Baseball fans from the Millennial generation and older had two choices when they were growing up: Love the New York Yankees or hate the New York Yankees. Few people were caught in-between, almost no one was “eh, whatever” about the Bronx Bombers. One might even argue that the Yanks, despite baseball’s waning popularity, remain America’s most (in)famous team. The Dallas Cowboys may have something to say about that, of course.
Andrew Benintendi, arguably the best college baseball player to ever lace up the cleats at Arkansas, was traded to those Pinstripers ahead of the Major League Baseball trading deadline last week. In fact, his move from Kansas City was largely considered the first of what are likely to be several in the last few days before the Tuesday night deadline.
Baseball is huge at Arkansas. It’s not the biggest after Razorbacks players leave, however. Anecdotally, a good chunk of so-called Hogs fans just outside my social circle didn’t know which franchise Bentintendi played for at all. They remembered him as the player who led the Diamond Hogs to the College World Series and “didn’t he win MVP or something, too?” For the purposes of this piece, we’re not concerned with those kinds of fans.
This one is for those who are all about America’s Pastime.
Benintendi’s New Task with the New York Yankees
Benny Baseball is well on his way to becoming the best former Hog in the professional ranks, too. In his six short seasons in the Majors, the only four ex Razorbacks who might be ahead of him are Cliff Lee, Kevin McReynolds, Eric Hinske and Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel’s former team, the Houston Astros, are another one of the sport’s antagonists, their 2019-2020 scandal drew scorn from both fellow players and staff and from fans.
But the Astros are not the Yankees. Unfortunately for the status of that team in the Bronx, the fact that even has to be said is a disappointment. It’s the Astros who have been to the World Series three times in the last five years, whereas New York hasn’t been since 2009. Some teens have never seen the Yanks in the Series. The gap from 2009 to 2021 is the second longest in franchise history, only bested by the 1981-1996 cold streak. You know, before the Derek Jeter-Mariano Rivera-Jorge Posada-Andy Pettitte homegrown talent made its way up. The franchise, especially under former George Steinbrenner, prided itself on being the villain. As Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko once wrote: “Hating the New York Yankees is as American as apple pie, unwed mothers, and cheating on your income tax.” Andrew Benintendi is tasked with helping to make that coast-to-coast animus return. Sort of like being recruited to The Dark Side.
He’s capable. His slash line of .315/.387/.392 this season resembles just the sort of player who helps win championships. Sure, you could bag on the slugging, but Benintendi specifically changed his approach this season, sacrificing that number by a small amount to bring the first two totals higher. Besides, on a team with American League MVP frontrunner Aaron Judge and his second-fastest-ever-into-August home run total, the Yankees aren’t going to be asking Benintendi to pull the ball over the short porch in Yankee Stadium’s right field. They’re asking him to get on-base and let Judge and Giancarlo Stanton drive him in.
The Elephant in the Room
There is something of a caveat to the whole deal, however. One that does kind of make sense on a thematic level when considering the Yankees’ desire (one that this author is applying, to be clear) to become the bad boys of baseball again. That is, New York plays in the AL East, where games in Toronto are a staple. The club has one more trip to Canada on the docket this season. The Blue Jays and Yankees could also meet in the playoffs.
That’s an issue because when he was with the Royals, Andrew Benintendi was one of 10 Kansas City players who couldn’t make the trip because of their COVID-19 vaccination status. If Benintendi decides to continue his holdout of the vaccination, he won’t travel to the Yankees’ third-to-last series of the season. He would be held out of the postseason games at Rogers Centre, too.
What a grand, convoluted sense of humor the world has. Benintendi was both scorned and celebrated for his vaccination status when word came out about it. He’s taking a conservative stance in a less conservative market. He’s both a good guy and a bad guy because of who he plays *and* his vax status now. And that status could damage the team he plays for, too.
Or it might not and the whole thing becomes moot. Or Benintendi takes the vaccine and the whole thing becomes moot. Or he slashes .250/.330/.350 the rest of the way and doesn’t really affect the Yankees one way or the other down the stretch.
But that’s boring. It’s more fun for all of us when crazy things happen, good or bad. It’s more fun for all of us when we have something to root for or against. Something like an ex-Arkansas outfielder without the COVID-19 vaccine playing for the New York Yankees.
Something for everyone, eh?
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