Complaining about the New York Yankees' most recent strife is rather unfair when you consider I have witnessed four splendid World Series championships in my 27 years of existence. In fact, from 1996 to 2000, the Joe Torre-led squad maintained a dynasty not seen since the Big Red Machine of the late 1970's. In light of the Yankees' late 90's dominance, baseball has had its share of futility. There are three generations of Chicago Cubs fans that have NEVER seen their ballclub revel in the glory of a championship. Furthermore, not since the double-play combination of Tinkers to Evers to Chance has Chicago even sniffed the possibility of bringing home a World Series, their last title coming in 1908. Since then, our country has endured 18 presidential administrations, involvement in four major wars, a Great Depression, the rise of commercial airline travel, the addition of four states to the Union, the use of automobiles as an acceptable mode of transportation, and six World Series for the Boston Red Sox, the team that once personified losing (although two of those titles were amassed in 2004 and 2007, but what Yankee fan pays attention to THAT?). The New York Yankees of the 1980's were just as pitiful, seeing as the pinstripes of those years were limited by the obsession of signing players to exorbitant contracts (see Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield). Baseball, like life itself, is dictated by the ebb and flow of cycles. The Yankees of today are beginning to revert to a cycle that doomed them twenty years ago, and it all has to do with five moments that sum up their current string of Atlanta Braves-esque performances (remarkable regular seasons tainted by poor playoff production. Here's looking at you, A-Rod and Giambi).
5. Overvaluing Prospects
The 2008 rendition of the New York Yankees vested a tremendous amount in the likes of Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy to lead them to glory. Two moments in Hughes's first year implied success on a monumental level: (1) through seven innings of a contest against the Texas Rangers, Hughes sustained a no-hitter, only to go down with a hamstring injury that kept him out of action until August; (2) Hughes garnered the only victory (in relief for bust Roger Clemens) the Yankees compiled in the 2007 postseason against the Cleveland Indians. Drooling over such potential, the Yankees all but pencilled him in as a number two starter behind ace Chien-Ming Wang in 2008. Ian Kennedy, on the other hand, had a much smaller body of work: his sparkling 1.89 ERA came in a late-September call-up that lasted for three measly starts. And Kennedy was the answer to an eventual Andy Pettitte or Mike Mussina departure. Now look at them. In twelve starts, the two are a combined 0-7 with an 8.73 ERA. Sure, teams taking a risk on young pitchers will endure growing pains, but consider: Johan Santana could have been had in a package deal for either of these two pitching studs. The only prospect worth such hype is the electric Joba Chamberlain, Mariano Rivera's heir apparent until....
4. Ruining a Good Thing (i.e. The Role of Joba Chamberlain)
Set-up extraordinaire Joba Chamberlain has conveyed such moxie, confidence, and flair that he is all but destined for greatness of epic proportions. In only his second game at Yankee Stadium, Joba threw at Boston third baseman Kevin Youkilis in retaliation for a dirty play he committed innings before. Not only was Joba proving himself as a Yankee, he was doing it on the big stage in the middle of the most heated rivalry in all of sports. This was the start of a career that saw Joba compile a minuscule 0.38 ERA over 24 innings of work in 2007. As baseball's most prolific set-up man, Joba was grooming himself as Rivera's replacement when Mo's contract expires in 2010. And yet, Joba will abandon a role he so magnificently lived up to (as per Yankee brass, who made the decision last night) in order to become a starter. Joba appears to have the mindset to dominate on the major-league level as a starter, but what happens when the likes of Kyle Farnsworth, LaTroy Hawkins, and Russ Ohlendorf are blowing the leads that Chamberlain himself hands to these bums? Relief man Hideki Okajima was the X-factor that led the Red Sox to their 2007 title. The Yankees have now sacrificed their own intangible force by toying with Joba's tenure in pinstripes.
3. Constructing the Star-Studded Roster
In 2001, when the Yankees succumbed to the Arizona Diamondbacks in seven brutal games, the Bombers simply could not hit. In Game 7, when the unbeatable Mariano Rivera was thwarted by a bloop single off the bat of Luis Gonzalez, I was granted a haunting moment no different from a Bill Buckner-like blunder, one that has intruded my sweetest dreams on countless occasions. Rather than attribute this paltry hitting to the sheer brilliance of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, the Yankees organization blamed the lineup for its inability to perform in the clutch. This mentality resulted in the Jason Giambi signing, the lead domino in a series of botched acquisitions that were dictated by panic and financial clout. For every transaction that worked in the Yankees' favor (Hideki Matsui and Mike Mussina), the organization was strapped by many others that failed (Jose Contreras, Kyle Farnsworth, Kei Igawa, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, to name but a few). The Yankees compiled their World Series titles due in part to the play of consummate ball players (Paul O'Neill, David Cone, Bernie Williams, Scott Brosius, Jim Leyritz, Joe Girardi), not superstars. The need to fill each position with an All-Star is what has killed the Yankees over the years, especially when you consider the Alex Rodriguez signing....
2. Getting Bullied by Scott Boras
Hear me out: I am an enormous Alex Rodriguez fan. I am rooting extremely hard for him to overtake Barry Bonds's grasp on the homerun title. But trading for, and eventually signing, Alex Rodriguez has defined the Yankees and their egocentric methods, even if he delivered two MVP's during his tenure with the team. Hell, Bonds won FIVE MVP's while with San Francisco, amounting to ZERO rings for the Giants. Signing A-Rod to a ludicrous contract would suggest that he, not Derek Jeter, should be considered the face of the franchise. And if that is the case, the Yankees will (1) sell a kajillion tickets for the life of A-Rod's contract (which appears to be all the organization cares about anymore) and (2) allow Jeter's professionalism and hustle take a backseat to this superstar craze. Although A-Rod cleaved his association with agent Scott Boras, Rodriguez found himself distracted by Boras's constant push for opting out of his contract with the Yankees, even going so far as to let the story seep into Fox's coverage of the 2007 World Series, an incident that was despicable on Boras's (and partly A-Rod's) behalf. You would think that the young George Steinbrenner was at the helm behind such decisions, but think again.
1. Granting the Keys of the Kingdom to Mr. Hank Steinbrenner
Although this is the first season in which George Steinbrenner has little to no say in the operations of the team he still owns, you would imagine that his poor health allowed for the likes of his sons Hank and Hal to pull the strings long before the 2008 campaign. The man behind the curtain of Oz is now Hank Steinbrenner himself, a man whose decisions and choice of words echo the Big Stein of old. Under his watch, the likes of Joe Torre and Don Mattingly were screwed out of managerial candidacy, paving the way for the Joe Girardi show (a man, unlike Torre, who is ensconcing himself in the spotlight with his own weekly show on the YES Network. Yes, those egomaniacal days are here again!). With Hank running the show, the Yankees are on the fast road toward the laughingstock the organization was in the 1980's, much to the delight of Red Sox Nation, more so to the chagrin of us Yankee fans.