The special commemorative sections are lining the bottoms of Gotham’s birdcages, the ticker tape’s on its way to Fresh Kills, and the 7, 4, and D trains have been returned to their rightful straphangers. And you’re suffering from PTSSSS: Post-Traumatic Subway Series Stress Syndrome. Even as you ride out yet another flashback of Bobby Valentine leaving Al Leiter in to pitch to Luis Sojo, you can’t shake the nagging feeling that you’re missing something. How desperate are you? You’re about to pop in the archival videotape to see what you missed. Well, friends don’t let friends watch Fox, so I’m here to help. Forthwith, the take-home lessons from the first post-millennial subway series.
So how ’bout that Subway Series?
Well, it was more entertaining than the ’98 and ’99 sweeps of San Diego and Atlanta. And less so than a very special episode of Titus.
How would you have made it better?
I would have played it last year. Both teams were significantly better a year ago. Last season’s Mets lineup—sporting the ultra-patient Rickey Henderson, John Olerud, and Roger Cedeño—would have troubled Yankee pitchers far more. And it would have been worth the price of admission just to see Kenny Rogers pitch to his old teammates in Yankee Stadium.
So are these Yankees the best team in history, or what?
Well, they’re clearly the best team of the post-free-agency era. Even Joe Morgan has to admit that they’re better than the Big Red Machine, and whatever edge they had in style points, Charley Finley’s three-peating Oakland A’s didn’t win four out of five.
Gee, Mr. Peabody, can we take the Wayback Machine a little further?
To find a comparable championship run, you have to rewind to the Casey Stengel/Mickey Mantle/Yogi Berra/Whitey Ford Yankees of 1949-53, which won five in a row (and seven titles in 10 years), and before that the 1936-39 Joe McCarthy/Joe DiMaggio/Lou Gehrig Yankees, which notched four in a row (and five out of six). At this point, those teams still get the tentative nod, but, remember, the book is still open on Joe Torre’s fin de siècle Yankees.
But winning it all was a lot tougher in the old days, right?
Wrong. In winning the World Series, the current Yankees quietly staked their claim as the best October team ever. They amassed the best postseason streak in baseball history, winning their ninth consecutive playoff series, passing the record of eight set by the Yankees between 1927 and 1941. During that streak, the Torre Yankees only faced one elimination game. Their 12-1 World Series record during the streak—that’s a .932 winning percentage, folks—matches the 1937-39 Yankees for the best Fall Classic trifecta ever. And their record 14-game WS winning streak (dating back to 1996) is as mind-boggling as a Valentine press conference.
Where does this put Joe Torre?
While nobody’s nominating him for a McArthur award, his record speaks like Dennis Miller on a bender. No other active manager has more than one World Series ring, and by winning his fourth championship, he moves ahead of John McGraw and Miller Huggins on that big list in the sky, and ties Walter Alston. Next up—Connie Mack with five Fall Classic wins (although he never three-peated) and two Yankee skippers, McCarthy (seven titles including four in a row) and Stengel (also seven, including five in a row). That’s good company.
So how did he win four world championships without any superstars?
That one again? OK, so the Yankees don’t have a position player who’s inarguably the best in baseball at what he does—a Mike Piazza, a Chipper Jones, an Alex Rodriguez. But what they do have is a bunch of players—Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada—who are solidly among the top three or four at their positions, and a bunch more—Chuck Knoblauch, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius—who’ve played at that level for at least part of the run. In a Zen kind of way, their biggest strength is a lack of weakness.
There’s gotta be more to it than that.
Don’t forget the pitching staff. Over the last three years, the Yankees haven’t started a pitcher in a playoff game with a career winning percentage of less than .600. And if you were giving a baseball-wide MVP award for the last half-decade, only a fool would vote against Mariano Rivera, the most irreplaceable Yank.
Is that all?
Those of a less linear mindset will note that these Yankee championships have been accompanied by no small measure of personal tragedy. In 1996 Joe Torre’s brother Rocco died during the regular season, while his other brother, Frank, got a heart transplant on a World Series off-day. On the first day of the 1998 postseason, Darryl Strawberry was diagnosed with colon cancer, and before the next opening day, Torre would be similarly stricken with prostate cancer. During the 1999 World Series, both Brosius’s father and O’Neill’s father died, and before this year’s opening day Mel Stottlemyre was diagnosed with cancer. And on the day the Yankees clinched their three-peat, Brian Cashman’s mother-in-law died suddenly of a heart attack. Under the circumstances, making a Bedazzled joke would be truly tasteless.
OK, genius, what are the prospects for the future?
The shot glass is either half empty or half full. The half-full side, of course, is that the Yankees are the reigning world champions, and core players like Jeter, Williams, and Posada are still quite young, and there’s no emerging powerhouse in the horizon, at least in the AL East.