NEW YORK — The celebration is, at once, both glorious and cruel.
It is a symbol of all the Yankees accomplished in 2009 and a reminder of how close the Rays came in 2008.
So you see Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada holding each other in a long embrace, and you think about the game's grace and history, the unique passion associated with following a player, a team, a quest for the better part of a lifetime.
You see CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett in their moment of glory, and you are reminded of the inequity of the game. They danced across the diamond at Yankee Stadium after Game 6 of the World Series against the Phillies on Wednesday night because they were lured here by hundreds of millions of dollars.
"We weren't thinking in financial terms," said general partner Hank Steinbrenner. "Myself, my brother (Hal), Joe (Girardi, manager), Brian (Cashman, general manager), we were all thinking we were going to have the best team in baseball. We knew it. We knew we had the best team in baseball. And they showed the character the team 10 years ago did. So we just expected to win. We expected it. But it had nothing to do with the money."
And so goes the stormy love affair baseball has with the New York Yankees, champions once more. There is no team with more history, more tradition, more championship banners on its walls. And there is no team with more money, more advantages, more purchases made on the way to those titles.
It does not make the World Series any less real. Nor does it make the champagne any less bubbly. The Yankees were the best team in baseball in the regular season, and they made their case for history when October rolled around. But pause for a moment and consider where this team was a year ago today. And where the Tampa Bay Rays were, too.
The Yankees were a third-place team with a handful of aging stars and some gaping holes. The Rays were the American League champions with virtually the entire team under contract for this season. The Yankees responded by handing a $161 million contract to Sabathia. A $180 million deal to Teixeira. An $82.5 million pact to Burnett. And the Rays signed Pat Burrell to a $16 million contract.
"Sabathia, Teixeira and Burnett were no-brainers," Steinbrenner said. "We knew they had character, we knew they had makeup, which is the first thing we talk about."
Say what you want about slumps, managerial strategies and the need for a closer, but that disparity in money spent in the offseason goes a long way toward explaining why the Yankees went from 89 wins to 103 and the Rays went from 97 to 84.
So is this the start of something bigger for the Yankees? Is it possible this franchise is about to go on the kind of run it had under Joe Torre? And, more to the point, does it mean the Rays should be worried?
Yes, but with a caveat. Look, New York will always have more resources than any other team. If it spends wisely, it should have the best team in the AL East every season, no two ways about it.
But that doesn't mean it will be automatic. The Yankees have issues with at least four hitters in their lineup. They either have to re-sign Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui or look for a new leftfielder and designated hitter.
There is also an age factor with Posada and Jeter. Both are great players. In Jeter's case, he's a guaranteed hall of famer. But both are playing positions that are not historically kind to older players.
On the other hand, the new $275 million contract the Yankees gave Alex Rodriguez in the winter of 2007 may be looked at in a new light.
"I guess I'm not such an idiot after all," Steinbrenner said.
In the end, at least on this night, the story was how far these Yankees traveled to meet their destiny. And of all the baggage they left behind:
For Rodriguez, who will never again hear how his career has somehow fallen short. Fifteen years after hitting the big leagues as a teenage sensation, A-Rod has his World Series ring.
For Joe Girardi, who can put the ghost of Torre behind him. The Yankees had reached the postseason 13 consecutive years before Girardi's debut season ended with a third-place finish. Now, like Torre, Billy Martin and other New York managers before him, Girardi has his title.
For the Steinbrenner family. For sons Hank and Hal, who made their bones in the family business Wednesday night.
And for the Boss himself. At 79, George Steinbrenner is no longer the face of a franchise. His input around this ballpark has faded, and his future is uncertain. And though his methods and approach will forever be debated, his devotion to winning can never be questioned.
Since Steinbrenner purchased the team in 1973, his Yankees have won the World Series seven times. No other team has won more than three in that span.
No matter how you feel about the Yankees and their money, it is once again their time.
It is once again their World Series.