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Yankees finally learn about ignominy

by Alan Schwarz
October 21, 2004

NEW YORK—It was just like every other losing clubhouse. Bats clunked against themselves as clubbies packed up permanent bags. Players silently patted each other's backs and hugged goodbye. Stars turned around to spotlights and reporters straining to come up with ever-new phrasings of, "How much does this, you know, hurt?"

Just like every other losing clubhouse except for one thing. This one had Reggie Jackson sitting at an empty locker, shaking his head.

Ignominy made an unprecedented visit upon Yankee Stadium during Game Seven of the American League Championship Series. Blowing a 3-0 lead to their archrival Red Sox, one of the worst collapses in sports history, left the proud Yankees collectively nonplussed as their fans filed out of the ballpark, similarly unsure what to make of all this.

It wasn't just that these athletes lost. It wasn't just that they lost four straight games needing to win only one. It was that they did it in Yankee uniforms, the dutiful double-knits that seem to win championships as much as the players within them. This kind of thing just doesn't happen to Yankees.

But it did. "What can you say?" Derek Jeter said afterward. Losing on a broken bat in 2001 denied them—send in the frowns—a fourth straight World Series ring. Getting sideswiped by the Angels the next year took them by surprise. Last year's loss to Josh Beckett and the Marlins could be chalked up to running into a hot pitcher.

This, though. This was an inexplicable, intestine-tying, how-in-the-world-did-we-let-this-happen debacle.

It's about time.

Share The Misery

It's about time that the Yankees got to feel as wretched as they've made other teams feel these past 10 years. It's about time that their fans experienced losing's despair, felt it weigh them down like a leaden scarf. And most important, it's about time that we all got to turn on the World Series and not see pinstripes prancing around the bases.

Make no mistake—I'm not a sadistic sort. I don't wish extra misfortune to form out of thin air and befall anyone, not even the baseball team that has taken a considerable portion out of my fun of following the postseason the past half-decade. This is not a case of manufacturing ill, but allocating it.

What many have forgotten throughout the Yankees' recent decade of dominance is that baseball, like most team sports, has zero-sum mirth and misery. For every giddy parade up Broadway, New York has trampled the hopes of several other teams and cities. First it was the Braves, in the 1996 and 1999 World Series; then it was the Athletics, in two crushing, five-game AL Division Series marathons in 2000 and 2001; and then it was the Red Sox last year, yet another time New York danced on New England's hearts.

Each celebration has drowned out several wakes. It makes you remember the delightful Peanuts cartoon in which a ballplayer jumps for joy after having won, whoops and hollers and breaks into cartwheels, before the ever-torn Charlie Brown asks, "How did the other team feel?"

A classy organization led by general manager Brian Cashman, the Yankees did earn their victories. But so many for so long—six pennants and four World Series titles over the last eight years—made Yankee fans forget how the other teams feel. A sense of entitlement pervades them, as if the Ghosts of Yankees Past would always be their limo drivers to destiny.

It was boring, folks.

Curse This

I haven't hated the Yankees recently; I've hated how they won all the time. When they won in 1996, I enjoyed their returning to glory. I marveled at their winning 125 games in 1998, and even repeating the following year.

But in 2000, they entered the postseason with the 11th-best record in baseball and still won. In those and other playoffs, they kept far more interesting teams, the A's, Twins and Red Sox, from moving forward on the national stage. The Yankees' gluttony for championships, however understandable, squelched variety's storylines.

Rather than seeing Tim Hudson pitch in the World Series, we got Andy Pettitte . . . again. Rather than watching Torii Hunter play defense in the World Series, we got Bernie Williams . . . again. Rather than watching the Red Sox finally taste victory over their nemesis, we got vapid talk of curses.

But not this year. In the champagne-sprayed Red Sox clubhouse afterward, general manager Theo Epstein dedicated the win to Boston's 1949, 1978 and 2003 clubs and fans whose hopes had been dashed by the Yankees again and again. "This is for everyone who didn't get to play in a World Series because of the Yankees," he hailed.

It's bigger than that, though. The Red Sox rewarded the faith not just of Red Sox fans, but that of all-around baseball followers who prayed for something new. Who didn't mind the Yankees, and their fans, learning that no matter how confident one should be, he can't know he'll win, but must only hope.

Right on cue, the New York media asked Jeter after Game Seven about the Yankees' postseason slump—four straight years without a championship.

"We haven't won in a while," Jeter nodded.

God help us.


You can reach Alan Schwarz by sending e-mail to alanschwarz@baseballamerica.com.

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