Talent, tradition, money behind Yankees' success

20091028_dn_0ks6tnrl
Derek Jeter practices at Yankee Stadium yesterday.

MANY OF THE older, traditional baseball franchises have statues outside their ballparks. The Yankees have monuments inside their stadium.

Every historical franchise has a few Hall of Famers. The Yankees have Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle.

The modern-day Yankees outgrew Yankee Stadium. So, they built another Yankee Stadium across 161st Street in the Bronx. It encompasses 1.3 million square feet and cost $1.3 billion.

The Yankees' first year in baseball was 1903. They played at Hilltop Park. For most of the next decade, they were poor cousins to the powerful New York Giants, their tenant in the Polo Grounds.

Then, they got Babe Ruth from the Red Sox. In 1920, with Ruth, the Yankees' attendance at the Polo Grounds doubled to 1,289,422, 100,000 more than the Giants. The Yankees were asked to leave as soon as possible.

So, on Feb. 6, 1921, the Yankees paid $675,000 for 10 acres in the Bronx across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds in Manhattan. The land was sold from the estate of William Waldorf Astor, somebody who certainly sounds like he had a few dollars in his time.

The first triple-decked stadium opened April 18, 1923. The Yankees, naturally, beat the Red Sox. Babe hit a three-run homer. The Yankees' run was on.

They had lost the 1921 and 1922 World Series to the Giants. They beat the Giants in the 1923 World Series, the first of 26 World Series championships in the 84 years of the old Yankee Stadium (the Yankees played at Shea Stadium in 1974 and 1975 when their stadium was being remodeled).

There were two more World Series wins in the 1920s, five in the '30s, four in the '40s, six in the '50s, two in '60s, two in the '70s, three in the '90s and one in 2000, the fourth in 5 years.

Yogi and Whitey. Reggie. Derek and Mariano. Now, finally, A-Rod.

In North American sports, there is no team like the Yankees. Not their history, not the name, not the players, really not anything.

Yankee Stadium is exactly 108 miles from Citizens Bank Park, but in some ways the two franchises are worlds apart. The Phillies have those 10,000 losses. They can't match the Yankees' history. Nobody can.

However, on the field, the defending world champions have clearly proven they are good enough to beat any team. They have done it a different way, but they have done it.

Baseball revenue is such that just about every team can throw around millions. The Yankees can spend more. And they do.

The Yankees did not even make the playoffs last year. So they spent their way back to the playoffs and the World Series. It is what the modern-day Yankees do best.

The first six players in their typical starting lineup earned a combined $114.3 million in 2009. Derek Jeter ($21.6 milion) leads off, followed by Johnny Damon ($13 million), Mark Teixeira ($20.6 million), Alex Rodriguez ($33 million), Jorge Posada ($13.1 million) and Hideki Matsui ($13 million).

The first two pitchers in the rotation are CC Sabathia ($15.3 million) and A.J. Burnett ($16.5 million). The greatest postseason closer ever, Mariano Rivera, earned $15 million. The "third" starter, Andy Pettitte, with a record 16 postseason wins, is a bargain at $5.5 million this year.

During the offseason, the Yankees signed the top three big-ticket free agents - Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira. That they are back in the World Series is not coincidental to the signings.

"Any time you add the top three free agents, it's going to be different, it's going to be better," Damon said during the American League Championship Series. "That being said, it took us from missing the playoffs by six games last year to being pretty dominant for the second half of the season."

The Yankees had the best record in baseball. They hit the most home runs and scored the most runs. They win games with starting pitching, power and a closer who is very close to automatic.

"This never gets old," Rivera said during the ALCS.

The Yankees have great talent. They also understand that, in their realm, nothing has been won yet.

"There's always something more ahead," Teixeira said. "During the season it's, 'Let's win the division.' Then it's, 'Let's get to the World Series' . . . You're not going for All-Star votes; you're not going for MVP votes, you're playing to win a game.

"We have veterans that have played this game for a long time, that have had postseason success, that have had success throughout their careers."

Rivera, 39, Posada, 38, Pettite, 37, and Jeter, 35, have been there for a lot of winning.

"I was watching them in high school," said Sabathia, 29. "I think it helps to have those guys around to keep everybody calm."

Why was this team able to get where recent Yankees teams could not?

"It's pitching," Posada said. "It's simple, it really is."

And that's why so much of the money went to Sabathia and Burnett. New York's pitching was not up to the standards of those championship teams.

"We have been playing this game for a long time and we understand what's at stake," Damon said. "When you get drafted by the Yankees, you get brought into a great system . . .

"They teach winning. They remind you about the history."

And there is the money to go along with all that winning.

"That's why guys opt to sign with New York," Damon said. "Obviously, they're going to go out and get the best players. They're going to pay. Every year, they're going to be competitive."

This year, once Rodriguez returned from his injury, they overwhelmed the American League.

"The lineup's a little better than the ones we've had from the standpoint of power," Pettitte said. "I think everybody is in a real good place right now, not trying to put too much pressure on themselves. We know we have good people surrounding us up and down the lineup, in the rotation, in the bullpen."

The dimensions in the new Yankee Stadium are identical to those in old Yankee Stadium - 318 feet down the leftfield line, 314 in right. That 490-foot and then 461-foot centerfield is a relic of the past, a past when those monuments were actually on the field of play because nobody could hit a ball that far.

There are 56 luxury suites in this stadium; there were 19 in the old one. The concourses are 32-feet wide, instead of 17-feet wide. Babe Ruth Plaza is on the first-base side of the stadium.

The Yankees drew 4,298,543 in their final year in the old stadium. Even with prices out of sight ($375 for a field seat) in a terrible economy and with a smaller capacity (52,325, including standing room) than the old stadium (56,886), they drew 3,719,358 this year. Some of the premium-seat prices had to be slashed when it became obvious there was a number that fans would not pay, even to see the Yankees.

Still, they came. And just like in the first year of the old Yankee Stadium, the Yankees will play in the World Series in the first year of the new Yankee Stadium. The projected revenue from the new stadium helped make all those signings possible. There are some things that just don't change. *