Every year ESPN The Magazine ranks all of the sports franchises across the four major sports leagues for their Ultimate Team Rankings feature. Each team is graded against eight categories — title track, ownership, coaching, players, fan relations, affordability, stadium experience and overall bang for the buck — and the magazine publishes the standings.
Earlier this week, the Worldwide Leaders released the 2009 edition of the Ultimate Team Rankings, and the Yankees did not perform so well. The team is ranked an absurdly low 107, ahead of also-rans and disasters such as the Knicks, Clippers, Bengals and Islanders. They are ranked just 27th in the “title track” department, despite a lofty payroll and the third best record in Major League baseball, and they find themselves far behind the Angels, the overall No. 1 team, the Red Sox (58) and even the hapless Mets (82).
A few months ago, as ESPN was putting together this list, I spoke with Eddie Matz, the reporter assigned to write up the piece on the Yankees. At the time, the team was struggling, and people were complaining about the new stadium. Furthermore, with no George Steinbrenner-type figure atop the Yankee Front Office, even the ownership seemed in flux. In the end though, the new stadium dragged down the team. Matz writes:
How do you replace a legend? You don’t. That’s what fans are saying about the new Yankee Stadium, which ranked a surprising 37 spots lower than Babe’s house did a year ago. (Among outdoor AL parks, only Oakland’s, Minny’s and Tampa’s rated worse!) Sure, the new crib has double-wide concourses that circle the park. Yeah, the seats have as many as 10 inches more legroom, and the 101-foot-wide scoreboard is seven times larger than its predecessor. Plus there’s a Hard Rock Cafe and cupholders and family bathrooms. So what’s missing? A certain je ne sais quoi. “It just doesn’t have that same feel,” says Ben Kabak of fansite RiverAveBlues.com.
In fact, the only feeling most fans have is the need to knock off a bank to pay for a date with the Bombers: For the price of an average Yanks ticket ($72.97, up 76% and the most in baseball by more than 20 bucks), you could buy five — count ’em, five — average seats (a lot more if you were going for the cheapos) at a D-backs game. Steak sandwiches for $15 from Lobel’s don’t cut the mustard either. Yes, it’s tough replacing a legend. And right now the sound filling Yankee Stadium isn’t the actual Voice of God (retired PA announcer Bob Sheppard) but an honest-to-goodness Bronx cheer.
The use of “right now” in that last sentence is certainly out-dated. As the Yanks find themselves just a few games out of first, the stadium has been filled with cheers of a different nature. Meanwhile, fans have come to embrace the new stadium for what it is: a spot to watch the Yankees play baseball. It may not be the old Yankee Stadium, but it is home.
Take a look at ESPN’s final Yankee rankings:
Title Track: 27
Fan Relations: 101
Stadium Experience: 84
Bang for the Buck: 119
That affordability number is completely skewed by the expensive seats. True, the average ticket price is up, but it’s easy to find an affordable seat at Yankee Stadium. The team has also made an effort to improve their fan relations, and the players — one of the more talented collection in any sport — deserve higher than 81.
In the end, this seems to be more Yankee negativity coming out of Bristol. It’s far better for sales if the Yanks are ranked lower. Everyone likes to beat up on the Bombers because everyone is jealous of them. It just makes winning that much sweeter.