The Changing Face of Baseball – And How the Yankees Have Stumbled Into It

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Major League Baseball isn’t what is used to be. But maybe that’s a good thing.

On a professional level, baseball has evolved so much over the last decade. The eradication of the steroid epidemic has really made it a different game. There might be a lot more money coming into the sport, but there’s also a lot fewer home runs flying out of the ballparks. In a sport that’s becoming more and more of a big business, it’s the little things that have come to matter more on the field.

Just look across the league at the teams who are on top, or at least competing to be. The Kansas City Royals? A team that has little star power, they are currently sitting ahead of the stacked Detroit Tigers in the American League Central Division. Same with the Oakland A’s, who have one of the game’s lowest payrolls but are still hovering around first place in the West. And the Washington Nationals? They don’t have a .300 hitter, but they do have the most wins in the National League.

It’s great to see some of the teams that used to be laughing stocks, actually making some real noise and giving their fan bases hope. It’s good for the sport.

But how are they doing it? A lot of it has to do consistent pitching, solid defense and timely hitting. These teams might not slug their way to victory (the Royals have the fewest home runs in the majors). But they do hit very well with runners on base, for instance. They just know how to get things done when the moment calls for it.

The interesting part is that even our hometown Yankees have recently tapped into this formula. This weekend was a fun one for the Yanks, as they came up with thrilling, clutch game-winning rallies to pull off a sweep of the lowly Chicago White Sox. They’ve gotten big contributions from smaller-name players. Guys like Brandon McCarthy, Shane Greene, Martin Prado and Chase Headley have helped save the Yankees’ season, keeping them alive and well in the playoff hunt. For a true baseball fan like myself, this is refreshing beyond belief.

But none of those players started the year in New York. They were only brought in to replace the bigger-name guys who fell to injuries. So the Yankees haven’t embraced this small-ball, grind-it-out style willingly. Rather, it has come out of necessity.

I wonder if the Yankees will ever embrace it. They’re the Yankees, and their brand is to play big and win big. Or at least try to. As a Yankee fan, I’ll admit that a star-studded team can be fun and exciting to watch. But over the last decade, it just hasn’t worked that well. One title in the last 13 seasons doesn’t cut it. Especially when the one they did win was money-bought.

All too often, their star players have failed to deliver when it mattered most. The contracts of A-Rod, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira are among some of the most expensive ever dished out in sports history. Yet I consider them all disappointments to some degree.

I’m not saying this current team is better than the one they would’ve liked to have out there. But I’d rather see Martin Prado up there with the game on the line over Mark Teixeira. And to be honest, I might rather see Brandon McCarthy or even rookie Shane Greene starting a playoff game over Sabathia.

The Yankees need to keep infusing more of these role players and rookies into their roster, rather than continuing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on players who rarely live up to their contracts. Role players and rookies don’t have those big contracts, but they would like to have them. Sometimes, they’re just trying to stay in the majors. They just have more to play for, and more to prove.

This is how the Yankees won their championships in the late 1990’s. Role players like Scott Brosius, Jose Vizcaino and Luis Sojo created some of the more memorable moments in Yankees history in those years, with their game-winning hits and clutch home runs. Young players like Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera were allowed to play and grow into legendary figures.

Nowadays, those kinds of guys might not even make the Opening Day roster, when the Yankees have their way. It’s a shame how much the mentality has changed.

Winning is still every team’s ultimate goal. It’s just that more and more these days, teams are thinking smaller in order to do it.

Just ask teams like the Royals, Nationals or A’s. Lately, you can even ask the Yankees too.

 

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