Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Decline and Fall of the Bomber Empire
By Zach

The Yankees are in trouble. Boy, it's nice to see those words in print. As of today, they're 5 1/2 games behind Boston in the AL East and 4 1/2 games behind Oakland and Anaheim in the Wild Card race. Heck, they're trailing the Indians. They just finished a three-game series against the White Sox in the Bronx in which they scored a total of 5 runs. They got great starts from Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small, and blew them both. 4/5ths of their rotation from Opening Day is hurt. They have the worst defensive outfield in the league. Jason Giambi is mere moments away from flunking a drug test. The players are fighting with each other, with the manager, with the media. The Mets are closer to a playoff spot than they are. There's a reasonable chance they'll miss the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

But you know what? I don't care. Yes, I hate the Yankees. Or, at least, I used to hate them. But, it's hard to hate them with the same passion when they got their come-uppance last year at the hands of the BoSox. Now, they're more pathetic than scary, more pitiful than boastful. They're like a once-wealthy family which is trying desperately to keep up appearances while the repo men are just around the corner.

So how did it get this way? Two words: George Steinbrenner. The same man who signed all the blank checks that got the Yankees their 4 World Series Championships is the man whose ego was too large to accept losing. He was the one who dealt away every prospect in the system in order to win in the moment, and only now are the consequences of that mortgaging of the future becoming clear.

When guys like Paul O'Neill and Scott Brosius retired, Steinbrenner immediately tried to get the biggest names he could in order to improve the team. Who needs O'Neill when you can get Gary Sheffield. Nevermind the fact that O'Neill was a fan and player favorite, and Sheffield is a notorious cancer. Aaron Boone was the quick-fix answer to Brosius, but when he got hurt, George antied up for A-Rod. Besides his penchants for choking and slapping, he's got an ego the size of the Empire State Building. Still, he should be starting at shortstop instead of the defensive sieve that is Derek "Captain Intangibles" Jeter. Speaking of Jeter, he's making almost $20 million this year. He's worth it for his post-season performances, you say? First, his career post-season averages are .306/.380/.456 compared to career regular season averages of .314/.385/.461. Secondly, what good is his supposed post-season greatness if your team fails to make the playoffs? Jeter, for the good of the team, should be playing second base, allowing A-Rod to move back to shortstop. Then, George can go spend tons of money on a third baseman.

But the biggest place you see the dropoff with the Yankees is on the pitching staff. In 2000, guys like Roger Clemens, Orlando Hernandez, and Andy Pettite were starting games, then handing the ball off to still-effective versions of Jeff Nelson, Mike Stanton, and Mo Rivera. Rivera is still with the team (and still on his game), but the rest of those guys are long gone. Last year, the Yankees had to start guys like Kevin Brown and Javy Vazquez in the playoffs, and guys like Paul Quantrill and Felix Heredia were pitching the 7th and 8th inning. Torre only had 2 guys he trusted, Tom Gordon (who imploded against Boston) and Rivera (who sorta did too). This year...well, he still has those two guys, only with another year on each of their arms.

Last year, I thought the Yankees would miss the playoffs. I figured they were too old and too thin to survive major injuries. Surprisingly, their pitching staff stayed fairly healthy, at least until the end of the year when they started punching walls in the clubhouse. This year, I was sure they'd miss the playoffs, because I figured they were too old and too thin. Bingo.


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