It was the vaudevillian comedian Joe E. Brown who went on the record about it most famously. It was he who put it into words with so much brevity yet pith.

“Rooting for the Yankees,” Brown was jotted down as having said, “is like rooting for U.S. Steel.”

Those Damn Yankees—welcome back to the playoff spotlight.

The Yankees are in a tussle for the right to represent the American League in the World Series, facing off against the very formidable Los Angeles Angels—right coast versus left coast. It’s the Yankees’ first appearance in the ALCS—alphabet soup for American League Championship Series—since way back in 2004.

Remember 2004?

Of course you do—but in baseball years in New York, that may as well be in the days of Alexander Cartwright and the marking off of the very first base path in the 1870s.

Yankees fans aren’t used to there being five years between series of this magnitude—and this isn’t even the big Kahuna.

The one they want, of course, is the World Series, and the Yankees haven’t been in one of those since 2003.

Yikes!

The Yankees, when last seen in an ALCS, were coughing up a three games to none lead to the arch rival Boston Red Sox. Four straight times the Red Sox beat the Yankees to appear in, and eventually win, the ’04 World Series—the Red Sox’ first championship since Babe Ruth pitched for them (1918).

The Yankees are back playing for the figurative pennant, and that’s terrific. If they make it to the World Series, it’d be even better.

Yeah, they may be U.S. Steel—or, to update Brown’s quote, Microsoft. But that’s what makes their presence in baseball’s Final Four even more mandatory.

You don’t have Dudley Do-Right, after all, without there being a Black Bart over whom to conquer.

Professional sports needs its black hats in the spotlight.

The hypocrites in the NBA may have cried foul about the tactics of our very own “Bad Boys”, the Detroit Pistons of the late-1980s, early-1990s, but without the Pistons donning those black hats, Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls couldn’t have existed.

The Bulls would have been champions, but missing a certain je ne sais quoi.

The Bulls, in many people’s eyes, returned championship basketball to its rightful place, where the fouls were soft and the personality was vanilla.

Yet with no Detroit Pistons against whom to root, Jordan’s Bulls would not have been nearly as compelling. They would have been just another superstar-led team who beat back a bunch of faceless inferior opponents—like they were in the middle of the 1990s, when the Pistons were in rebuilding mode.

You remember the Bulls hacking away at the Pistons’ tree trunk until it fell, beating them in the playoffs after three straight years of being schooled—leading to a three-year reign as world champions. But the second three-peat—achieved from 1996-98—wasn’t nearly as juicy, because there was no Black Bart over whom to triumph.

The NFL needs the Dallas Cowboys to be good and of championship caliber. It’s fun to root against an organization ostentatiously dubbed “America’s Team” without the rest of our permission. The Red Wings—sorry to break this to the “Hockeytown” faithful—aren’t the darlings that you think they are, across North America, outside of Detroit.

Far from it, in fact. The Red Wings’ loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals was triumph over tragedy, as far as the majority of hockey fans were concerned.

The NBA needs the Boston Celtics circling over the rest of the league. Or the Los Angeles Lakers; they’ll do, too.

And baseball needs the Yankees.

Is the ALCS as interesting if the Yankees aren’t in it?

The World Series certainly isn’t, so how can the ALCS even hope to be?

I’m not a Yankees fan. Not even close. I’ve reveled in their recent playoff foibles, and have chuckled derisively at the abject failure of their superstar Alex Rodriguez as he’s struggled mightily in the first round.

But Rodriguez awoke from his post-season slumber this year, almost single-handedly demolishing the poor Minnesota Twins. And the Yankees are back where they belong.

I’m not a Yankees fan but I admit to being glad that they’re back in the ALCS. Because while I had some fun at their first round expense, that kind of fun isn’t as grand as watching them possibly go down against the Angels, or better yet, against the Phillies or the Dodgers in the Fall Classic.

The Yankees are the greatest of all our franchises, in any sport, playing in the greatest of our cities. You’re damn right they were U.S. Steel in Joe E. Brown’s day, and they’re damn well Microsoft—or Comcast—in these modern times.

Pick a decade and the Yankees were likely in a World Series, or several, during it.

It all started with the iconic Ruth in the 1920s, and continued with the Yankees teams of Dickey and Gomez of the 1930s, those of DiMaggio in the 1940s, and with the 1950s squads of Berra and Mantle and Ford. It lapped into the first half of the 1960s as well, with names like Richardson and Maris and Howard joining the fray.

Who can forget what Reggie Jackson did to the Dodgers in 1977, with his three homers on three straight pitches off three different pitchers in the decisive Game 6?

Finally, in the 1980s, the streak of at least one Yankees World Series victory in every decade ended, although they did make it to the 1981 series.

It started back up again in the 1990s with three world titles, and the 2000s were also soiled by a Yankees triumph, over the cross town Mets in 2000.

Now, the Yankees have the chance to bookend the decade of the 2000s with World Series wins, before we get into the 2010s next year.

The Yankees are Notre Dame football, Comcast, the Boston Celtics, the Republicans, and the Detroit Red Wings all wrapped into one.

Welcome back to late-October, old, hateful friend.

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