In the weeks since the New York Yankees won their 27th World Series championship, the haters have been out in full force with the usual and increasingly tiresome cries of "They bought another championship!"
These cries almost overwhelmingly come from those under the age of 30, whose memories don't stretch back before 1996. The conceit and arrogance of youth, however, don't overcome the truth.
I've been a Yankees fan for so long that the first game I ever saw was at Shea Stadium (look up the years and do the math). I suffered through the horrid teams of the '80s and early '90s. No one was jeering that the Yankees bought championships then. That idea is a recent one, born in the anonymous chat rooms on the Internet.
No major league baseball team is a charity. Every team's goal is to win the World Series, and they all do their best to "buy championships." The Washington Nationals recently paid a kid who hadn't played one inning of pro ball $15 million in the hopes that one day he will hoist the Commissioner's Trophy over his head as he's sprayed with champagne.
It's the chance every team takes, that the high-priced free agent does what he's supposed to do when the money's thrown at him and won't bomb under the pressure.
I find it hilarious that the "buying championships" line comes most often from Boston Red Sox fans. You know, fans of a team owned by a billionaire, who throws money just as hard at free agents du jour, but have the audacity to claim their players are just in it for "the love of the game." Yeah, I'm sure that $85 million the Sox just paid John Lackey makes him heart baseball very much.
Winning a World Series isn't about money. It's about getting hot at the right time. It's about team chemistry, an intangible that has no price tag.
Almost from the start of the season, long-time Yankees fans knew there was something different about the 2009 team. They were looser and more supportive of each other.
The staid corporate atmosphere that permeated the Yankees locker room for decades was replaced by loud music, whipped cream pies in the face, a toy wrestling belt given to the player of the game each night. TV cameras would show normally buttoned-down Derek Jeter giggling like a kid at Johnny Damon's antics and standoffish Alex Rodriguez messing up Nick Swisher's Mohawk after a hit.
They had fun together. And teams that have fun together win.
It's hard to be a New York Yankee. Yes, the Yankees pay guys a lot of money, and yes, in some cases probably way more than is deserved. However, with that money comes pressure, the pressure to perform at the highest level on one of the biggest stages in sports.
Randy Johnson couldn't handle it. A-Rod nearly imploded under the scrutiny. The New York media can savage an under-performing Bomber far more effectively than some poster at Sons of Sam Horn.
The $400 Million Trio—CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira—were brought in not only for their arms and bats, but for their personalities. No one sat by themselves on the bench.
Instead, each player hung over the railing, hollering encouragement, making inside jokes. Multimillionaires all, they seemed to remember that baseball is a game and acted accordingly.
And, as the cliche goes, that's something money can't buy.