Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Yankees Win, I Puke

When the Yankees were closing in winning last night's Game 6 and earning their first World Series title since 2000, I told myself that I wouldn't let their inevitable victory get to me. So what? I watched these guys win four World Series when I was growing up. It's been years since it happened. Big freakin' deal. It wasn't like they were beating the Red Sox.

Then Shane Victorino battled Mariano Rivera, grounded out to Robinson Cano, and it was over. The Yankees were once again World Champs. They celebrated like little kids as thousands of Yankees fans cheered on.

Everything I told myself went away. It got to me. I was pissed. Nothing about the Yankees winning made me happy. As much as I like and respect 95 percent of the team, I wasn't happy at all. Not even remotely. Even though the Red Sox have won twice in between Yankees titles, the Yankees winning the World Series will always piss me off.

Why? Because I'm still a fan.

Because the Yankees broke my heart so many times as a kid. [EDIT: My dad correctly pointed out that this doesn't sense. The Yankees might have been the cause of the heartbreak, but it was the Red Sox that broke my heart. I just needed to clear this up.]

Because in 1999 both the umpires and the fates were against my team. Because in 2003 Aaron Boone rendered me motionless on the very couch from which I type these words.

Because my childhood heroes Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens left to get rings in New York just to rub it all of our faces.

Because they employ Alex Rodriguez, my least favorite player of all time.

Because their owner gave control of his team to his sons, who'd spent the majority of their lives hanging around horses.

Because they built a bloated new stadium with pop fly homers and ticket prices even rich people can't afford.

Because their fans think they have to win the World Series every year or otherwise the manager should be fired, the whole team should be blown up, etc. Because I have absolutely no idea how their fans actually get pleasure out of watching them win and I often compare rooting for the Yankees to rooting for health insurance CEOs.

But most of all, it's because I just simply hate the New York Yankees. No number of Red Sox World Series championships will change that.

Of course, I'm not irrational. The Yankees were the best team in the 2009 regular season, and despite my protestations, they wound up being the best team in the playoffs, too. Joe Girardi will go down as one of the worst managers to ever win a World Series, and nothing about winning the Series convinces me he's a good manager.

How a team with a $200 million payroll wins it all with three starters, one effective reliever and a manager with no living clue how to, you know, manage them, is beyond me. The offense carried them, they only had to use Andy Pettitte once on three day's rest, and if not for Brad Lidge's Game 4 meltdown this could have been an entirely different series.

The Phillies played valiantly throughout but never came up with the big hits when they mattered outside of Pedro Feliz's bomb in Game 4. Like the Red Sox losing at any point over the last five years, the blow of this loss won't sting so badly for the Phillies fans. I feel pretty good for that awesome city and I know their club will be a World Series contender for years to come.

But what made this year so much different than the last eight for the Yankees?

Year in and year out since the strike the Bombers always had the biggest payroll. After winning the 2000 World Series, they started tinkering. Mike Mussina was signed for $88 million and the Yankees came within three outs of beating Arizona for the World Series but Rivera couldn't close the door. Buster Olney famously declared that evening "the last night of the Yankee dynasty."

From there, the team that brought so many titles began to unravel. Paul O'Neill and Scott Brosius retired, Tino Martinez and Chuck Knoblauch were shown the door, and the Yankees began a practice of plugging all holes with costly free agent signings instead of building through the farm system. After losing to Arizona, Brian Cashman gave Jason Giambi $120 million, brought aboard has-beens Raul Mondesi, Rondell White and Robin Ventura, and splurged $21 million on reliever Steve Karsay (an unmitigated disaster). In '02, the Yanks were bounced from the ALDS by the eventual champion Angels.

For the '03 campaign, Cashman had already traded promising lefty Ted Lilly to acquire headcase Jeff Weaver, and the result would not be pretty. He spent $32 million on Jose Contreras just to keep him away from Boston (Contreras would be traded to the White Sox before '04 was over), and $21 million on Hideki Matsui. Of course, the Yankees did get back to the World Series, but were defeated by Florida, a team that had virtually no wasteful free agent signings.

More retooling came for '04, in the form of adding over $30 million to their payroll. The Yankees took the opportunity to consume the many millions remaining on Rodriguez's contract after a deal with Boston fell apart in the 11th hour. Instead of going after Vladimir Guerrero, Cashman signed the older Gary Sheffield for $39 million. Acquired via trade were Javier Vazquez (given a $45 million extension) and Kevin Brown (the 'roid-raging righty with $30 million remaining on his ridiculous contract). Meanwhile, their bullpen was filled out by hacks like Tanyon Sturtze and Felix Heredia. The Yanks were all set to go back to the World Series before the Red Sox decided to stage the greatest comeback in sports history and secured bragging rights for years to come.

For '05 things appeared to be turning around as they allowed homegrown talent like Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang to flourish. But they still added almost $25 million to their gaudy payroll, going over $200 million for the first time. Much of that came from two massively failed free agent pitchers, Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano, who won a combined 25 games during their New York careers. Despite Vazquez's extension, he was part of a trade that brought in Randy Johnson. He'd famously clash with teammates and media during two productive seasons there while pocketing $32 million. The Angels once again beat them in the ALDS.

Bernie Williams was relegated to part-time status after Johnny Damon was signed away for roughly $10 million more than what anyone else was offering. They also resigned Matsui for $52 million and kept tossing money at a black hole of a bullpen that wasn't improving (Kyle Farnsworth and the unintentionally comedic signing of Mike Myers). They got Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle during the season for a bucket of baseballs and pissed off Sheffield in the process. While heavily favored, the Yanks were bounced by the Tigers in the ALDS, Joe Torre batted the truly embattled A-Rod eighth and fans became increasingly restless.

Pettitte and Clemens went for one last go-round in the Bronx in '07. But the most hilarious signing of this entire era came when the Yankees lost out on Daisuke Matsuzaka and settled instead on Kei Igawa at an overall price tag of $46 million. Igawa's MLB career numbers: 2-4, 6.66 ERA, 53 K, 37 BB in 71.2 IP. The tide towards homegrown players continued with Melky Cabrera, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain playing key roles. But gnats swarmed Chamberlain in Cleveland, the Yankees were again defeated in the ALDS, the fans had to watch the Red Sox hoist the World Series Trophy once again, and Torre was unceremoniously forced out in favor of Girardi.

Injuries and ineffectiveness caused the Yankees to miss the playoffs in '08 for the first time since the strike. They'd decided to let their kids play with mixed results. Lots of people questioned in Girardi was right manager and what the Yankees would do to fix the problems. This gets back to the question I asked before: why was this year different than the others? Cashman took advantage of a depressed market to sign the three highest-impact free agents last winter. Yes, it totaled almost $500 million, and the Yankees appeared to be on the verge of "buying another title."

Well, those signings had actual purpose to them as opposed to just throwing money at a problems. They needed two power starting pitchers and someone to hold down first base for the foreseeable future, and from a production standpoint, they got the right guys. But perhaps bigger than production on the field, the new Yankees bring something to the table so many of their 2000s free agent brethren lacked. Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira are all first-rate personalities and teammates.

Along with Nick Swisher, these players caused the longtime tension in the Yankees clubhouse to dissipate. They even made it so Rodriguez finally looked comfortable. Like so many World Champions in recent years, and like the dynastic teams of a decade ago, these Yankees actually like each other. It's sad that it took Cashman and the Yankees brass so much time to figure it out. Unfortunately for me, they finally did.

The Yankees have a lot of questions to answer now, specifically who plays left field and whether WS MVP Matsui will return. But they can celebrate now, providing championship bookends for a decade with so much strife in between.

And no matter what, I'll always hate it.


With that, another baseball season ends. It's a double-dose of suck that I can't watch baseball for six months and the last image I have is of the Yankees winning the World Series. I look outside my New Hampshire window right now and see snow flurries. It's going to be a long winter, with the free agent market likely just as depressed with year as last year.

I want to try and concentrate on hockey writing through the winter, so hot stove posts might not be as plentiful this year. I do, however, have some things planned for JBB over the next two months, including a few best (and worst) of the decade lists. You know how much I love lists.

Pitchers and catchers report in just 107 days.

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