Monday Superlatives

The Yankees are the gritty, gumption-y, big-heart boys of baseball

May 27, 2019
MLB: MAY 26 Yankees at Royals
Icon Sportswire

I can feel you hating this take from wherever you're sitting, steaming mad in front of your computer, whether it's Boston or Seattle or, I don't know, godforsaken Cleveland. You loathe the Yankees, and the very idea that they embody some kind of plucky fighting spirit is anathema to your very worldview. "It's about payroll!" you shout at me, and though the Yankees aren't the richest team in baseball anymore (at no. 3, they're still pretty rich), normally you'd have a solid point. Sure, there's basically no chance a team like the Miami Marlins cam compete against MLB's wealthy juggernauts when their war chest is about one-third as large. That's pure economics, and I can't argue with you.

And yet, a closer look at the Yankee payroll shows that the most famous professional sports franchise in American history has been utterly screwed by lady luck in 2019. In Giancarlo Stanton alone, a player who has seemingly injured every part of his body in succession, the team has lost $13 million in payroll...and that's assuming Stanton actually makes it back in June, which is not at all guaranteed. And he's just the very expensive tip of a very deep iceberg. The full list is borderline ridiculous, and includes players making a lot of money (Stanton, Luis Severino, Troy Tulowitski, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Aaron Hicks have all missed time or continue to miss time, and represent five of the team's top seven earner), players making a very significant amount of money (CC Sabathia, Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, and James Paxton are all pulling in between $7 and $11 million this year), and players who should be making a lot of money but aren't arbitration eligible yet (the great Aaron Judge, Miguel Andujar, and Clint Frazier).

No team in baseball has been dealt this kind of bum hand—probably for a few years—and if you told even the most optimistic Yankee fan before the season began about the injury bug about to bite, that fan would consider it a miracle if the team managed to go .500 through the first 50 games. And yet, incredibly, the Yankees have done more than just hold the fort until reinforcements can arrive—they lead the American League East at 34-18, and currently hold the third-best record in baseball.

How? Well, it's a combination of young players like D.J. LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres emerging as stars, with timely and consistent contributions from Luke Voit and the unlikely Gio Urshela, as well as reliable power from old hands like Gary Sanchez who have managed to stay off the IR. Masahiro Tanaka has been his reliable self on the mound, and Domingo German has been spectacular in just his second year as a starter. Then there's the bullpen, which is by some metrics—including WAR, arguably the most important one—the best in baseball. So you can pin the success on a great farm system, smart investments at key positions, and young players proving that they belong on baseball's biggest stage.

So, yes, to some extent money still comes into play here—it's not free to buy a good bullpen. But the bigger takeaway is that fortune has absolutely nullified the Yanks' financial edge in 2019, and they've succeeded anyway on the basis of intelligence and those ephemeral qualities that fall under the label "heart," including opportunism, clutch play, and a resilience of spirit that has buoyed them in the face of endless bad news. As a fan, it has been an enormously satisfying season to watch on the field, even as the off-field sucker punches keep coming. With a quarter of the season in the books, haters have to accept a bitter truth: the Yankees have shown more toughness in the face of adversity than any team in baseball. Embrace the pluck, America.

Embrace the pinstripes.

Hilarious Display of Existential Despair by an Announcer: Gary Thorne

There is no greater mismatch of talented broadcaster and hopeless professional sports franchise than Gary Thorne and the Baltimore Orioles. Thorne is a legend, the Orioles are a nightmare, and if you haven't already read Craig Goldstein's wonderful piece documenting Thorne's descent into despair and madness as he watches the Yankees' Gleyber Torres light the Orioles on fire one home run at a time, please read it now. I'm going to take the easy way out and just embed the glorious tweets, but really, read Goldstein.

And now, the three stages of an announcer losing all hope:

"I don't even know...goodbye home run" is my new favorite call in announcing history.

Glorious Return of the Week: Roger Federer at Roland Garros

Federer spent most of his career being boxed out by Rafael Nadal at the French Open—including three straight finals losses from 2006 to 2008—but in 2009, he took advantage of Nadal's shocking loss to Robin Soderling in the round of 16 to capture his one and only title to compete the career grand slam. Even that wasn't easy, as the current GOAT had to survive five-setters over Tommy Haas and Juan Martin del Potro along the way. After that title, he made one more final (you'll never guess who he lost to), and then progressively got a little worse year by year.

Starting in 2016, he made the decision to skip the entire clay season, including the French Open. It was understandable, but also sad. This year, either because he wants to protect his grand slam record or just because he missed it, he's back, and I don't think I realized how much I missed him until I saw him on Court Philippe Chatrier against Lorenzo Sonego. He won in three sets, and it was wonderful just to see one of the game's greatest players on one of the sport's most famous courts. One of the best parts was seeing just how happy Sonego was to have lost to the great Federer. Watch the aftermath, which also includes an artist's depiction of the moment, since this is Paris:

Correctly Respected Team of the Week: Milwaukee Bucks

Just one week ago, I wrote about how the Bucks were the NBA's answer Rodney Dangerfield, always demanding and never getting that crucial respect. A few hours after I filed the story, they came within a hair's breadth of going up 3-0 on the Raptors in the eastern conference finals before falling in two overtimes. Now, a week later? Oops!

It's over. Kawhi did his Kawhi thing, the worm turned, and the Raps won 4-2. It's an incredibly depressing turn of events for the Bucks, who seemed poised to challenge the (probably) Durant-less Warriors and shock the world, and now are staring down a future where they might lose Giannis and never matter again. And they'll have to watch this clip until the world ends:

Speaking of Kawhi...

Inspiring Post-Game Interivew of the Week: Lil Popovich

You can take the boy away from Popovich, but you can't take the Popovich away from the boy:

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