Saturday, August 30, 2008

It's all over for the Yankees

Those who don't learn from the past are bound to repeat it.

Fittingly, the days of Yankee Stadium are numbered, as is the era of dominance of the New York Yankees.

Yes, it is over. Finished. Done. Kaput.

Yes Gordon Gecko, greed is good. Sometimes too good. In the world of the New York Yankees, the team has finally fallen victim to its own greed.

To hear the Yankee brass, its owners and its fans speak, you’d think this team had won every World Series title in the last 20 years. I know, 26 World Series wins is an impressive number, but those days are in the past. What have you done for me lately, boys?

Truth is, for a team where anything less than a world championship is considered a failure, the Yankees haven’t won the big one since 2000 and aren’t going to win anything this year. The run of postseason appearances ends this season after 13 straight playoff appearances.

Why, you ask? I’m going to tell you.

Going back 30 years, the Yankees won the World Series in 1977 and ’78 under the direction of owner George Steinbrenner. Following a WS loss to the Dodgers in 1981, King George set out to bring the most expensive free agents to the Bronx each year.

What followed was a decade of mediocrity, which was best summed up by this exchange between Seinfeld’s Frank Costanza and the ficticious George Steinbrenner.

Costanza: “What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?”

Steinbrenner: “My baseball people liked Ken Phelps’ bat. They said, we have to have Ken Phelps.”

You see, you CAN’T buy team chemistry. The highest payroll doesn’t always win. Superstars are nice, but you have to have good mix on the roster. You need lunch- pail type players who can move runners over, get their uniforms dirty, and play sound, fundamental baseball. The type of players who do the little things to effect games that don’t show up in the boxscore.

In hockey, you can have great goal scorers, but unless you have gritty players who will get back on defense and do the dirty work in the corners, you can’t win over a sustained period.

The Yankee dynasty that began in the mid-1990’s was born as the team cultivated a farm system rich in talent. It wasn’t an accident that the nucleus formed by names such as Jeter, Posada, Rivera, Pettitte, and Bernie Williams all came up through the farm system together.

Not coincidentally, George Steinbrenner was serving a Major League Baseball suspension during this time.

The Yankee teams that won four world titles from 1996 to 2000 were a team with a solid foundation and any gaps were filled in during in-season trades in July as the club tinkered with its roster before the playoff run.

After the 2001 WS loss to Arizona, Steinbrenner reverted to his old ways.

In came Mike Mussina, a hired gun to bolster the pitching staff. Next was Jason Giambi, a hard-driving, shaggy haired rebel from Oakland who turned in his tattoos for a razor and a haircut. Gone was his identity that made him a leader of the frat-style clubhouse in Oakland.

Following a World Series loss to Florida in ’03, in came Alex Rodriguez. Great stats are nice, but in New York, winning is the only thing. Rodriguez hadn’t ever been on a team that had ever won anything, and that fact remains today.

Stud free agents look good on paper, but not everyone can handle the limelight that goes with playing in New York. Not everyone is mentally tough enough for the pressure. For every David Wells who thrived on it, there were those who wilted under the bright lights, like Kevin Brown.

Joe Torre was run out of town following another playoff disappointment in 2007. Three straight first-round flameouts for Joe and it was time to go. Thanks for the memories, the Yankees told him, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Give the Yankee brass credit for 2008, GM Brian Cashman was determined to build behind young pitchers Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy. Bad luck resulted in injuries to Chamberlain and Hughes while Kennedy was horrible. Right idea, bad results. It'll probably cost Cashman his job.

What the Yankee are looking at for the next 10 years is probably best summarized by Hank Steinbrenner, now the big dog in Yankeeland.

When the season was going south, Hank Steinbrenner was the one who ordered Chamberlain from the bullpen and into the starting rotation. The smart move would have been to send him to the minors and build up his arm strength.

Smart move everywhere except New York. The Yanks tried to limit pitch counts and groom Joba into the rotation while in the bigs. An arm injury resulted as did a trip to the disabled list.
Grumblings out of the Bronx are already there that soon-to-be free agents CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira will be the cures to the Yankee ailments.

Two more potential band-aids to cover up a much larger problem and with Hank Steinbrenner now in charge, the team is going to get much worse before it gets better.

No comments: