The Yankees are worth $6bn: why won’t they pay $9 for their players’ wifi?

<span>Photograph: Frank Franklin II/AP</span>
Photograph: Frank Franklin II/AP

You would think that playing for the most valuable franchise in baseball would come with all the perks, but that turns out not to be true. Apparently, signing with the New York Yankees means paying for your own wifi on team flights. Is this merely cheapness on the part of team ownership, or another example of the Yankees being trapped in the past?

Let’s start with Stephanie Apstein’s bombshell (well, bombshell-ish) report for Sports Illustrated that revealed that when the Yankees take team flights on Delta, players have to pay out of their own pockets if they want to check their emails. Apstein’s research uncovered that only one other MLB team fails to provide free wifi for its players: the Cincinnati Reds. This means that in this one instance, the Yankees are actually cheaper than the Miami Marlins.

We’re not here to paint a sob story about rich athletes – after all, they can afford the $9 fee (some of them could afford to buy the plane). It’s not like they don’t have other ways to amuse themselves during these long flights. Apstein’s story quotes pitcher Jameson Taillon, who spent two years with the Yankees, who reports that “the Yankees fly on a pretty cool custom plane with poker tables and stuff,” he said. “So, I would take that over free wifi, if I’m being honest.”

It makes cosmic sense that the Yankees would offer poker tables but not internet access to their players. They are still living in a past where card games rather than video games were a way of passing idle hours. And, in fairness, why wouldn’t they? The Yankees established their reputation as MLB’s premier franchise by winning 27 World Series titles. That’s a past worth celebrating, particularly in a sport that values tradition (or at least did before commissioner Rob Manfred came along).

The recent past, however, has not been so rosy. The Yankees have only won one title since 2000. That came in 2009, a year before the death of team owner George Steinbrenner, the man whose legacy still dominates the franchise.

The Yankees still continue to honor Steinbrenner’s legacy in their own ways. Most notably, they still demand that their players follow an extremely strict appearance policy that outlaws long hair and beards. That policy, codified in 1976, became such a running joke in sports that The Simpsons poked fun at it as old-fashioned. In 1992.

Although championed by some Yankees fans, particularly the older and more conservative ones, this policy was never really why they lovingly called the distinctly prickly Steinbrenner, The Boss. What they liked about their highly-combustible owner was that he would open his checkbook and do whatever it took to get the players he thought would help them win championships (even if he didn’t always get the right ones). All of the rest of his eccentricities were things that fans put up with as long as the team was winning – and grumbled about when they weren’t.

It’s not that the modern-day Yankees are cheap, necessarily. Their $267m payroll is second in MLB, although it may sting a little that the team at the top of the list just happens to be the New York Mets, meaning the Yankees are being outspent in their own city. What makes this less acceptable is that the Yankees are, by far, the most valuable team in MLB, worth $6bn according to a recent Forbes report.

This, in other words, is an organization that can afford to kick in a few bucks to provide wifi for its most valuable employees. Heck, that’s a courtesy that many McDonald’s locations offer their customers.

At the moment, the Yankees are just one of those teams still living off the accomplishments of the past. The Boston Celtics could be considered the Yankees of the NBA – although don’t call them that in front of anyone from New England – what with their 17 championship banners and bounty of retired numbers, but they have just one title in the 21st century, back in 2008.

In the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys, who still market themselves as America’s team, haven’t won the Super Bowl since 1995. The current incarnation is better known for embarrassing playoff exits than postseason success.

Like these teams, the Yankees are stuck trying to live up to a past they probably will never fully recapture. When fans lament “that’s not how George would have done things” whenever another team outbids them for a star free-agent, it’s partly because they feel that the Yankees are being cheap, an understandable lament considering how much they are worth as a franchise.

Mainly, however, it’s because the Yankees’ present doesn’t compare with their former glories and an unspoken realization that things will never be the same as when The Boss was in charge. It’s a different era: the game has changed and so has the world.

So here we have the 2023 Yankees, whose players have the anachronistic luxury of playing poker on flights while not being able to play it online, stuck adhering to a grooming policy created back when Elvis was still alive. It’s almost as if they believe that they can recreate the past Gatsby-style, hoping that it will somehow return them to former glories. Instead, maybe, it’s their foot in the past that is holding them back.