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 firstname.lastname@example.org.