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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 8:28 am | Fair 54º


Mark Shields: My Kind of Sermon

It's easy to hate the New York Yankees; it's also the right thing to do

In my Irish-American Massachusetts family, you were born a Democrat and baptized a Catholic. If your luck held, you were also brought up to be a Boston Red Sox fan, which meant that, for you, the Axis of Evil or the Evil Empire was not a totalitarian regime somewhere on the other side of the world, but instead the super-rich, spoiled and arrogant New York Yankees just four hours away by car.

Mark Shields
Mark Shields

In his recent Easter Sunday sermon to a congregation that included the nation’s first family at Washington’s historic St. John’s Church, Rector Luis Leon celebrated the joys of spring, including the new baseball season that had begun with the lowly Baltimore Orioles winning two out of three games over the mighty Yankees. Then Father Leon added this from the pulpit, “I’m a fairly charitable person, but I have to tell you — I hate the Yankees.”

Now this is a homily that could hold my attention and command my respect.

I do not know the St. John’s rector, but perhaps he, too, is a fan of William B. Mead, who wrote: “Most all good Americans hate the Yankees. It is a value we cherish and pass on to our children like decency and democracy and the importance of a good breakfast.”

Let me be clear: This emotion is not simply visceral, and it is not irrational. Hatred of the Yankees is completely defensible. Consider what the deep-pocketed Yankee owners have done just since the end of the 2008 season. First, they outspent everybody to purchase the services of two authentic pitching aces, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett for $243.5 million. Add to that first baseman Mark Teixeira at a price tag of $180 million. The Yankees’ 2009 team payroll is more than $200 million and more than three times the total of the American League champion Tampa Bay Rays.

This was the same Yankees organization that then asked public authorities for an additional $259 million in tax-exempt bonds (on top of the $940 million in tax-exempt bonds the Yankees have already been granted). The reason for the bonds? To pay for the brand-new $1.3 billion Yankee Stadium. The Yankees’ tax-exempt bonds will cost the taxpayers of New York City, New York state and the United States more than $80 million in lost revenues — at a time when revenues to pay for public schools and health care are acutely scarce.

To meet the team’s highest-in-baseball payroll, Yankees owners have raised most ticket prices out of reach of most of those unfortunate souls who are Yankees fans. When President Ronald Reagan was in his last White House year, a Yankee Stadium box seat cost $10. Today, when the average price of a box seat at the Colorado Rockies’ Coors Field (the most fan-friendly ballpark I have ever visited) is $36.50, a comparable seat at the new Yankee Stadium is $510.08. But, wait, the first row of Yankees box seats, those closest to the field, costs $2,625 a game.

The Yankees are truly Wall Street’s team. Both favor pinstripes. Both have about them an attitude of entitlement. When either has a case of the “shorts,” they have no compunctions about tapping the public treasury, even if it means taking bread from the mouths of babes or leaving the poor widow’s prescription unfilled.

Candor demands that we concede that the Yankees have indeed gotten a very large bang for their big bucks — an unmatched success record of 39 American League pennants and 26 World Series championships in the last 87 years. There are classy Yankees whom fairness requires us to salute — Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Hideki Matsui.

But still, rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for Rupert Murdoch or Donald Trump to win your church bingo game, like rooting in the middle of an arctic New England winter for OPEC against a struggling family with an empty oil tank.

The late Bill Veeck, a baseball owner with heart, humor and honor, probably put it best: “Hating the Yankees isn’t part of my act, it is one of those exquisite times when life and art are in perfect conjunction.”

Even Luis Leon, the rector of St. John’s Church, could not have said it better.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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