Six years have passed since the Yankees last played in the World Series, and nine years have gone by since they last won one. However, that does not mean that expectations have changed in the Bronx. When the Yankees host the Phillies tonight in Game One of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, they will do so with the expectation of winning their 27th title.
That was never clearer than on Sunday night, when the Yankees beat the Angels in Game Six to win the American League Championship Series. While the Yankees celebrated in the home clubhouse, general manager Brian Cashman avoided the scene and went back to his office.
“I’ll wait to participate if we have an opportunity to win the whole thing,” he told the New York Post.
The Yankees admittedly will not consider this season a success without a World Series trophy. Not after they spent $423.5 million on free agents Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett in the offseason upon failing to make the postseason last year for the first time since 1995. And they will certainly be unfulfilled if they don’t get the title after winning a major league-best 103 games in the regular season.
The Yankees also feel a sense of urgency to win at least one more title for owner George Steinbrenner. They have won six World Series under his stewardship, but Steinbrenner gave up control of the team to his sons, Hal and Hank, prior to last season. The Boss is now 79, and primarily stays at his home in Florida; his visit to Yankee Stadium for Game One will be his first since the $1.5 billion ballpark opened on April 16. “It means a lot to Mr. Steinbrenner,” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. “He expects us to win.”
So do his sons, even if they do not have nearly the high profile or bombast of their father. After all, they are writing the checks for what is again the highest payroll in the major leagues at $201 million. “We expect to win championships, and we have one more step to take before we can be truly satisfied with this season,” Hal Steinbrenner said.
Though Cashman has been on the job since 1997 and has two years left on the three-year contract he signed after last season, he also feels the urgency for the Yankees to beat the Phillies. “It would be a great way to honor (Steinbrenner),” Cashman said. “If we do, you’re going to see a great deal of attention surrounding him, which will be great because he certainly deserves it. We would not have the type of franchise we do today without him. I know how much it means to him for us to be back in the World Series. We’re so close now. We’ve accomplished so much but now we have to close the circle.”
Joe Girardi, in his first World Series as the Yankees’ manager, also understands the expectations. He was a catcher for the Yankees from 1996-99, winning three World Series rings in four years, and also served as a coach and broadcaster for the organization. “I think we’re very pleased with what has happened so far as an organization,” Girardi said. “I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish so far. But as a Yankee, when you go into spring training, your goal is to win the World Series, and we’re one of two teams that have a chance to do that this year. There’s a lot of pride in that clubhouse and guys have worked very hard to get to this point, but we still have one more goal.”
Winning a World Series would also validate the Yankees’ decision to promote Girardi from bench coach to replace Joe Torre, who was fired after the 2007 season. Girardi took plenty of heat from Yankees’ fans last year for missing the playoffs and there was speculation he was on the hot seat this season when his team got off to a 15-17 start. “For me, pressures always come from within,” Girardi said. “I want it really bad I want it for the organization, I want it for the guys in that room and I want it for Mr. Steinbrenner. It’s important.”
CC Sabathia will start tonight for the Yankees against fellow left-hander Cliff Lee, a pitching matchup that represents a season-special nightmare for Indians fans. Sabathia won the AL Cy Young in 2007 and Lee followed in his (big) footsteps to win it himself last season. Both captured the awards while pitching for the Indians, but were traded in the following seasons because ownership felt it could not afford to sign either ace to a long-term extension.
Indians GM Mark Shapiro calls the matchup “bittersweet.” Meanwhile, Sabathia says the irony of the matchup has not been lost on the fans back in Cleveland. “I’ve gotten my share of texts from people in Cleveland, old friends and people in the organization,” he said.
Lee admitted it will be hard for Indians’ fans to watch tonight. “They can’t be feeling too good about it,” Lee said. “It’s two guys they could have had on their team that are now on different teams facing each other in the World Series. That’s the way this game works sometimes, though. It’s the nature of the business. You don’t see many guys staying with one team for their whole career anymore. It’s the nature of the game nowadays. It’s been a great opportunity for me, and CC as well, signing with the Yankees and making it to the World Series his first year there. That’s a big accomplishment for him, and for me to get traded to the Phillies-the defending World Champions-and jump on board with them and end up back in the World Series for a second consecutive year, is special. It’s something that I’m proud to be a part of, and I’m going to do everything I can to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has never hidden his displeasure at being fired as the Indians’ manager midway through the 2002 season. Thus, his reaction to two former Indians facing other in Game One was predictable. “I don’t know what they’re thinking in Cleveland, and I haven’t really thought about what’s going on in Cleveland,” Manuel said. “I know both pitchers we’ve got out there are top-notch pitchers, and believe me, this matchup couldn’t have been better. It’s a big, premier game. I’m looking forward to it.”
The Yankees and Phillies will both be playing just their 10th post-season game in 22 days tonight. Not to say that Major League Baseball is dragging out the postseason to unprecedented length, but the NCAA Tournament, which includes seven rounds of elimination games, takes only 21 days to complete.
Managers absolutely hate all of the days off built into the schedule. Baseball people, more than those in other sports, are creatures of habit, and their routines get thrown off in the postseason after playing on a near-daily basis for six months in the regular season. Managers usually bite their tongues about the situation for fear of angering Commissioner Bud Selig and the television networks, who ultimately dictate the postseason schedule. Angels manager Mike Scioscia, though, spoke up before his team was eliminated by the Yankees in Game Six of the ALCS, noting that, “I think you lose a lot of the integrity of what the season means when you have three days off at the end of the season to let other teams reset their starting rotation, which is supposed to be an advantage of clinching early. That’s negated when any team can do it just by getting to the playoffs.”
Scioscia fears the caliber of baseball is being compromised by the postseason stretching into November this season. An extra week was added to the exhibition season because the Major League Baseball Players Association asked that players have two weeks of spring training following the conclusion of the World Baseball Classic in order to ensure they would be prepared for the regular season. “Some of it could be trimmed up,” Scioscia said of the scheduled downtime during the postseason. “I think that it’s something that eventually is going to have to be addressed. We saw what happened last year in Philadelphia (when rain and cold delayed the World Series). You can’t control the weather to a certain extent, but the earlier you can schedule these games to get them in, the better chance you have of finishing this in weather that is conducive to the outstanding level of play that is going to be expected on any playoff baseball field.”
The Cardinals‘ hiring of Mark McGwire as their hitting coach certainly came as a surprise. The slugger has stayed pretty much in seclusion since retiring after the 2001 season. His reputation seemed forever damaged during the 2005 Congressional hearings into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, because he repeatedly answered all inquires about his purported steroid use by saying he was “not here to talk about the past.”
Yet manager Tony La Russa persuaded McGwire to return the Cardinals and team chairman Bill DeWitt got the blessing of Commissioner Bud Selig before making the move. Selig told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Rick Hummel that he was “delighted” that McGwire is returning to the game. “I give Tony La Russa a lot of credit and Bill DeWitt a lot of credit for making this happen,” Selig said. “I was, and am, very supportive of their decision. I wish everybody well. When Mark was there, I had a lot of affection and admiration for him.”
In the eyes of many fans, McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa are the faces of what will be remembered as “The Steroids Era.” Yet Selig said he is not against having a major figure from that era return in a coaching capacity. “I’m proud of where the sport is,” Selig said. “We had two or three positive (drug) tests all year and we’ve since banned amphetamines. The culture has completely changed. I have no misgivings about this at all. Mark McGwire is a very, very fine man, and the Cardinals are to be applauded.”
However, retired FBI agent Greg Stejskal isn’t so enthusiastic about McGwire’s return. Stejskal led Operation Equine, a three-year steroid investigation that led to 70 arrests for steroid trafficking. Stejskal claimed to the New York Daily News that, after the investigation had finished, the FBI had credible information that McGwire had used steroids. The Daily News also reported in 2005 that a California man named Curtis Wenzlaff provided steroids to McGwire and to fellow slugger Jose Canseco when they were teammates with the Athletics in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“It’s basically rewarding a guy who hasn’t stood up and taken a stand against this stuff,” Stejskal said of McGwire becoming a coach. “There’s been no mea culpa, and instead he has become a recluse. It reminds me of a passage from Proverbs: ‘The wicked flee where no man pursueth.’ He never took an active role in speaking out against the stuff. He never took a stand.”