There's nothing quite like the exhale after the final out of a tight Yankees victory, when three hours of pacing, sweat flecks and superstitious bathroom trips coalesce to create the opening drum beat of Frank Sinatra's triumphant version of the theme from "New York, New York," a largely forgotten movie attached to an iconic song.
Childhood at the old Yankee Stadium was marked by countless trips down the endless ramp, stepping in peanut shells carefree as Sinatra's strains rang out, as well as a good deal of silent wanders through masses of humanity, wondering where it all went wrong, usually accompanied by Liza Minelli's somber version of the same theme.
Well, not the old stadium, but the one that felt ancient to me as I watched modern ballparks being built across the country. Those teams needed bells, whistles and luxury amenities to attract fans. We didn't. We had tradition as a selling point. We didn't need polish. We had Sinatra. We had victory. If that wasn't argument enough for you to join our team, then we didn't need you, and would finish the job without you.
Despite a cathartic World Series victory in the first year spent in the team's brand new ballpark in 2009, when Brian Cashman was authorized to spend like a madman, surely to placate The Boss in what would be his final full season, the sheen has mostly been off the Yankees' brand since the transition. Hal Steinbrenner's stewardship has been marked by sporadic free agent splashes, a Tampa Bay Rays-like pitching overhaul of interchangeable sweeper merchants, and a wholesale rebranding around Aaron Judge as any fan's reason for being.
Most years, the Yankees win enough. But never again since the change in leadership has the team seemed so wholly dedicated to winning at all costs that it consumes them. The offense isn't relentless anymore; it's good enough. Considering anybody could be a No. 2 starter behind Gerrit Cole, nobody really is. And, win or lose, Sinatra's celebratory tones will be emanating from the speakers, saluting the fans for simply attending.
Would Steinbrenner like to win? Of course! Who doesn't want to win? But if he doesn't win, that's alright, too. It still kind of feels like a win, right? You all showed up.
Yankees playing Frank Sinatra version of "New York, New York" after losses epitomizes Hal Steinbrenner era
The blame for this franchise's complacency does not lie on the fans. Too often, I've seen spending on chicken buckets decried as "part of the problem," but rest assured, no amount of unsold buckets will convince Steinbrenner to pivot and fire Brian Cashman. You're not giving a tacit endorsement to Aaron Boone when you add barbecue sauce. Attendance at Yankee Stadium will never dip to the level that would "force change" -- and, even if it did, the team has thousands of alternate revenue streams to keep the lights on.
Steinbrenner knows the players he can't afford to lose. He knows what would torpedo the brand and remove the Yankees from the playoff conversation; that's the reason he called Judge from Italy. The Yankees being an afterthought would crush Steinbrenner. The Yankees being a postseason also-ran? Clearly, that's fine. That's been the case since he took the reins.
Playing the dynastic Yankees' victory song, every single day, win or lose, sounds like a small complaint in a sea of roster construction screams, but it's representative of this franchise's transformation into a Disney World ride detailing its own rise. Walk around the stadium, and you'll see Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and black-and-white champagne. Look onto the field, and you'll see Willie Calhoun, Greg Allen, and any number of players who don't represent the sport's richest team ruthlessly using every advantage they've been given.
You can look at tradition, but you, the modern Yankee fan, can't touch it. And when the other team exhales and still gets to hear Sinatra crooning, there's nothing for you to do but be a pawn in their game, a piece of prey caught in their taunt. Perhaps we're still taking our fandom medicine for the decades of success and excess heaped upon our shoulders. But repeated losses should feel melancholy, and the stadium itself shouldn't counteract that with a sense of bombast meant to make you forget you disliked what you saw. Unfortunately, Hal's just glad you came.