The Week Ahead: The Evil Empire is back

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teixeira_090920.jpgAt some point this week, the New York Yankees will officially be back.

Back in the postseason, back on top of the AL East and back on the throne as favorites to win the World Series.

It wasn’t a long hiatus, at least by the standards of mere mortals. But things are different in the Bronx, where missing the playoffs after 13 straight entries, and going two straight seasons without winning the AL East, is simply unacceptable.

So they spent large – even by their standards – in the offseason, purchasing free agent studs Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. And what a payoff those three have turned out to be. Teixeira is at .289/.381/.566 with 37 HRs, 40 doubles and 118 RBIs. Sabathia is 18-7 with a 3.31 ERA, and Burnett is 11-9 with a 4.22 ERA.

They’ve survived the injuries and scandals of Alex Rodriguez, the up-and-down season of Joba Chamberlain, and the most brutal of divisions.

Sometime this week, as soon as they win a game (or the Texas Rangers lose one), the Yankees will clinch at least the AL wild card spot. And with a five-game lead with only 12 to play, the AL East crown isn’t far behind. This week will also be a nice preview of the playoffs, as the Yankees travel to L.A. to face the Angels, then return home to host the Red Sox.

Yes, like them or not, the Evil Empire is back.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Yankees at Angels, Sept. 21-23:
These two teams have been the best in the AL for most of the season, and it looks like they will be the top two in the playoffs, making this a potential preview of the ALCS should everything play out to form.
Twins at White Sox, Sept. 21-23: The White Sox are just about finished as far as the playoffs go, but they can still play a big part in who wins the AL Central, playing host to first the Twins …
Tigers at White Sox, Sept. 25-27:  … then the Tigers this week. Detroit enters the week with a three-game lead over Minnesota.
Cardinals at Rockies, Sept. 25-27: Just as Colorado tightens its grip on the NL wild card spot, the Rockies get to host the powerful Cardinals at Coors Field. And though the Cardinals just about have their division sewed up, they’re still in the running for best record in the NL.
Red Sox at Yankees, Sept. 25-27: It’s the final installment of baseball’s best rivalry this season, unless these two end up facing each other in the ALCS. Boston still has a remote chance at the AL East title, as well.

ON THE TUBE
Wednesday, 10:10 p.m.: Giants at Diamondbacks (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Red Sox at Yankees (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Phillies at Brewers (FOX)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m.: Red Sox at Yankees (ESPN)
Sunday, 3 p.m.: Cardinals at Rockies (TBS)
*Check local listings

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If you Twitter, you can find me there at @Bharks.

How long do you stay a fan of a team that left town?

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File this under “not a really deep thought, but there isn’t much going on this morning, so why not?”

I was catching up with the latest, and final, season of “The Americans” over the weekend. I will give no spoilers and ask that you do the same, but I want to talk about something that came up in the second episode.

The episode takes place in October 1987 and a character is listening to a Twins playoff game on the radio. He later talks about baseball and the Twins with some other characters. The context is not important, but the guy — probably in his mid-late 40s, living in the Washington D.C. area — makes a point to say that he has been a Twins fan since the beginning, and then says he was, in fact, a fan of the franchise back when they were still the Washington Senators.

In case you are unaware, the original Washington Senators moved to Minnesota following the 1960 season and became the Twins. At the same time an expansion team, also called the Senators, was placed in D.C. to replace them. That franchise would stay in D.C. for 11 seasons before moving to Texas in 1972 to become the Rangers.

In light if that, am I the only one who has a hard time buying that such a man actually existed? How would the character, who was a kid when the original Senators moved, be a Twins fan some 26 years later?

There were relatively few televised baseball games back then. Just a game of the week and some out of town coverage of local teams. There was obviously no internet. Outside of the 1965 World Series, it’d be a shock if more than a couple of Twins games were broadcast to the D.C. area during the rest of the guy’s childhood. Maybe he kept up with the Senators players like Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison via box scores, baseball cards and The Sporting News, but I couldn’t imagine a D.C. guy raised on the Senators keeping up with the Twins through the 1970s and 1980s. Would he not become a new Senators fan or, eventually, a Rangers fan? Maybe, like so many people on the D.C. area, he picked up the Orioles as his team due to their 1960s-70s dominance? Any number of things could happen, but I’m struggling to imagine the existence of a Senators guy who becomes a hardcore Twins fans up to and including 1987.

All of that got me thinking about other relocated teams.

The Dodgers are the most famous example, of course, with the narrative being that Dodgers fans in Brooklyn felt betrayed by Walter O’Malley and thus turned their back on the club, later adopting the Mets as their rooting interest. The betrayal narrative is less pronounced with the Giants, but that’s the same general story with them too. I mean, there’s a reason the Mets picked orange and blue as their colors. They wanted to, and largely did, co-opt the old NL New York fans.

I’m sure a lot more Dodgers and Giants fans continued to follow their teams in California than would let on, given that many of the same players starred out there in the ensuing years, but that likely died out as those players retired. Bob Aspromonte was the last Brooklyn Dodger to play in the bigs, retiring after the 1971 season. Willie Mays played through 1973. I assume NL fans in New York kept some nice thoughts for them — particularly because the Mets picked both of them up for the tail end of their careers — but I can’t see those guys rooting for, say, Steve Garvey and John Montefusco in 1979.

Others:

  • There likely aren’t many St. Louis Browns fans left — they last played in Missouri 65 years ago — but even if the ones they had in 1953 felt like rooting for the Cardinals was impossible, I bet most of their kids and grandkids became Cards fans;
  • The A’s fans in Philly — and later Kansas City — probably have a similar story. I mean, there’s a reason that franchise skipped town twice, so to expect undying love over the decades, with the Phillies and Royals around, is a bit much. The Philadelphia A’s glory years were like 90s years ago now anyway, and all of those fans are dead. The A’s modern glory years have all come in Oakland. No one in Philadelphia or Kansas City is looking to the California with an aching in their heart;
  • I could imagine someone’s grandfather in Milwaukee still thinking that the Braves are his team, but not many other people. The Braves won a World Series and two pennants in Milwaukee, but that was an awful long time ago and they moved to Atlanta before the A’s moved to Oakland. Don’t even get me started about Boston Braves fans. They all have to either be dead or have long since moved on. Following a team to a new city is a big ask, but following them to two new cities over 66 years seems pathological. UPDATE: OK, there are some pathological people out there.
  • I have some Nationals fan friends and they tell me that there is a small, weird contingent of Expos fans who root for Washington now. I get that since it wasn’t terribly long ago, but was Brad Wilkerson really a good enough reason to carry a torch? I’d like to talk to some of those people and ask them about their value system;
  • The only other team to move was the Seattle Pilots. They played one season in Seattle and no one would remember that if it wasn’t for Jim Bouton’s book, “Ball Four.” If you find someone claiming to be a Pilots fan in Seattle, you’ve found yourself a hipster peddling revisionist b.s.

Anyway, that’s a lot of words wasted on a couple of lines from a TV show, but as always, your thoughts are appreciated.