Pity This Year’s Yankees, Don’t Hate Them

There are two reasons to take pity upon the Yankees this season. Reason one: they're just not a very good baseball team. Reason two: their fans.

The Yankees awoke Sunday morning at 60-62, dead last in the tough enough American League East. That's still better than eleven teams across the major league board. But at sixteen games back of the AL East-leading Orioles, it's not enough to keep them in a pennant race. At 8 games back, they have maybe a 10-exit-length view of the third AL wild card.

They're the next-to-worst hitting team in the AL. They're middle of the pack for the league's pitching. They've been injury-poked and inconsistency drenched. They've had only two winning streaks of four or better. They're in the middle of their third month with a losing record; they haven't had a truly winning record since May.

I was going to say that their fans are getting fed up, but that would be something of a lie. Yankee fans (they remain legion) have been fed up for most of this season, and Yankee haters (they remain more legion) have been partying like it's ... 1966. From your ancient history, that was the first time the franchise finished dead last in the pre-division era since the year before their name change to the Yankees. Hint: the year the Titanic sank.

To Yankees fans this season feels much like that shipping disaster, the difference being that they can't always agree on which iceberg was the key blow. One minute, it's a dubious roster. The next, it's a dubious manager. The next, it's a dubious general manager. The next after that, a dubious owner.

Well, now. The dubious roster is bereft of a traditional Yankee strength, left-handed hitting. Curiously, the Yankees have fared better at home than on the road this season. But failing to fortify the portside side of the lineup in a stadium built like its predecessor to favor left-handed hitting is something like building an apartment building with half the foundation missing.

Aaron Boone is not the world's greatest tactician or strategic thinker as managers go, but the man did become the first in Yankee history to post back-to-back 100-win seasons in his first two seasons on the bridge. This season, he's much like the race car driver who's been promised a powerful vehicle for the Daytona 500, but handed a Trabant. And despite his inability to balance analytics with in-game foresight, Boone isn't even close to the biggest Yankee problem.

Brian Cashman has ridden a marvelous stroke of fortune for a very long time. He was more or less handed the team that Gene Michael rebuilt to greatness in the 1990s. He could only ride that stroke for so many years before it caught up to him and, by extension, the Yankee marvel of (read it carefully) thirty consecutive winning-record seasons. Ponder if you will a roll of decisions that looked smart in the moment but proved foolish in the long run:

* Giancarlo Stanton — When he's healthy, he can hit. Otherwise? Put it this way: Cashman dealt for him for 2018 rather than pry a trade or hold out for free agent-to-be Bryce Harper. Since then, Harper is a 15.8 WAR man to Stanton's 4.8, not to mention what proved a pennant-winning blow on his resume.

* Aaron Hicks — Cashman either ignored or didn't care that Hicks's 2018 breakout was a little on the flukish side for a player approaching 29-years-old. How's that seven-year, $70 million 2019 extension working out? Hicks cratered more or less under the lash of injuries before the Yankees released him earlier this year. The Orioles took a flyer and Hicks responded rather well before a lower back issue sent him to the injured list. Oops.

* Josh Donaldson — Age was bound to catch up to the controversial third baseman. Trading for a fellow approaching 36 for 2022 may have been bound to implode.

* Frankie Montas — Not bright to trade for a pitcher with shoulder issues. Less bright when Montas cratered because of it, missed last year's postseason, and hasn't been seen at all this season thanks to rehab following surgery.

* Harrison Bader — In a way, this was as much Hicks's fault as Cashman's, since Hicks's continuing descent compelled a need for Bader. But Cashman didn't have to deal a good starting pitcher (Jordan Montgomery) to get him, did he? Bader was on the injured list at the time of that trade and he's still fought injuries and inconsistency since.

* Carlos Rodon — He's hardly the only player who ever struggled in year one of a yummy contract extension, but he's had health issues this year, too.

Disgruntled Yankee fans also like to point to owner Hal Steinbrenner, mostly because he's not his late imperious, hair-trigger father. Steinbrenner has tried to operate the Yankees with a distinct lack of chaos and an even more distinct lack of fear factor. Perhaps he saw only too much of the psychological damage the old man wreaked.

Studying The Boss's worst and learning what not to do was sound thinking. But maybe it's time for Prince Hal to draw the line between his father's worst and the reality of what's in front of him now. With or without their fans' spoiled-brat expectations, this Yankee team needs an overhaul. The good news is that they wouldn't dare go tanking to do it.

Boone and Cashman will find themselves seated upon hot-burning stove tops if the Yankees don't accomplish what might by now be miraculous, perhaps Cashman a little hotter than Boone, who can play only the cards dealt him. Just staving off the end of a thirty-season winning-record streak would be miraculous enough.

But these are the Yankees about whom we speak, after all. They have won but a single World Series since the turn of the century. Hardly worthy of their 20th century predecessors who pretty much owned the century with a few hiccups along the way. And what's passed down from generation to generation of Yankee fans is a miserable sense of entitlement.

That was then: "The Yankees always took the attitude that they were doing you a favor by permitting you to watch them perform." — Bill Veeck, maverick baseball owner, in The Hustler's Handbook (1964). This is now: Yankee fans take the attitude that they're doing the team a favor by not storming Yankee Stadium to stop the alleged stealing of Yankee glory.

Nearly every other major league franchise would kill to have the Yankees' history. And while some of those franchises have testy fan bases, often with good enough reason, they don't have to deal with fans to whom nothing short of a World Series entry or win is worthy of their praise.

The joke around the crosstown Mets, whose own season has been a disaster despite awakening Sunday morning having won six of seven, somehow, is that their fans think a season is lost after one bad inning — in April. That's only slightly funnier than the joke about Yankee fans believing it's time for summary executions over one bad plate appearance — in the season's first inning.

Which is why you should pity, not hate the Yankees, for once in your baseball life. But God help them if the coming overhaul doesn't deliver immediate dividends. ("Immediate" here meaning, "yesterday.") The calls for summary Yankee executions might begin with a bad inning — in spring training.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site