Yankees Go Home


Oh, somewhere in this favored land the lights are shining bright.

The Strokes are playing somewhere, and somewhere Buds are lite.

Somewhere men are schmoozing, and somewhere trendies sup.

But there is no joy in Bronxville, the mighty Yankees have fucked up.

OK, it ain’t the end of the world. But it is the end of a dynasty. In three short days, the ’02 Yankees put an end to a particularly glorious chapter in baseball history. Dynasty? Wasn’t that the show with the guy from Charlie’s Angels? The mere thought is receding into the distance like a Troy Glaus homer. It is high, it is far, it is gone . . . See ya! So how did it happen, and what does the future hold? Ask and it shall be answered.

So what happened? 10.38. No, that’s not the number of teeth David Wells lost this year. It’s not George Steinbrenner’s net worth in billions. It’s the ERA of the Yankee starters. This team that lived by the split-finger fastball died by it. Although no one thinks of them in the same breath as clubs such as the ’70s Orioles or the ’90s Braves, these Yankees have won with pitching. And against the Angels, the Yankee pitching collapsed like . . . nah, that’s just too tasteless.

Should we have seen this coming? If we had the gift of prescience, I hope that most of us would apply it to something more worthy than baseball. But the signs were there. In the second half, Mike the Moose pitched like Bullwinkle the Moose. David Wells was up at 4 a.m, and he wasn’t running wind sprints. And while Andy Pettitte was the Yanks’ best pitcher in the second half, his last post-season start was scarier than a George Romero film.

What about the relievers? Mike Stanton, Steve Karsay, and Co. played out the Mariano Paradox. Mr. Rivera has clearly been the most valuable Yankee during this dynasty, but if he were on the Kansas City Royals—or the Mets—they’d still finish last. Or stated differently: A closer ain’t much good unless you got a lead. And this bullpen gave ’em away in the two biggest losses of the season. Cynics will note that the Yankees haven’t won a World Series since Jeff Nelson and his buzz cut left town.

Why this collapse? Normally, I’m not a big one for karma. I like stats. But I think that the Yankees lost more than the World Series when Mariano Rivera threw that ball into center field last November. For the better part of five years, the Yankees have treated every post-season series like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie—it won’t be easy and it might get ugly, but the good guys are going to win in the end.

And this year? The Jason Giambi- Bernie Williams heroics in Game One notwithstanding, these Yankees seemed to be living Murphy’s Law. Alfonso “40-39” Soriano seemed particularly haunted.

But the pitchers will bounce back, right? It’s true that you’ve got four guys on this staff who will get some Hall of Fame votes. But let’s look closer. Clemens is 40. (He also holds an option on next year’s contract, and there’s the small matter of a $10 million signing bonus.) Wells is a high-mileage 39. And El Duque will be 73 come August. Mussina is a no-spring-chicken 34. Pettitte has had elbow trouble on and off for the past three years, but the Yanks seem to have little other choice than to pick up his option. Let’s hope Jeff Weaver is better than he looked.

What about the pen? Both Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza are free agents, and while their post-season performances didn’t exactly put them in line for a big raise, the Yankees probably won’t let them walk, as Nelson did.

And Mariano? To paraphrase Sonny Corleone, “If we lose Mariano, we’re in big trouble.” His shaky Game One save really gave us no indication of how much mileage he’s got left in that skinny right arm.

How great was this run? Let’s all sing the chorus to “Big Yellow Taxi,” shall we? (You take the high harmony . . . “Don’t it aaaaalways seem to go . . . “) This last Yankee run was baseball’s answer to Halley’s Comet. Wanna replay? Just stick around . . . for about a hundred years. It was simply the greatest post-season run in baseball history. Between 1998 and 2001 the Yankees won a record 11 straight post-season series, and if you extend it back to 1996, they won 14 out of 15. There’s not a team—not the ’27 Yankees, not the ’39 Yankees, not the Stengel-era Yankees, not any large machine of any color—that can match it. So save your ticket stubs, boy-o, you just lived through history.

So how does the Boss handle the end of this dynasty? Well, Springsteen is a big Yankee fan, but he’ll be pretty busy with the rest of his tour. As for George Steinbrenner, if there’s one thing that’s certain, the principal owner of the Yankees doesn’t like losing in the first round of the playoffs. In 1995, he canned Buck Showalter. In 1997, he canned Bob Watson. After losing the 1980 ALCS, he canned Dick Howser. If I were in the Yankee brain trust, I wouldn’t buy a big house in Greenwich right now.

What’s George’s next move? Since firing Joe Torre would be a public relations disaster—who’s he gonna replace him with? Showalter? Bobby Valentine? Rudy Giuliani?—it would seem like Brian Cashman is the designated scapegoat.

Would this be a smart thing? About as smart as doubling down on WorldCom. Patience has been the trademark of the Cashman era. He resisted the temptation to trade Pettitte, Mendoza, Soriano, and Nick Johnson. And the Yankees have never needed his patience and good judgment more than now. Maybe he can swing a deal for Troy Glaus.

So which high-priced talent is likely to end up in the Bronx next year? The free-agent crop is quite thin—maybe plug an Edgardo Alfonzo in at third to replace Robin Ventura. If you remember Tommy John, you shouldn’t discount the possibility of Tom Glavine in pinstripes.

The other teams do keep playing even after the Yankees lose, right? Oh, yeah. And what would be sweeter than watching Barry Bonds hit six homers and draw 11 walks in the World Series? Maybe the Minnesota Twins winning it all, and watching Bud Selig hand Ron Gardenhire the trophy.