Four years ago, the Yankees were so injury riddled that I couldn’t resist (half) joking that the team’s yearbook would be an issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. And, that Yankee Stadium would have to feature a banner above its main entrance:
It’s déjà vu all over again. The Yankees are . . . injury-riddled. Again. They’re also two games above .500 as of Thursday morning’s standings, but they’re also fifth in a deceptively tough American League East. Just as in much of the past few seasons, The New England Journal of Medicine could be mistaken for the Yankee yearbook. And fans of the Broken Bombers are getting restless. Yet again.
The defending American League single-season home run record holder, Aaron Judge, hit the infirmary list when he injured his hip. Happy 31st birthday, Your Honour. Giancarlo Stanton suffered a hamstring injury in mid-April that may keep him out until early June. Josh Donaldson, Tommy Kahnle, Jonathan Loáisiga, Frankie Montas, Carlos Rodon, Luis Severino, Lou Trivino—infirmary list.
And that was before Harrison Bader—sprung from the injured list Tuesday—went right back onto it, taking Oswald Peraza with him, when they collided Tuesday night on a ninth-inning play enabling the Guardians to break a two-all tie in a game the Yankees finally won, 4-3.
Oh, sure, manager Aaron Boone made a point of saying postgame that Bader was in good spirits and even laughing about the crossroad collision as he came diving from one way as Peraza came diving from the other way. But it had to be laughter like Figaro’s, that the Yankees might not weep. Yankee fans, of course, don’t know whether to weep or call for summary executions.
The Yankees had Thursday off. At the rate they’re going so far, off days may be the only days guaranteed not to feature yet another Yankee off to sick call. But the Rays—those guys who opened the season with a thirteen-game winning streak, and still have a Show-beat 25-6 record—own the AL East after the first month plus. The Orioles (!) have twenty wins and sit ten games above .500, close enough to the franchise’s good old days. The Blue Jays are 18-13 and already took two out of three from the Broken Bombers. The Red Sox are 18-14, still have some kinks, but little enough compared to the Bronx’s orthopedic ward.
Maybe the Yankees aren’t in the game’s worst shape. Certainly not compared to the usual tankers and especially those in Oakland who’ve been driven into the tanks by an owner who’s all Three Stooges at once without being even a tenth as funny. But all you have to do is listen to enough Yankee fans. You’d think it was the end of the world as you knew it and you shouldn’t feel fine.
Do I really have to repeat myself and say there are scads of fans all around the Show who’d just love to be able to think a season without their team in or winning the World Series is an illegitimate season? Can you name one other team whose fans remain—by dint of having been there, or handed down as a smug legacy—wedded to the battle cry, “Wait till last century!”
‘Tis true that without its Goliaths baseball’s Davids would have nothing toward which to aspire. The Yankees in this century are anything but Goliaths. Once upon a time you couldn’t tune your memory to times when the Yankees were less than baseball’s Huns. Today the Yankees are only human, but their fans are still spoiled rotten.
Look yonder to the National League Central, where the Pirates—who’d been in the tank longer than the town drunk—sit prettily enough atop that division. The NL Central isn’t exactly the Third Army of World War II, but a 20-11 record isn’t necessarily dismissable.
Never mind that they’re one game above .500 against other contenders real or reputed. These Pirates are for real, for now. Their fans have a few glories from last century on which to lean, but they certainly don’t behave as though they’re entitled to a bloody thing. Maybe too many years in the tank does that for you.
The Orioles were long thought left for dead by their own ten-thumbed owners, but lo! They, too, were 20-10 as of Thursday morning. Camden Yard has gone from a ghost yard to a party yard. Never mind that they were exactly .500 against actual or alleged contenders. Don’t spoil Oriole fans’s fun just yet. The song of the Birds is the sweetest it’s been for eons.
But look, too, toward such twisted reaches of crazy sorrow as Cincinnati and Oakland. The Reds remain in the tank. The Athletics would only like to be in the tank—it would be a major upgrade from the sewage mistreatment plant they’ve been in for too long.
For decades, it seemed, Cub fans were rather like the one who whipped up a placard in the Wrigley Field bleachers saying “Wait ’till next year!”—as the Cubs’ Opening Day starting pitcher turned to throw the first pitch to the plate. Today’s Met fan thinks the season is lost upon one bad inning—in April.
The Yankees’ seemingly eternal general manager, Brian Cashman, has pleaded, “Don’t give up on us, that’s all I can tell you. Don’t count us out.” Between the blinding lack of moves during the offseason, other than securing Judge to his gigabucks extension and dealing for Franchy Cordero, his plea may yet fall upon ears sewn shut or suffering tinnitus.
“I don’t think there was anything on the table that I could have pulled down that would make a difference,” Cashman said of the Yankees’ comparatively quiet offseason. “I don’t see any missed opportunities with everything that was in play.”
Thus have they come to rely on Cordero (.684 OPS thus far), Willie Calhoun (likewise thus far), Isiah Kiner-Falefa (hits the price of a cheap cigar though he has a decent outfield glove), Aaron Hicks (making IKF resemble Hall of Famer Dave Winfield at the plate but in the negative in the field for run prevention), and a gang of straw arms behind Gerrit Cole. (Cole: 2.16 fielding-independent pitching; the rest of the starters: 4.75 FIP. ) Major league-ready talent down on the farm? Don’t ask.
The good news is, the previous decade including this season thus far isn’t even close to the Lost Decade of 1965-75 for Yankee futility, and at minimum there isn’t even a hint of the sort of executive insanity that was the 1980s Yankee hallmark. Principal owner Hal Steinbrenner isn’t even within transcontinental distance of his father for pushing panic buttons, throwing out the first manager of the year, or demanding summary executions every other bad inning.
But that exhausts the good news for now. That and the Yankees somehow taking two of three from the Guardians this week. Tonight, the Yankees begin a three-game visit to Tampa Bay. The Guards may sit in second place in the AL Central, but they do it at 14-17. The Rays, remember, are nobody’s pushovers this year thus far.
This weekend may not break the Yankees for good, the season remains too young for that. But wait till next year? If things continue as they have thus far, Yankee fans may yet come to lament, perhaps as early as the end of this month, “This year is next year.”