After winning four World Series in five years between 1996 to 2000, the Yankees and their fans expect to win the Series every year.
After reading “The Yankee Years” by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci, it’s a wonder they even made the playoffs with some of the flawed teams they’ve fielded since 2002..
Joe Torre’s reign in the Bronx is easily pared into two distinct eras — the first six years, where the Yankees won four World Series and lost the seventh game of another, and the second six years, where in spite of making the playoffs every year, the team won a single American League pennant and no championships.
In those first six years, Torre went from being “Clueless Joe” to one of the most popular managers in New York history. Until he came to the Yankees, Torre had never been to a World Series as a player or a manager. His first Yankee team won the World Series in 1996, breaking an 18-year drought for the Bombers. He then won three World Series in a row from 1998 through 2000, before losing a heartbreaker to Arizona in 2001.
Those Yankee teams had talent for sure, but they weren’t overloaded with superstars. Like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, David Cone and others, Paul O’Neill epitomized the grit and will to win of those championship squads.
‘Passion for Success’
“He wanted to get his hits, but his hits were important to him because of the success of the team.” is how Torre described O’Neill in “The Yankee Years. ” There are a lot of guys who want a hit every at-bat, but this guy, it was more about not letting the other 24 guys down. If he didn’t do enough to help the team win the game, he felt like he let everyone down. And I think people fed off that, that his passion for success and how that translated to the team’s success was what was important to him.”
As the Yankees entered the second six years, the back nine of the Torre era, things suddenly changed. The Yankees stopped winning the big games. They dropped a World Series to an overmatched Florida team in 2003, then blew a 3-0 lead to the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS. In Torre’s last three years, the Yanks had to battle to make the playoffs — and each year lost in the first round.
In 2004, the Yankees signed Alex Rodriguez to the biggest contract in baseball history. The attitude of the team changed beyond the band-of-brothers mentality of the championship clubs. Roles were reversed. The Yankees under Torre would never be the same.
“When Alex came over it became strained in the clubhouse,” said Torre in “The Yankee Years.” “I can’t tell your for sure who you can put a finger on there, or if it was just one of those things that was pretty much unavoidable with the strong personalities.”
Failing in the Clutch
Most alarming of all was A-Rod’s lack of production in the clutch, and in the post-season in particular.
“When it comes to a key situation,” said Torre, “he can’t get himself to concern himself with getting the job done, instead of how it looks…..There’s a sort of trust, a trust and commitment thing that has to allow yourself to fail. Allow yourself to be embarrassed. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. And sometimes players aren’t willing to do that. They have a reputation to uphold. They have to have answer for it. It’s an ego thing.”
Even though he’s the lightning rod, it’s unfair to pin all the blame on Rodriguez. There’s also the issue of front office judgement, of over-paying for pitchers who didn’t get the job done in pinstripes.
Beginning in 2003, the Yankees brought in 12 pitchers from outside the organization….none of who pitched three straight years with the Yankees. The dirty dozen — Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, Jaret Wright, Jeff Weaver, Steve Karsay, Esteban Loaiza, Kyle Farnsworth, Jose Contreras, Javier Vazquez, Kei Igawa, Carl Pavano, Roger Clemens (the older version) — combined for a 125-105 record, 3-7 in the post-season. The cost per win was $2.04 million if you do the math. That pretty much sums it up.
Whether you love the Yankees or hate ‘em, “The Yankee Years” is a must read for all baseball fans