Ben Farber is next up in our Pinch Hitters series. He’s a 17-year-old high school junior who lives in New York City, and he said his favorite Yankees moment was, in his words, “Suzyn Waldman’s infamous Roger Clemens freakout.” Ben plays high school baseball and coaches Little Leaguers. He’s a bit of an island at home, living in a family of Mets fans.
For his guest post, Ben looked back to the post-2000 Yankees with hopes that the post-2009 Yankees aren’t following the same formula.
It was Thursday, October 26, 2000. As the Shea Stadium clocks closed in on midnight, Mariano Rivera closed the door on the New York Mets. The defending world champion Yankees poured out of the dugout and amassed in the middle of the infield, whooping and leaping in the air like giddy children on Christmas morning. As if they hadn’t done this before.
For nearly a half-decade, baseball’s regular season proved trivial. No matter who won each division, or who piled up the most regular-season wins, fans of all teams could be assured of one thing: October belonged to the Bronx Bombers. Like death and paying taxes, another banner to hang in the House That Ruth Built seemed inevitable. While a champagne-soaked George Steinbrenner stood in the cramped Shea clubhouse accepting the Commissioner’s Trophy for what seemed to the rest of the world like the hundredth time in a row, I lay restless in bed, an exultant first grader, wondering how much longer my pinstriped idols could keep their streak of championships alive.
Let’s fast-forward a bit, say, eight years. After wading through all the Carl Pavanos and the Kevin Browns, the Yankees finally bottomed out (as much as any team with a $200-million payroll is capable of, anyway), and brought the unthinkable to fans: Failure to reach the postseason. For the first time in my life, there would be no October nights in the Bronx; no bunting strewn from any of the Stadium’s three levels; and the walls of the home clubhouse would be conspicuously free of any adult beverage. On Sunday, September 21, 2008, as Derek Jeter — the only Yankee captain I’ve ever known — bade the Yankee Stadium faithful farewell, I began to feel the familiar sinking feeling. Even though our season was not officially over, I knew that 2008 would be like all the rest — a year of premature conclusions.
Ever since that magical first year in 2000, the only Yankee teams I had experienced were teams of repetitive failure. Usually predicted to represent the American League in the Fall Classic, they consistently fell short, and the two times they did make it to the Series, the playoffs ended in heartbreak. First-round exits, World Series losses and 2004: These were not the dynasty teams of my infancy. No, instead these teams were sloppy menageries of high-priced, aging malcontents. These were teams that rolled through the regular season, only to have an inferior Angels or Tigers team clean their clocks in the first round.
For an organization with a “World Series or bust,” attitude, the Yankees embarrassed themselves. Year after year, they led themselves and their fans to the precipice of victory, only to snatch from it gut-wrenching, heart-numbing defeat. The Yankees needed an overhaul, and 2008 made that abundantly clear.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009. The Yankees were back on top where they belonged. As Mark Teixeira squeezed the final out in his glove, I lept off my couch and shouted for joy, thrusting a triumphant fist in the air. For I, as well as every other teenage Yankee fan coming of age in the aftermath of the Yankee dynasty, had been vindicated. Years of shortcomings and crushed expectations were washed away by the mixture of tears, sweat and champagne streaming down the faces of the 25 men clad in world champion t-shirts. Finally — and for the first time I could appreciate — we were on top again.
Friday, October 22, 2010 brought every Yankee fan still riding high from the previous year back to earth.
The Yankees had been overmatched in the ALCS by a tougher, scrappier Rangers team. Not only that, but their upcoming offseason was filled with more uncertainty than in years past. Although they quickly locked up Jeter and Rivera, the Yankees found themselves faced with similar challenges to the ones that presented themselves at the end of the last dynasty. The aging and eventual retirement of key veterans (David Cone and Paul O’Neill in 2000 and 2001, Andy Pettitte and possibly Jorge Posada now) has been an issue then and now. Ten years ago, the Yankees combated that issue by reeling in the offseason’s biggest fish: Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi. Brian Cashman tried a similar strategy this year, but Cliff Lee didn’t cooperate.
So now what? Can AJ Burnett be fixed? Can A-Rod and Posada stay healthy? Can this team please, for the love of Bubba Crosby, come up with some starting pitching depth? Those questions will resolve themselves eventually, but until then, let’s have some patience, okay?
Sure, it would have been exciting to snag Carl Crawford this winter, or trade Jesus Montero for Lee last summer, but if the last few years have taught us anything, moves made out of restlessness and desperation are not the answer. The latest generation of Yankees fans has grown up with teams built from those sort of moves, and as we’ve seen, teams don’t win with reactionary additions.
So Brian Cashman, I implore you: Stick to your guns. Stay patient. No need to splurge on guys who have bad attitudes, are past their prime, or provide only marginal upgrades. Keep focusing on the farm system. I know you want to see the Killer B’s on the mound in the Bronx as much as I do. If Lee doesn’t want to come here, let’s find someone who does. But most of all, don’t force it. Stay patient and good things will happen. Let’s have the post-2009 years go a little smoother than the post-2000 years, all right? We believe in you, and we believe in this organization. Now let’s be smart.
Associated Press photos