Well. No wonder Yankee fans are somewhere between restless and roiled. Codify, a group whose specialty is “personalised game planning for greater pitching success” (their words, not mine), doesn’t restrict their observations to the mound alone. Two days ago, they noticed and shared something rather significant.
They noticed that, between 2010 and this year, the major league team that spends the most has gone to the World Series the least. That would be the team just flushed from the postseason by the ogres of the American League West in four straight American League Championship Series games.
Three out of six of, shall we say, the Show’s “thriftiest” teams (read: cheapest) have actually gone to the Series twice in that span. One was the team formerly known as the Indians, who fell to the Cubs (of all people) in seven in 2016. A second was the Rays, hosannaed perenially for the greatest ratio of competitiveness to roster payroll.
The third was the Royals, who went to the Series back to back and more or less had the second of them handed to them on a platter. (One more time: the Mets lost a 2015 Series that they could have won but for a defense that could have been tried by court martial for desertion.)
The Yankees, who spend almost habitually as though they’re the only baseball team authorised to operate their own mint presses, haven’t reached the World Series once in the same thirteen-year time frame. Only one other team within reach of their spending levels hasn’t, either, and that would be the fourth-highest spenders in Show over that span.
The Angels are a mess thanks to an owner who thought (erroneously) that baseball was marketing alone. (Said owner now plans to sell the team, which has Angel fans uncertain whether that’s a gift from the Elysian Fields gods or a reboot of My Mother, the Car in waiting.) The Yankees are a mess only in the terms by which their history and their fan base demands: if the Yankees aren’t in the Series, never mind winning it, the season is an abject failure and the Series is illegitimate.
Their 20th century success spoiled both the organisation and Yankee fans rotten. Their 21st century . . . well, you can’t really say a team that’s won ten AL East titles and gone to eighteen postseasons in 22 years is an abject failure. You can’t, I can’t, but Yankee fans can. And, do. Vociferously.
Across town, the Mets who haven’t enjoyed a quarter of the Yankees’ success have a fan base that gives cynicism a name rotten enough. The only thing needed to send too many Met fans into a spell of depression is a single bad inning in a game they might even win. In April.
They’re downright cheerful compared to the Yankee fan who thinks a single postseason game loss (never mind a postseason series loss) equals a mandate for summary executions. Preferably yesterday. (Remember: To err is human, to forgive is not necessarily Yankee fan’s policy.) Dodger fans are catching up to that rather rapidly.
Too many fan bases, what remains of them, would love to have those problems. Too many fan bases have been abused by tanking. Too many fan bases have been battered not by tanking but by brains gone to bed in the front offices of teams refusing to tank. A few make mythologies about of their teams’ signs of promise followed by surrealistic on-field calamties.
With or without blindfolding and spinning me, I could not find for you even one Yankee fan who would have believed, in his or her worst nightmares, that their historic rivals from New England would open a century with three more World Series rings than the Yankees have in the same century’s first 22 years.
That was then: The Red Sox opened the 20th century with four more Series rings than the Yankees in the century’s first 22 years, they now have their struggles and mishaps, but Red Sox Nation has graduated to a state of what you might call inverted bliss. They know the Red Sox will win again. They strain to avoid obnoxiousness when the Red Sox don’t.
This is now: 40 pennants, 27 World Series championships, and 58 postseason appearances can’t comfort the Yankee fan who believes to his or her soul that life was sweetness and light when it was only yesterday that the Yankees were never less than baseball’s practically annual masters of all they surveyed.
Yester-century’s Red Soxs fan believed extraterrestrial disaster was their birthright. This century’s Yankee fan believes postseason arrest is a miscarriage of justice—for which every other Yankee in uniform or in administration must pay with his life. The Yankees have had seventeen postseason arrests in eighteen tries since the turn of this century. There are teams who’d have loved to have half of eighteen tries over the entire 54-year history of divisional play.
A retired New Jersey school principal and blog editor of my acquaintance, who is also a Yankee fan of impeccable stubbornness, writes (in the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America’s Here’s the Pitch newsletter, to which I also have the honour of contributing) that Philadelphia’s man of the year (so far), Bryce Harper, is the one the Yankees let get away—having failed to even think of making him an offer when he hit the free agency market for what he swore would be the only time in his life.
You might think that a professional educator would know without being reminded that the one who got away gets away only if you bait the hook and cast it in the first place. In Harper’s first Philadelphia season the Yankees had an AL East winner that swept the Twins in the division series but fell in six ALCS games to (sound familiar?) the Astros.
Those Phillies had only begun to hit their reset button. They play for a fan base that’s inspired people to imagine a Philadelphia wedding ceremony concluding with the clergyman instructing the gathering, “You may now boo the bride.” Show me a New York wedding featuring a hapless bridegroom who misses when stomping the napkin-wrapped goblet for good fortune, and I’ll show you a Yankee fan among the gathering demanding an immediate marital annulment.
It wasn’t a lack of Harper that took the Yankees out, then or now; it was lack of figuring out how to figure out the Astros’ solid starting pitchers and redoubtable relief corps. A lack of Harper didn’t send the Yankees home in an ALCS sweep this time; an inability to compel the Astros changing their diet from near-constant breaking balls on which they couldn’t even feed intravenously to just enough fastballs on which to gorge, did.
Aside from which, the Yankees had a Harper of their own in-house already, then and now. This time, they broke Aaron Judge under the weight of compelling him to carry them in the second half, while he made history as they went from ruthless conquerors to skin-of-their-teeth division-title survivors.
They had little enough to pick it up when Judge was finally unable to carry that weight any longer. Now, they risk losing him to another team willing to break their bank to sign him as a free agent, after he bet the house, the yacht, and half of the Bronx on his future at the season’s opening tables and ended up throwing 62 passes for openers.
Not even the most unapologetic but objective Yankee hater wishes real ill to fall upon them. Without Goliaths, baseball’s Davids have no targets. (It’s difficult to conceive the Yankees as David. This ALCS was Goliath vs. Goliath. The Phillies will be the World Series’s Davids.) Baseball’s health depends upon its Davids making honest efforts to win, top down. But too many baseball Davids surrender before the season’s first shots are slung.
Enough are baseball’s Goliaths who meet their Davids deep and often enough in the postseason. Their fans become frustrated, understandably. Fan noise sometimes makes it difficult to determine which is worse. Is it teams that invest unapologetically only to come up too short, too often? Is it teams that could invest but elect premedidated failure, on behalf of building for futures that depend on wiser minds than their incumbents?
You get the latters’ fans more than you get the formers’. And among the formers’ fans, none seem half as disgusted as Yankee fans. Or—to fans of the Davids, whether those Davids become so honestly or by premeditated, decadent design—half as disgusting.