Bah, humbug: Why it feels good to hate the Yankees again

The New York Yankees are baseball's Evil Empire. This is actually a matter of judicial confirmation, not the opinion of some columnist seeking a combative lead. Back in 2008, a company registered under the name Evil Enterprises Inc. sought trademark rights over the phrase "Baseballs Evil Empire." Apparently, the company lawyers weren't too attentive with the proper use of an apostrophe.

Anyway, Major League Baseball objected to the attempted trademark claim. The Yankees themselves eventually joined the legal battle, one that stretched into 2013. The Yankees argued that since they were widely known as Baseball's Evil Empire they had rights to the phrase, at least when used in connection to baseball. A panel of three judges ultimately sided with the Yankees. "In short, the record shows that there is only one Evil Empire in baseball and it is the New York Yankees," the judges ruled.

So we cannot dispute this. The Yankees are the Evil Empire. I suspect Yankees fans, who love to point out the franchise's 27 World Series titles like they actually have fond memories of Earle Combs and Dutch Ruether, embrace the title more than they despise it. The trouble with this description, however, is the Yankees haven't been all that evil in recent years. They haven't won or even reached a World Series since 2009, an eight-season drought. They haven't won 95 games since 2012, a five-season drought that hadn't happened since the dark years of the early 1990s. Heck, while they didn't suffer a losing record in this stretch, they were outscored in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Until Aaron Judge arrived in 2017 and helped the Yankees come within one win of reaching the World Series, for most of this decade, the Yankees have been mediocre and boring.

You couldn't even hate the 2017 Yankees. Judge is humble and likeable and astonishing to watch with his freakish power. While it wasn't a complete surprise that they reached the playoffs, they did it mostly on the backs of their young players such as Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino and Didi Gregorius, not via expensive free agents. The most grating thing about the 2017 team was manager Joe Girardi and his sandpaper personality. Now he's gone, replaced by the more charismatic Aaron Boone.

But that was last season. We can give the Yankees a one-year pass for being a feel-good story. No more. Even during Christmas season, it's time to dig deep into the depths of your heart, kind and pure as you may want it to be, and find that hostility. Find your inner Scrooge. Yes, it's time to once again fear and loathe the Yankees. After all, as impressive as Judge was in swatting 52 home runs, half of which landed on the New Jersey Turnpike, he isn't one-of-a-kind. He was two-of-a-kind, and now the Yankees have the matching set of defensive ends with Giancarlo Stanton added to the roster.

It's OK to retch.

What you should be upset about is this: Stanton didn't want to play for your team. He basically chose the Yankees. He likes the Yankees better than your team or thinks your franchise has no chance of winning or likes New York better than your city. It's like the old quote from sportswriter Jimmy Cannon, "I imagine rooting for the Yankees is like owning a yacht." Remember that phrase when you head out early to batting practice to watch Judge and Stanton crush baseballs.

What's even more infuriating about this is that the Yankees were able to take the risk on Stanton's long-term contract in part because general manager Brian Cashman has done such a good job of rebuilding the roster that they could afford Stanton while still keeping their payroll under the luxury-tax threshold for 2018, the first time that will happen. That resets their tax percentage for 2019, which will make it easier for them to go after one of the premium free agents such as Manny Machado.

As ESPN senior writer Andrew Marchand recently spelled out, Cashman built this roster primarily through the farm system and shrewd trades. Judge was a first-round pick but the 32nd player chosen. Gregorius was acquired for reliever Shane Greene. Chad Green, one of the most dominant relievers in baseball last season, was acquired from the Detroit Tigers for Justin Wilson. Cashman stole Aaron Hicks from the Minnesota Twins for a third-string catcher. Jordan Montgomery was a fourth-round pick. While Sanchez commanded a $3 million signing bonus as an amateur, Severino signed for just $225,000. Anybody could have had him.

Sure, they were the one team with the moral conscience -- or lack of it -- to trade for Aroldis Chapman, then flip him for Gleyber Torres, then re-sign him. Sure, they gave Andrew Miller a four-year, $36 million contract that turned into a ridiculous bargain that any team could have afforded. Cashman flipped him for Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield, now two of their top prospects, and Frazier may help them acquire Gerrit Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates. A little bit sinister, a little bit fortunate.

The Yankees still have more money than your team, but now they also have a younger, more stable, more dynamic roster, and they still have one of the best farm systems in the game. The days of Derek Jeter hobbling after ground balls and Alex Rodriguez soaking up at-bats at DH seem like distant memories. The Yankees are back. "Hating the Yankees is as American as pizza pie, unwed mothers and cheating on your income tax," wrote the great columnist Mike Royko. Give me a slice.

As much as that hurts all of us non-Yankees fans, I'm also going to suggest this is a good thing for baseball. Not everyone agrees with this. I asked on Twitter whether baseball is better when the Yankees are competitive; 47 percent responded "Yes" and 53 percent responded "No." Of course, "better" and "competitive" are somewhat vague terms, but you get the idea: Is it good when the Yankees are good?

I think, at the least, it's more interesting (maybe less so if you root for the Tampa Bay Rays or Baltimore Orioles) when the Yankees are in the headlines, and some of the numbers back this up. Game 7 of the American League Championship Series last year between the Houston Astros and Yankees on Fox Sports 1 was the most-watched LCS game in either league since 2010, a Giants-Phillies game on Fox. The overall ratings for the ALCS were up 95 percent from 2016, when the Cleveland Indians played the Toronto Blue Jays. The Judge-led Yankees drew 114,432 more fans on the road than the ordinary team of 2016. If we conservatively estimate that the average fan spends $60 at a game, a good Yankees team provided the league an additional $7 million in revenue (and that's before the higher TV ratings and merchandise sales). That's on top of how the Yankees draw more fans than other teams to begin with. Everybody makes money off the Yankees; they make more when the Yankees are good.

Here's my bottom line. Imagine if the Astros and Indians had played each other in the ALCS. If you're not an Astros or Indians fan, it would have presented an impossible scenario: Whom to root for? I would have wanted both teams to win! With the Yankees in there, we had good versus evil.

Of course, that's not so enjoyable if evil triumphs in the end.