Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the New York Yankees clubhouse. One can't help but wonder how the atmosphere inside is being impacted by the club's ongoing fall from grace.
Shoot, there's no point in pretending like it's not happening. The Yankees were the biggest, baddest kid on the block for roughly two decades, but now they look old and helpless. Worse, things are only getting, well, worse. The buzz surrounding the organization has shifted accordingly.
After the offseason they had, it was hard to be optimistic about the Yankees' chances in 2013 even at the outset of spring training. Bill Madden of the New York Daily News wrote that the Yankees (and the New York Mets) seemed to have a better chance of finishing last this season than of finishing first.
Bold, I recall thinking. But also plausible.
Fast-forward a couple weeks, and now we know the Yankees are going to be without Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, who combined to hit 67 home runs in 2012, for the first month of the 2013 season. Teixeira won't be back until later in May due to his wrist injury, and David Waldstein of the New York Times had the right of it in pointing out that Teixeira's injury could linger.
Grantland's Rany Jazayerli put a fine spin of what's become of the Yankees: "The Evil Emperor has no clothes. Even the Yankees are capable of down cycles. This looks like the start of one."
Desperate times, to be sure, and there are some desperate measures going on. The word from Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com is that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has reached out to the agents of Scott Rolen and Derrek Lee, the latter of whom last played in 2011. To boot, Cashman said he's even interested in recently retired Atlanta Braves great Chipper Jones.
"He is the type of player who is Yankee-like, in terms of capabilities, when he was playing, and make-up for the clubhouse and stuff like that," Cashman said. "I just planted a seed -- 'if you have an interest, thinking of playing, let me know.'"
This is coming from a guy who told ESPNNewYork.com's Ian O'Connor last week that he's still "very confident" in the Yankees' ability to make the playoffs in 2013. Now, Cashman sounds like a panicked sergeant putting in a futile call for reinforcements so his outpost can withstand a coming attack.
Things could be worse. It's better if it's the GM that's sounding desperate rather than the players. If they were to internalize the doom and gloom surrounding the organization, the club's status as a wounded duck would only be intensified.
Just ask former Yankees manager Joe Torre.
"If you start to feel sorry for yourself," Torre told David Lennon of Newsday, "there will be a lot of people walking over the top of you."
This is a particularly real danger in the AL East. The Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays both topped the 90-win plateau in 2012, and the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox spent their winters totally overhauling their rosters. The Blue Jays look dangerous on paper, and John Tomase of the Boston Herald wrote this weekend that Boston's clubhouse is coming together as planned.
You can rest assured that these clubs like what they see when they look at the Yankees. And though nobody in pinstripes is going to admit to feeling the fear, you can rest assured that there's some uneasiness at the thought of how 2013 is going to unfold with the pile of bad news only getting bigger and bigger.
Yes, these are the Yankees we're talking about, but don't think they're incapable of feeling down in the dumps. The Yankees went through a trying season in 2008 that ultimately ended without a postseason berth, and it certainly wasn't happiness and sunshine all around the organization.
"The gloom in the organization seems to go all the way to the top," wrote Lynn Zinser of the New York Times that September. It was a justifiable sentiment at the time, as Hank Steinbrenner was busy doing his chip-off-the-old-block act and Joe Girardi was saying he was just as "upset" as the fans with where the Yankees were.
That, for the record, was nine games off the pace in the AL Wild Card race with three teams ahead of them, and the clock was ticking. The Yankees might as well have been putting the finishing touches on the grave site they had dug for themselves.
Because the Yankees indeed didn't make the playoffs in 2008, it's easy to forget that they didn't go quietly. They went on to win 10 out of 11 to make a spirited charge at the Wild Card. In the middle of it, Girardi remarked that a fine testament to the club's character was being penned.
"This is when character shows up," said Girardi, via MLB.com. "To me, this is when I like to watch people really work and see the character."
Though the Yankees did eventually watch the Wild Card go to the Red Sox, they still refused to back down. They ended the season by taking two out of three at Fenway Park. They seemed to say: "Yeah, well, take this!"
The Yankees have changed a lot since 2008, but the key figures are still in town. Girardi is still running the show, and the Bombers still feature usual suspects like Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, the last of whom could serve as the Yankees' personal Chipper Jones in what will be his final season in 2013.
Even if it didn't end in the result they were hoping for, Jeter, Pettitte, Rivera and other holdovers like Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain proved in 2008 that they were capable of doing the whole underdog thing. That same mentality would serve the Yankees well in 2013, and there's at least one guy on the roster who already has the team pegged as an underdog.
This would be Teixeira, who told Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News in February:
I really feel good about our team this year. It's actually fun when everyone else counts you out because it kind of makes guys want it a little bit more. Every year we want it, but this year especially, it's going to be even more of a challenge. I think that's going to make it more exciting as the year goes on.
Yeah, yeah. There's no such thing as an underdog with a $200 million payroll. And why should anybody listen to a guy who recently admitted to being overpaid and is now hurt?
Precisely because Teixeira labeled the Yankees as underdogs back in 2011 too, and his words proved to be prophetic.
"We're the underdogs this year," Teixeira said, via ESPNNewYork.com. "I love it. No one is picking us right now. Everyone in here should be looking forward to winning a championship. When you put on the pinstripes that is exactly what your goal should be every year. I think everyone understands that just because the public may not be picking us it doesn't mean we don't believe it in here."
At the time, Teixeira was responding to all the buzz surrounding the Red Sox after they signed Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. They looked like the clear prize of the American League and were surely destined to meet the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.
Sure enough, the Yankees went on to win 97 games and the AL East in 2011. While the Red Sox were busy collapsing to the tune of a 7-20 record in September, Teixeira and the Yankees went 16-12. That record would have been better had it not been for a four-game losing streak at the end that came after the Yankees had already clinched the division.
Granted, the 2013 Yankees aren't nearly as strong on paper as the 2011 Yankees were, and the AL East features more than just one big threat. An underdog mentality is only going to be able to do so much for the Yankees, and such a mentality isn't going to be easy to maintain if the club's luck with injuries during the season doesn't prove to be better than the club's luck with injuries in spring training.
But let's be real here. The Yankees really have no choice but to view themselves as an underdog heading into 2013 and to act accordingly. It's either that or act like nothing's wrong, which would be a misguided denial of reality, or let the negative buzz get to them, which would wouldn't be very Yankee-like.
No, embracing underdog status is the only way to go for these Yankees. If other teams can overcome adversity to be better than expected, they have to figure they can too.
The Yankees surely look like they're dying a slow death, and I might as well be honest and admit that I have very low expectations for them after all that's happened. But anybody who's been paying attention over the last two decades knows the Yankees must never be counted out—they're certainly not going to count themselves out. They'll do that once the coffin lid has been nailed home and the dirt has been piled on.
And even then...
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