Is it time for me to start feeling sorry for Yankee fans?
Once the Yankees fell behind in the ALCS 3-1, I began to savor the impending feast of schadenfreude. As you probably know, I’ve been chronicling the Mets’ 2000 season over at Amazin’ Avenue, and right now I’m up to the World Series. After describing the Roger Clemens-Mike Piazza bat incident in game two, let’s just say I wasn’t feeling too gracious toward the team in The Bronx. (When you’re writing angry tweets about 10-year-old Filip Bondy Bleacher Creature columns, it’s time to reevaluate your emotional priorities.)
However, the Rangers’ victory left me feeling a bit hollow. Even Alex Rodriguez striking out looking to clinch it was not as sweet as I thought it would be. Rooting against someone and seeing them fail might be cathartic, but it’s nowhere near as satisfying as rooting for a team and watching them win. The Yankees losing doesn’t make this year’s Mets suck any less.
At the end of the day, I felt bad for Yankee fans–not because their team lost, really, but because they’re not allowed to feel good about this season. Because if the Mets got as far as the Yankees did and were simply beaten by a better team, I’d shrug my shoulders and say, “Oh well, wait ’til next year!” Yankees fans do not have that option.
The standard line for the Yankees, throughout the Steinbrenner family’s ownership, has been this: Anything less than a championship is a failure. That attitude is repeated, unblinkingly, by the New York sports media. It’s supposed to be a tribute to their Commitment to Excellence, but in reality, it’s a sign of near insanity.
No team can win the World Series every year. Promoting such a belief among your fan base is irresponsible. You can derive joy from a season in which your team falls short of the ultimate goal. Making the playoffs is an enormous accomplishment, and what transpires in October is often a total crapshoot. Recognizing this is not a sign of weakness–it’s a sign of being tethered to reality.
There’s plenty of reasons why Yankee fans should have enjoyed this season immensely. Their team was fresh off a World Series championship. They battled the Rays for the division, which made for an unexpectedly lively playoff race. And to make things even sweeter for them, the Red Sox were ravaged by injuries and basically out of the hunt by August (though they did some damage late in the season).
The Yankees didn’t make too many mistakes, if any, in the postseason. They breezed past Minnesota effortlessly, then ran into a Texas team that was too good. You can quibble with some of Joe Girardi’s decisions, particularly regarding his bullpen, but if you look at what the two teams did statistically, it becomes clear that the Yankees were outplayed in every conceivable way.
And of course, it’s not like this is the end of the road. If the Yankees made no changes between now and next spring, they’d still be a prohibitive favorite to make the playoffs again. And that’s before the inevitable big ticket free agent acquisition like Cliff Lee or Carl Crawford.
I’m sure most Yankees fans, if given a choice, would like to think of their season, and how it ended, in these terms. But they can’t. They’re not allowed to, thanks to the rhetoric the team has repeated robotically for the last 15 years: Anything less than a championship is a failure. And if they ever wanted to defy the team’s Primary Directive and think otherwise, the New York tabloids and sports talk radio stations are more than happy to correct their thinking.
To be fair, I don’t think such a line of thinking would track if there wasn’t a segment of the fanbase that swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. If you listened to WFAN or 1050 ESPN over the weekend, you heard caller after caller not giving credit where credit was due (to the Rangers), but blaming the Yankees for a series that, despite going six games, was barely ever close.
Witness the ridiculous headlines over the weekend following the Yankees’ loss. The Post called them a “$210 Milliion Bust,” which is insane, and labeled the defending world champions “chumps” (get it?), which is almost as crazy. It stems from this attitude that the Rangers couldn’t possibly have won the series–the Yankees could only lose it. Like in the 1950s, when the Communists took power in China, and people screamed about how “we” “lost” China, without considering the possibility that Mao won it. (And without considering that another country was not America’s to win or lose, but that’s a whole other issue.)
Keep in mind that the Post was one of many local papers with back pages after the Yankees’ win in game five that said the World Series was only two wins away. But no newspaper has ever met a surging bandwagon it can’t jump onto–or a fading one they can’t leap off of.
The ridiculousness was ramped up earlier today when Joel Sherman blasted in an article titled, “Yankees need Girardi to lighten up” (Backpage headline: COOL IT, JOE). In Sherman’s opinion, “Girardi strangely regressed in 2010, returning to the uptight, paranoid version familiar from his 2008 Yankees debut season.”
So Girardi was all wound up in 2008 and 2010, the years he didn’t manage the Yankees to a World Series, but he was all loosey-goosey in between? What was the difference this year? Did he give up his command of the cream pie brigade? Stop planting hotfoots in the dugout a la Roger McDowell? Cease his intake of Rex Ryan pills?
But here’s the real doozy. Why didn’t Girardi win? Duh, he’s too much of a nerd! God, you egghead nerds are so stupid!
Girardi is the kind of technically proficient manager that tends to scoff at Texas skipper Ron Washington’s lack of strategic sophistication. But mastering the Xs and Os of baseball does not give a manager the same tactical advantages coaches get in the NFL or NBA. What is missed by the technocrats is that Washington’s human bond with his players gets the Rangers to play passionately for him–which is the gift that gives from April through October.
I’m sure Girardi loves to manage. But you could not tell that watching him daily. Thus players end up, at best, respecting him rather than having a human connection that would foster something greater.
Knowledge is for queers! You want results? Start jumping up and down and yelling! Then your players will take your cue and start playing harder, because adults need to be motivated by their crazy manager to perform better!
In the first place, there’s very few managers who give any credence to sabermetrics of any kind–beyond Manny Acta and Fredi Gonzalez, I can’t think of any. Sports are still a bit too manly to allow managers to admit they can learn things from math. It seems like Sherman is conflating his dislike of Girardi with his hatred of the four-eyed brigade nerding up baseball. I wish he’d saved up his idiotic, ignorant Bill James bile for a different column, since painting Girardi in this light is, at best, inaccurate. But hate, being an irrational impulse, does not like to wait for appropriate times to express itself.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from reading coverage of the Mets, it’s that how you play isn’t quite as important as how you look while playing. That’s why Jeff Francoeur, terrible player who smiled a lot, remains more beloved than Carlos Beltran, great player whose stoic demeanor is interpreted as a sign of not caring. If only Girardi looked like he loved the game more! Then he could have formed a bond with the same group of players he led to a World Series ring the year before!
Also, notice that Sherman accuses Girardi of being “the kind of manager” who would mock Ron Washington, even though I don’t know of any instance where the Yankees skipper actually mocked Washington. Way to slip in a totally baseless accusation, Joel!
If the Mets had the kind of season the Yankees just had, with the same promise for the future, I’d be more than happy. It’s too bad Sherman and his ilk won’t let Yankee fans feel the same way.