankees need either. In fact, maybe the clubhouse has become too loose? Too lackadaisical. These guys bounce around like buffoons when they’re winning and wallow on the bench when they are losing.

Robinson Cano sits in a chair in the dugout during Game 3 of the 2012 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park instead of getting up and getting on his teammates or showing he’s fed up with his postseason slump. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Having fun is one thing, but shouldn’t there be some balance when things are not going right? How about owning up to the poor play when asked, instead of canned responses like, ‘I’m feeling good. I’ll turn it around soon.’ It’d be great to hear someone say, ‘I’ve been awful and I’m going to bust my butt to get out of this.’

The business approach is wearing out its welcome. Balancing that with goofy antics when everything is going the team’s way is not working anymore. Acting aloof like Robinson Cano did while in a 3-for-40 drought doesn’t endure a player to fans.  Cano does show some emotion every so often, but mostly seems like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Slumping shoulders and drawn faces only turns off fans.

While the stands were empty due to overpriced tickets in a still weakened economy, the YES Network received no bump from that during the regular season. In fact the ratings on YES were down 8.3% from 2011 and recorded its worst household rating since 2003 of 3.92. That’s in the midst of a back and forth battle with the Baltimore Orioles until the final days of the regular season to determine if they’d even reach the postseason. Why? Well, what’s to watch? There is no energy on the club. There is no culpability by the players.

The team as currently constituted arrives at the ballpark, plays and goes home forgetting they are still in the entertainment business. While in the process of getting swept and looking miserable doing so, how about a camera getting pushed aside during an interview? Why not a tongue lashing to a reporter who asked a stupid question? Show fans that looking terrible on the field means something more than arriving the next day ready to see which woman you’ll be tossing balls to while riding the pine and collecting millions of dollars.

The Yankees need someone or a collection of players whether from the farm system, received in a trade or taken via the free agent market to come in be the next Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez or even Roger Clemens. Otherwise boredom is going to completely set in and continue to deteriorate a fan base. Winning is great, but when we see losing, it’s nice to notice the players care.