Devil in the details for the Yankees
WAINSCOTT, N.Y. - A groaning, creaking sound shatters the stillness of a summer’s day.
As a garage door slowly opens, there’s the usual stuff stored in this suburban house. Bicycles, golf balls, and winter quilts. But stacked in a corner are a couple dozen T-shirts and hats displaying the oh-so-familiar interlocking NY logo - with a devil’s face.
“Welcome to Baseballs [sic] Evil Empire Distribution Center,’’ says Tracy Carey.
Cue the John Williams music.
In a classic David vs. Goliath matchup, the Yankees and Major League Baseball are fighting the mark “Baseballs Evil Empire’’ that Carey has applied for in the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
“I’m really mad. They’ve threatened to take us to federal court,’’ says the former mortgage broker working out of her home. “It’s preposterous.’’
It’s obvious that Carey is just a wookie - errr, rookie - when it comes to battling the “renowned New York Yankees,’’ as their lawyer describes them. But she believes the force is with her.
“We’re not going to back down,’’ says her husband, Kevin Coyle. “It’s more about principle, it’s not about financial success.’’
Since 2000, the Yankees have sold more than $1 billion worth of team merchandise bearing the Major League Baseball product license.
Carey says her one-woman company, Evil Enterprises Inc., has sold “probably less than 1,000 T-shirts’’ since it started in 2008.
“We weren’t getting rich off it,’’ she says. “It was a joke, it was for fun.’’
“They’re so greedy it’s unbelievable,’’ says the Bridgehampton ticket broker.
“They don’t want me making $5 off a T-shirt, they want to make it. They’re bullies,’’ he says. “That’s the best way to sum them up.’’
The eastern end of Long Island has more Red Sox fans than Yankees fans, according to Carey. Carl Yastrzemski grew up on a potato farm in this area and set baseball and basketball records at Bridgehampton High School. Old-timers remember the days - before cable television - when Red Sox games on Connecticut stations were the only baseball they could watch.
Coyle, a Red Sox fan, says he got the idea for his T-shirts and caps from Sox president Larry Lucchino.
In 2002, a frustrated Lucchino reacted to the Yankees outbidding the Sox for Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras. Channeling “Star Wars’’ and Ronald Reagan, he said, “The Evil Empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America.’’
The phrase instantly became part of baseball lore.
“I loved it. I thought it was hysterical,’’ says Coyle.
“Ironically, this time I have no comment,’’ says Lucchino in a telephone interview.
The feisty Carey and Coyle eventually hired designers and began selling T-shirts and caps spoofing the Yankees to pushcart dealers around Faneuil Hall in 2008.
They bought the web domain “Baseballs Evil Empire,’’ and even welcomed Yankees fans. They applied for a trademark in July of ’08.
To their surprise, Yankees fans now buy more Evil Empire stuff than Red Sox fans.
“It might be 60-40 Yankees now,’’ says Carey. “They wear it as a badge of honor.’’
The Yankees started to embrace the tag during the 2009 World Series by playing “Star Wars’’ music at the new Yankee Stadium. They still play “The Imperial March’’ before each game.
Carey and Coyle believe the Bronx Bombers got the marketing idea from them.
“We had about 200 fans on Facebook, then the Yankees went to the World Series and all of a sudden I had 7,000-8,000 fans,’’ says Carey.
Meanwhile, in the glow of winning their 27th world championship, the empire struck back.
The Yankees and MLB Properties filed a Notice of Opposition in November 2009.
They argued that the Baseballs Evil Empire mark would cause confusion and “deceive’’ the public into thinking the T-shirts and caps were Yankees products.
“How could it create confusion for their fans?’’ says Coyle. “It has a devil face, there’s horns and a pitchfork. It doesn’t say Yankees.’’
Carey says she has tried to compromise with the Yankees but they reneged on an agreement with her lawyer.
“I was shocked,’’ she says.
Currently there are three different designs. Besides the red devil, there’s a T-shirt depicting a Yankees top hat pierced by a pitchfork. Another depicts a syringe with the word AROID.
But there has been no objection to that one.
“No, it’s the truth,’’ says Carey.
The couple has scaled back plans to market other merchandise because of fears of losing in the courts.
“It’s been like a brushback pitch to us because they have so much money,’’ says Coyle.
A ruling is expected by the end of the year.
Yankees lawyers refused to comment on the case. But Gerard Dunne, Baseballs Evil Empire attorney, went after the Yankees quicker than Dave Roberts scampered toward second base in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS.
“It’s the New York Yankees vs. some girl who runs her business from a kitchen table. You can’t get more David vs. Goliath than that,’’ says Dunne. “She’s not making any money. Is she making a $1,000 a month? No. It’s a parody.’’
MLB spokesman Matt Bourne says it’s no laughing matter.
“We have trademarks, both major league baseball and all our clubs, that we are by law required to protect, so that’s what we’re doing,’’ Bourne says.
“When we see instances of companies big or small that are trying to generate a profit off the goodwill of those trademarks, then we take the appropriate actions.’’
The couple says the Yankees have three lawyers on the case and unlimited funds.
“They litigate everybody,’’ says Coyle. “There was the guy that had a shirt that said, ‘The House That Juice Built.’ They opposed him.’’
Coyle admits that some Yankees fans hate their product.
“We had one Yankees fan who saw the shirt in a store and said he wasn’t going to go in the store anymore,’’ says Coyle. “He got offended. You can see when they get mad, they’re very fanatical.’’
Asked if they were concerned the Yankees were going to send CC Sabathia to pound on her garage door, Carey smiles.
“I’d be a little worried,’’ she says. “He’s a scary guy.’’
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at email@example.com.