According to the legend, this was before the 1934 baseball season. New York City was baseball flush, as always. The Giants had won the 1933 World Series. The Yankees had won in 1932, and had won in 1927 and 1928, too. The Giants were about to break spring training camp in Miami Beach when someone asked manager Bill Terry about the other teams in the National League.
“The Cardinals?” Terry was asked. “They’re very good,” he said.
“The Cubs?” and Terry stroked his chin. “They’re formidable,” he said.
“What about the Dodgers?” he was asked.
And Terry smiled.
“The Dodgers?” he asked. “Are they still in the league?”
As the story goes, that was the first example of what we now consider “bulletin-board material.” Late in the season, the Giants and Cardinals were tied atop the NL standings at 93-58 with two games to play. The Cardinals won both of theirs, against the Reds. The Giants had to play two against the Dodgers at the Polo Grounds.
Brooklyn won the first game, 5-1, putting the Giants’ season in peril. The next day, in front of a packed house of 40,000, the Giants jumped to a 4-0 lead, but the Dodgers scored twice in the eighth inning and then three times in the top of the 10th, burying the Giants for good. Afterward, the writers found the Brooklyn manager who was never terribly shy about sharing his thoughts, and was in as good a mood as a guy who’d skippered a 71-81 team could be.
“I guess,” Casey Stengel said, “we’re still in the league, eh?”
Which brings us back to 2020. The Mets have owned November around here. Steve Cohen was approved as the team’s new owner on the eve of the new month and every day has brought fresh Mets speculation. Who are they going to recruit to run baseball ops? What free agent(s) are they going to sign? What blockbuster trade(s) will they pull off?
It has sort of felt like a one-team town.
Which is funny, of course, because the Yankees are still the sporting centerpiece of New York, not just in baseball, but in all sports. The Yankees are still the unchallenged kings, not only of summer, but a 365-day (366 in 2020) vortex of expectation and achievement and ambition and expertise.
They’ve just been a little … well, quiet lately.
They have been laying in the weeds. The Mets get all the attention now because the Mets have the new owner, and the Mets are the team itching to figure out, after a while away, what it’s like to be a big-market monolith of a team like … well, like the Yankees, the team that invented the big-market template.
Now, neither Sandy Alderson nor Cohen seems especially inclined to channel old Bill Terry and tweak the beast. Good luck waiting for either of them to ask — either whimsically or seriously — “Are the Yankees still in the league?” Cohen insists he isn’t in competition with the Yankees, but with each of the other 29 teams in MLB. Also: Who wants to poke the bear?
And: It’s worth remembering the Yankees are still the Yankees. They are two years removed from 103 victories, three years removed from 100 wins, they started 2020 like they planned on figuring a way to 50 wins before injuries and the Rays got in their way, but they still won a round of playoffs, still took the eventual league champs to the last inning of the ALDS.
Also, they have apparently announced that they are surrendering New York to the Mets.
Now, it is true that the Yankees lost a king’s ransom to the pandemic-ravaged 2020 season, which may keep them from dipping as deep into their war chest as they usually might, or as deep as new-to-the-game Cohen might. They need to retain DJ LeMahieu. They need to shore up the starting rotation. They are not an as-is surefire bet for glory in 2021.
But they’re still awfully damn close. BetMGM has them at 6/1 this instant to win the next World Series. Only the Dodgers (4/1) have skinnier odds. The Braves, Padres and White Sox are all next, at 10/1. The Mets are 18/1. That’s about as it should be as we enter the final furlong of November.
Those numbers could all change in the weeks ahead, and, yes, much of that will be according to the Mets’ agenda. But the Yankees are still the Establishment. They are still the gold standard around here, until proven otherwise. They are, indeed, very much still in the league. They’re just a little quiet about all of that. For now.