*!#! Yankees do it again

February 17, 2004|By Jonathan Pitts | Jonathan Pitts,SUN STAFF

They've done it again.

The Yankees. Who else but the Yankees?

Twenty-six world titles - the most by any pro sports franchise in American history - isn't enough to satisfy them. It's not enough that they spend more money, year after year, than any other club. They have to buy up everybody else's stars, just to remind the poor pretenders how far they really are from playing in the big leagues.

And so it was again yesterday, when owner-omnivore George Steinbrenner finalized a deal that brought him the best, most expensive player in the known universe, slugging infielder Alex Rodriguez, a k a A-Rod. And, Orioles fans, still giddy at the thought of a new season with new hope and new stars like Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez, could only curse or sigh as he did so.

It's a baseball law seemingly as immutable as three strikes and you're out: The Yankees aren't just about winning. They're about stomping out everybody else's dreams.

Mike Gibbons, executive director of Baltimore's Babe Ruth Museum, said, "We love to hate the Yankees because they're the greatest sports franchise in history."

But he tried to see things in a positive light.

"The greatest player in the game ... [was] down there languishing in Texas," he said. "He [wasn't] having any impact. ... This gets A-Rod an appropriate stage where he gets to be all that he can be."

Of course, that's precisely what happened with baseball's greatest player more than 80 years ago. The sale of Babe Ruth by the Boston Red Sox to the Yankees gave birth to the so-called Curse of the Bambino. The Sox haven't won a World Series since Ruth departed.

That includes last year, when they came this close to beating the Yankees for the American League pennant - but couldn't, of course. And now the curse continues, it seems, with Rodriguez. Boston nearly landed him in a trade this winter, only to fall agonizingly short as usual.

But the Red Sox and their faithful aren't the only ones to feel the sting of one more Yankees coup. Among Orioles fans, at least those moved to join in the chatter on the team's Web site yesterday, something like denial was in the air.

"When you think about it, the Yankees are worse off now than they are without A-Rod," proposed one fan calling himself "oriolebuc."

This was the reply by "al--bumbry--fan": "If you are making this kind of argument without any kind of stimulant or depressant," he wrote, "you have to be the most delusional O's fan on record."

But maybe delusion is all that's left when it seems like the forces of history, sociology and American commerce converge again and again in the National Pastime, and always in the Yankees' favor.

It's terrain explored in Philosophy and Baseball (Open Court Publishing), a new book edited by Eric Bronson, professor of history and philosophy at Berkeley College in New York, that includes an essay titled: "Damn Yankees: Why America Needs Reggie Jackson."

One of its authors, Aeon Skoble, a lifelong Yankees fan who teaches and writes at Bridgewater Community College in Massachusetts, sees Platonic ideals - and sheer capitalist realities - at work in the Yankee machinations.

"Plato said that to be an expert on one thing does not mean you're an expert on all things," he said yesterday, pointing out that owner Steinbrenner, a genius in the shipping business, has historically fouled up the works for his team when he gets too involved.

"I have no problem with the capitalist system itself," said Skoble. "But what do you do with it? Soriano had a great year last year, and has many great years left as a star player. A-Rod may even bring a championship or two in the short run, but will the price [for that] be lean years in the future? How many fans remember that, after the Reggie Jackson era, the Yankees went 16 years without a championship? It's a question worthy of philosophical debate."

He added this bit of philosophizing for long-suffering Baltimore fans: "The Orioles may still be going about things the right way."

But impatient O's rooters might be more likely to agree with Robert Adair, the Yale scientist and author of The Physics of Baseball.

When it comes to the Yankees, he said yesterday, even though it might seem like it, there's probably no immutable principle of science at work. But there may be a more significant, and more American one.

"As unusual as it is in my profession, I can describe it in two words," he said with a laugh.

"Money talks."

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