Most shark attacks are not the result of malice. A bright swimsuit mistaken for a fish, a slick gray wetsuit confused for a seal, an experimental mouthful of unfortunately placed arm — the shark just did what it knows to do, living its life unaware of or unconcerned with the aftermath.
In the eighth inning on a comfortable Wednesday night, the Yankees smelled blood. There was no malice, no special desire to victimize Matt Barnes or Craig Kimbrel, who came in try to staunch the wound. The Yankees simply did what they set out to do, for themselves and on their own terms.
The last generation of Yankees with this type of talent and these expectations was a team constructed to win as if by an engineer. There was something cold and mercenary about it, even amidst the camaraderie and personalities. These Yankees are something more natural, more organic, though no less imposing; something more like that shark or a storm, a force of nature that you almost can’t help appreciate even as it ruins your day.
This isn’t the Evil Empire any longer. There’s no Death Star. It’s time we retire that nickname for good.
There have been more than a few pieces written about how likable this young Yankees team is, but likable almost isn’t the point. Even if you hate them, you have to acknowledge that what you hate is not the old cliches about buying talent, about forgetting it’s a game, about entitlement to championship aspirations even with an aging and questionable roster. What you hate is losing.
What has bedeviled those who continue to lean on the standard narrative about baseball in the Bronx since that August weekend when the Yankees said goodbye to Alex Rodriguez and promptly welcomed Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin is how the team has defied those old saws. Winning is still expected at all costs, and somehow we’re still arguing about Clint Frazier’s hair even while the league sells Red Thunder t-shirts for $29.99, but the other criticisms in the back pocket of disaffected rivals ring hollow now.
Gary Sanchez and his spectacular celebratory bat flip after his home run off Ken Giles is everything this team is now and everything they haven’t been before. These Yankees are many things that confound the stereotypes of their recent history, but mostly these — young, fun, and homegrown.
They’ve already fielded a starting lineup made entirely of players age 25 or younger. Judge, Austin, Sánchez, Luis Severino, Greg Bird, and Miguel Andujar were all drafted or signed as international free agents by the Yankees. Gleyber Torres, Chad Green, and Frazier came over in trades while still in the minors. Didi Gregorius was acquired long before he became the player he is now. Even among the Yankees’ priciest players is homegrown (then gone in free agency and returned by trade) talent David Robertson, a $40 million-plus closer deployed as a middle inning fireman because, well, why not?
But then there’s Giancarlo Stanton. The classic Yankee acquisition — pricey, already solidly in his prime, and the marquee player of the offseason. Struggling at first to get comfortable in pinstripes and booed for it. But also, somehow, unnecessary. If the Yankees are still guilty of any of the crimes of which they have so often been accused, it’s gluttony. So many players they didn’t even really need, so many home runs, so many strikeouts, so many relentless, greedy comebacks.
The man himself who exemplifies it even said as much. Speaking to The Athletic about his time in Miami and the differences of life in pinstripes, Stanton summed up these new-look, force-of-nature Yankees in one sentence. “Just having everyone in there knowing that we’re ready to tear the opponent apart — and to have that when it doesn’t matter who we’re playing — it’s a fun feeling.”
See? It’s fun.