Good stories are defined by the characters within them. Within the story of baseball, villains fill a prominent role that allows fans to distinguish between who they define as the “good guys” vs the “bad guys.” This is the heart of sports and competition.
But baseball isn’t an action movie or a novel; it is fluid, forever changing with no definitive end, where the audience is approaching the viewing experience from thirty different perspectives. This means that your hero could be someone else’s villain, which inherently builds rivalry and disdain between fanbases (just ask old Boston fans about Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone’s middle names). It’s what makes sports great. Typically, a fanbase can agree on the villains, but how they become one is unique. Let us take a look at the origin stories of recent Yankee villains.
We should start with the players that unexpectedly fell into Yankees lore after a single moment. We can all it “The Josh Naylor.” His taunting “rock the baby” celebration in Game 4 of the ALDS last season propelled him into the crosshairs of Yankees fans. As a fan, many seasons come and go, so the memory of singular moments can oftentimes define a season or a player. Every time I see Naylor come to the plate I will think of that moment, but unless he has another moment against the Yankees, his villain status may soon fade.
Unlike Naylor, many Yankee villains have created animosity beyond a single moment. This new category is “The Altuve/Correa”, and they have staying power. Sure, after the scandal of the 2017 season, the Houston Astros became the villains of baseball, but the consistent success against the Yankees beyond that year puts these players in a unique category. You can point to specific moments like the Altuve and Correa walk-offs in the 2019 ALCS, or Altuve’s go-ahead home run in his first series at Yankee Stadium following the news of the sign-stealing scandal.
I think Yankees fans take pride in being able to rattle opponents, hoping players will be consumed by the moment. But certain players feed off that negativity and are still able to deliver. Combining a scandal, multiple playoff heartbreaks, and players who always seem to destroy the baseball against your team ... man, I’m not sure you could create a more villainous sports character. As I’m writing this, you could also call it the “David Ortiz/Manny Ramirez” category.
The reason I wanted to write this article is because there is a new villain on the horizon. This villain hasn’t hit his peak yet, but his actions on and off the field have created a character that has caused some hostility and stirring among Yankees fans. That man is Vladimir Guerrero Jr. His villain character has been built on a foundation of youthful enthusiasm, his propensity for big home runs against the Yankees, and a personal disdain for the franchise. Unlike Altuve or Correa, the playoff history between Guerrero Jr. and the Yankees has not been established yet, but I am excited for when that opportunity arises.
I love rivalries and the drama that comes with these types of players. Whether it is an established Yankee killer or someone who provides a spark of anger in a single moment, I think each injects life and personality into baseball. We don’t have to like them, but we have to appreciate the flare and antics that they provide. In the end, I want the Yankees to win, regardless of the opponent, but it does feel extra special when you defeat your villain.