Damn Yankees

The wilting, nay the collapse of the once mighty New York Yankees for the sixth straight year in the baseball playoffs has moved them into the failure fields so long inhabited by the Atlanta Braves and the Boston Red Sox (except for the dazzling comeback of 2004).

Since 2002, the pattern has been almost uncanny. Each year the Yankees won the first game in eight of nine series, then collapsed and lost the series. The teams that beat them, again except for the Red Sox, were younger, hungrier and paid far less than the so-called Bronx Bombers.

The Yankees fell to the Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series, to the Angels in the 2002 Division Series, to the Marlins in the 2003 World Series, to the Red Sox in the 2004 American League Championship series, to the Angels in the 2005 Division Series and to the Tigers in the Division series this year.

In 2006, the Yankee lineup had 9 starters who have been All-Stars. They have the best closer in baseball—Mariano Rivera—and very expensive older star pitchers who somehow come to the Yankees with prolonged injuries or simply become erratic.

Many Yankees fans now know how the Brooklyn Dodgers felt. In Flatbush it was always “wait until next year.” But the fans are up against a double whammy. Vastly overpaid players who clutch in the clutch, like the $250 million dollar Alex Rodriguez, are one recurring problem (shades of Tommy Henrich and Phil Rizzuto). The other is a congenial bureaucracy from low-key—unable-to-inspire Manager Joe Torre all the way through General Manager Brian Cashman to the once-change-addicted boss-owner, George Steinbrenner.

You can sense what is wrong just looking at the games. This year, Tiger players just outhustled, outhit and outpitched the Yankees as a team. After losing the first game 8-4, the Tigers won going away with the next decisive three games. From the fifth inning of game two to the seventh inning of game four, the Yankees did not score a single run!

Off the field, it was clear that Tiger’s manager Jim Leyland out-managed Joe Torre. In their hapless, wealthy manner the Yankees are giving professional sports an important lesson. Big money isn’t winning. The drive to win is winning. And the wins go to the hungry and deprived—very relatively speaking of course.

The sports pages were full of Yankee postmortems. Should the marquee players be traded or retired? Should Joe Torre be replaced? Reluctantly, the answer should be yes to the Torre question. But not before Steinbrenner hands over the reins of power himself.

Torre is too much an organization man. What this has meant is that he has acquiesced to the conversion of the Yankee farm system into trading chips for ageing stars purchased with staggering sums by the Yankees to satisfy Steinbrenner’s penchant for championships now, now, now.

Historically, this is not how the Yankees have compiled a record of World Series wins without a near equal. Their great players came from their farm teams (an exception was Babe Ruth of the Red Sox). Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and on and on. Now the best young Yankee farm players are traded to other teams where they emerge to beat the team that threw them into a trading pot for a name star who often was over the hill.

The failing strategy year in and year out is Steinbrenner whose very fat checkbook sows the seeds of the Yankee’s fall year after year. The two steadiest player-hitters year after year on the Yankees (and against the Tigers) were Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. Both came up from the Yankee farm teams. Will the Yankee brass ever relearn this lesson? Millions of Yankee-hating baseball fans hope not.

*Condolences to the family of Cory Lidle

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