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October 27, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

Spending My Last Token

by Joe Sheehan

On October 8, 1995, I sat in shocked silence as Edgar Martinez broke my heart, lining a double into the left-field corner of the Kingdome, eliminating the Yankees from the playoffs and ending the career of my all-time favorite player, Don Mattingly.

I can't say for sure that knowing what would follow would have made that moment any less painful. I do know that as a baseball fan, I am one incredibly spoiled individual right now.

I didn't see it coming. After that series, the Yankees let manager Buck Showalter go and hired a failed retread. An ex-Met failed retread, even. They made a terrible trade with the Mariners, sending away two certain future stars in Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis for an overrated first baseman and a middle reliever. They then signed the first baseman, Tino Martinez, to a five-year contract that effectively sealed Mattingly's fate.

As an analyst, I was disappointed. As a fan, I was horrified.

No, I didn't see this coming. I didn't see that the next five years would bring four World Championships, one all-time-great season and a sea change in how I viewed the Yankees, the team that I'd been cheering ever since I attended my first game in 1978.

I don't put a whole lot of stock in chemistry or intangibles. Those terms are usually used after the fact to explain away success or failure that came as a surprise. Certainly, groups of people can have good or bad chemistry, and that chemistry can potentially impact the work they do.

As applied to baseball teams, though, the concepts are of little use as their relationship to success is unclear. After all, we don't usually hear about the good chemistry of 68-94 teams, so the question can be raised: does chemistry follow success or does success follow chemistry?

The 1999 and 2000 Yankees, teams that were not dramatically superior to their opponents--in some cases, inferior to them--are about as close to an acceptable argument for positive chemistry as I've ever seen. No, I'm not turning in my analyst card; I'm just saying that when a team wins nine consecutive best-ofs, and 12 of 13, that's impressive in a way that makes you question your beliefs.

The team that has won three straight World Series has been remarkably stable, and the players you associate with the success have been there for the entire 1998-2000 period. In that time, they've experienced a tremendous amount of "real-life" strife, from the health problems of Joe Torre, his brother Frank and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre to the in-season deaths of the fathers of Scott Brosius, Paul O'Neill and Luis Sojo.

This team has gone through a lot the past three years, both positive and negative. They have also, in that time, experienced success on a level unheard of in the last quarter-century. Whether there's a connection there...well, I'm reluctant, at least tonight, anyway, to dismiss it as readily as I normally would.

Finally, we hear a lot about how the Yankees spent $562 million to keep this team together, and how their success represents everything that's wrong with the business of baseball. But wasn't this exactly what was supposed to be unattainable in the free-agency era? Teams weren't supposed to stay together over time, and it was taken for granted that we would never see a Big Red Machine or a 1950s Yankees again. And that was supposed to be a bad thing.

The Yankees are the proof that a dynasty is possible in this era, just in time for people to think that's a bad thing. But before you start following the money, take a look at Game Five's heroes:

  • Bernie Williams's home run opened the scoring
  • Derek Jeter's home run tied the game in the fourth
  • Andy Pettitte's seven innings of two-run ball kept the Yankees in the game
  • Jorge Posada's nine-pitch walk started the Series-winning rally
  • Mariano Rivera got the final three outs
None of those players have ever played a game outside of a Yankee uniform.

Love 'em or hate 'em, this Yankee team is exactly what so many fans, media and baseball executives spent 20 years bemoaning the death of in baseball. And that, more than anything else, is what makes a night like October 26, 2000 so damn special for Yankee fans who know what it was like to root for teams that were so much less.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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