Late last night, I could not figure out what to do about this morning’s Pinch Hitter. This day is going to be all about Andy Pettitte, and it seemed silly to start the day with something disconnected from the main event. Then I remembered Tony Bakshi.
Originally, this post was scheduled for next week, but it fits this morning’s news cycle. Tony is a sophomore at Brown University. He’s the first in his family to be born in the United States — his parents are from Russia — he’s studying economics, and he’s the sports editor of the Brown Daily Herald. He’s of the generation who learned about Yankee baseball by watching Andy Pettitte and the rest of the Core Four.
His guest post pitch was pretty straightforward: “I’d love to write about the strange mix of sadness and fear of the future that I feel about the Yankees with the window of the Core Four closing so quickly… I can’t imagine the team winning another title without them.”
My guess is that, this morning, Tony’s not the only one feeling that way. I left the wording of his post the exactly same, complete with the sentence wondering if Pettitte really would decide to retire.
I am one of those Yankees fans — the front-running, the ungrateful, the ones who have only known winning. When fans call in to Mike Francesa and say something like, “I’ve been a fan since 1967, Mike, I remember the tough ol’ days!” they are proving that they aren’t like me.
That’s fine, though. Just blame my age. When George Steinbrenner was banned from the MLB? Not born yet. When Ken Griffey Jr., slid into home on that ugly AstroTurf field? Not in kindergarten yet. But I don’t think I’m truly ungrateful. I’ve felt my share of pain in my time as a fan — the garbage Luis Gonzalez bloop, 2004. For numeric proof, consider that my age doubled between the 26th and 27th titles!
So when the Yankees won the 2009 World Series, I made sure to take it all in. Right after Game 6, I ordered a t-shirt with the team roster on the back and bought a commemorative mug, too. A few days later, I watched the entire parade on my laptop in class — not to see Phil Coke or Eric Hinske or the other no-names, but to see the legends celebrate for one last time.
It did feel like the last time, didn’t it? It was all too perfect. Jeter’s remarkable season at age 35, Pettitte coming up as clutch as we could have imagined in the playoffs and, of course, Mariano closing it out with Posada behind the plate.
A year later, the fairy tale is coming to an abrupt end, as it probably should have a few years ago — if our players were mere mortals. The Core Four is now a Key Three, if Pettitte doesn’t return, but really more of a Decrepit Set. Jeter’s a groundball machine, Rivera is almost fully entrenched in his sturdy “Use Only in Case of Emergency” seal, and Posada has been relegated to DH, also known as the last position for near cast-offs before they are finally cast off.
Which brings me, mercifully, to my point. As Yankee fans, we parrot the players and say that we want championships every year or else the team has completely failed. But the reactions to personnel moves do not match this view.
Why was there an outcry over the Montero-for-Lee deal that unfortunately fell through last July? With Lee, the Yankees would have been overwhelming favorites to win the crown, ever closer to meeting the stated team goal. Now, Montero is still in pinstripes. And though he’s not quite ready to take over as the full-time catcher, Father Time won’t be waiting up for him. He’ll still be chipping away at Jeter and A-Rod and the rest.
Sometimes, we overthink player moves. How else can the Rafael Soriano signing be debated? Yes, it’s a lot of money, but that’s nothing new. And staying away from Soriano in hopes of striking gold in the draft? The Rays have stockpiled picks and carefully developed talent from within, and we know how many championships they’ve won. Are such ideas foolproof? Of course not. They can lead to disastrous signings of Carl Pavanos and Jaret Wrights and Kyle Farnsworths. But those are the sunk costs that come about when a team pursues a World Series every single year.
Winning a championship takes a lot of luck and good fortune. It takes magic. And, sadly, our good fortune is long in the tooth and thinking about retirement.
Let’s say it’s 2014, best-case scenario style: a 24-year-old Montero is already in the conversation for the top-hitting catcher in baseball, Robby Cano is in his prime hitting .360, and C.C. Sabathia is still a Cy Young Award candidate at 33.
But it doesn’t matter. The magic is gone. Who’s going to get the last eight outs to clinch a playoff series? Who’s going to get that timely hit to bring the team back from the brink? It won’t be anyone on the Yankees, at least not on a consistent basis. And that’s why you can take your future prospects and your smart financial decisions and shove it.
I’ll be wearing my ’09 championship T-shirt, thinking about the glory days.
Associated Press photo