Who didn’t see the non-signing of Cliff Lee by the Yankees coming a mile away? All the signs were there — namely in dead silence from Lee — yet few people ever expected the notion that the Yankees could ever be out-bid by another team. However, what the faithful failed to understand, is the Yankees were — but are now no longer — about so much more than just money.
The decline of the Yankees started the day after the death of majority owner George Steinbrenner and the impending grotesque over-exaggeration of his importance to the team by his family in the creation of a Yankee Stadium plaque that was bigger than Babe Ruth.
The Yankees are about players, not management.
Yet, the Yankees, over the past month, have become about money and management and not the spirit of winning that makes the Yankees a unique franchise.
We Yankees fans have been raised on the notion that “no dollar too short and no amount too big” to land the greatest talent in the baseball world to play on our team — yet even with that monied mandate, the most important ideal in the Yankee clubhouse was the “Yankee Mystique” of honor and toughness that could be invoked at will to win a losing game on a whim. Money can buy Mystique, but management can never own it.
The current incarnation of legendary Yankee Mystique is Captain Derek Jeter — the human bridge between what was historic and what is now a re-emergence of the hope for greatness — and yet the Yankees, and general manager, Brian Cashman in particular, made re-signing Jeter a bore and a chore and an embarrassment.
If George were alive, Jeter would’ve been offered a five-year $21 million a year contract the day after the season ended — because George knew Jeter is more than a player: He is the Face of the Franchise. You overpay Jeter to keep your façade happy for the next 50 years.
Cashman and the Steinbrenner offspring do not realize what great value Jeter offers them as a player and a legend. You overpay the player to preserve the legend, and the Yankees cheapened Derek Jeter and humiliated him in such a public way that was stunning as it was astonishing.
While Jeter was being made ordinary in public by Yankees management, Brian Cashman was clambering down buildings in New York dressed as Bret Michaels and as a Christmas Elf.
I don’t care if Cashman was raising money for charity — or abetting a failed SuperHero neuroses — you don’t play around like that in public unless and until Jeter is signed and happy and Cliff Lee is inked and done.
Brian Cashman singlehandedly made the Yankees monarchy look cheap and cartoonish — all during the most important signing week in the last decade.
If I were Cliff Lee, I too, would’ve turned down the hateful Yankees. If they humiliated Derek Jeter to save a few million dollars against some tertiary bottom line — imagine what they’d do to you if you misperformed as their stellar, big-money, starting pitching?
An Ace like Cliff Lee doesn’t need the Yankee Mystique — or even their money — if it means living under the misbegotten sons of George Steinbrenner and their Stepin Fetchit Elf Brian Cashman.
You can’t put a price on satiety and happiness, and Cliff Lee opted to turn down the bigger money for the larger prize: He returns to Philadelphia as both conquering hero and as a Prodigal Son who was betrayed by his parents — but who forgave them in the end — all in order to shank it back to the Yankees at will in the World Series to teach them the real meaning of Mystique.