Since 1995, the New York Yankees have been in the playoffs every year except one—2008.
As a result, the current generation of Yankee fans is spoiled. We, who are Yankee fans have lived the past 16 years watching players such as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neil, Tino Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, etc.
This writer was born in 1953. That year, the Yanks won their fifth World Series in a row, although my memories of the victory are a little vague, being that I was six months old.
The next year, the Yanks won 103 games, but the Indians won 111 and went to the World Series and I was devastated.
It was the first time in my life my Yankees had not been in the Fall Classic.
For the next 10 years, the Yankees would appear in all but one World Series. As I left short pants and began to play sandlot ball myself, I naturally assumed that every World Series was played in Yankee Stadium.
In 1964, when I was 11 years old, the Yankees met the St. Louis Cardinals in the Series and lost in seven games. Saddened, I found consolation in knowing that next year my team would be back to try for another championship.
But 1965 was different. Incredibly, the Yanks had a losing record that year at 77-85.
Mickey Mantle was a shadow of himself and Tom Tresh led the team in both batting average and home runs. Whitey Ford still won 16 games and Mel Stottlemyre won 20, but my Yanks finished sixth in the 10 team league.
1966 was even worse, with a record of 70-89 and the Yankees finished in the cellar.
In 1967, they were 72-90 and finished ninth.
1968 saw a winning record of 83-79 as they finished fifth.
In 1969, they were 80-81 in the first year of division play and they were fifth out of six teams in the AL East.
In 1970, they improved to 93-69, good enough for second place in the division.
In 1971, the Yanks slipped back to 82-80 and finished fourth in the division.
They would remain fourth in a six team division for the next two years, with records of 79-76 in 1972 and 80-82 in 1973.
In 1974, they won nine more games and rose to second in the AL East, but in 1975, they slid back to 83-77 as the hated Red Sox went to the World Series against the Big Red Machine of Cincinnati.
The first four years of the 12 year decline saw Yankee shortstops named Phil Linz and Horace Clark and Ruben Amaro and Tom Tresh.
By 1968, the same Tom Tresh who had led the Yankees in average and home runs in 1965, would play 152 games at shortstop and hit only .195 with 11 home runs.
Mickey Mantle would play his last year at first base and hit .237.
The Yankee teams of the late 60s and early 70s would feature a shortstop named Gene Michael; a catcher named Jake Gibbs; third basemen with names such as Jerry Kenney and Bobby Cox and outfielders named Andy Kosko and Ron Swoboda and Jim Lyttle.
During these years, I was a kid going through adolescence and into young adulthood who had grown up with heroes like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Whitey Ford, Roger Maris, Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek.
I didn’t know what was going on and didn’t know anything about the CBS ownership and how screwed up things really were in management.
Eventually, I would see teams with a catcher named Munson, a first baseman named Mattingley, a second baseman named Randolph, a third baseman named Nettles and outfielders named Jackson and Winfield.
And there would be pitchers like Sparky Lyle, Goose Gossage and Ron Guidry.
But it was a long wait.
Finally in 1976, after the most interminable period of my life the Yankees won their division and faced the Kansas City Royals in the one level playoff of that era. They had won 97 games in the regular season.
I will never forget the shabby one bedroom apartment in which I lived in 1976, with huge dinner plate sized flowers on the wall paper.
There, late on the night of October 14, 1976, I watched the unorthodox swing of Chris Chambliss lift a ball over the right field wall and the Yankees headed to the World Series for the first time since I was 11 years old.
Yankee fans today should thank their lucky stars for the Steinbrenner family and the system known as free agency.
And for home grown products like Jeter, Posada, Pettitte and Rivera.
But the stars of the past sixteen years are gone or going. Lest we become too spoiled and think the success can never end, study the history of the game and realize that the greatest franchise in sports history went through a period of some of the worst teams the sport has ever seen.