Anyone who followed baseball had good reason to believe that after their run of four championships—culminating in their 2000 throttling of the NY Mets—the NY Yankees would continue ever-onward in a predictable trajectory of more championships into the new century. Alas, it was not to be.
As one who enjoys watching Yankee post-season failure, the last 11 years have provided a rewarding spectacle of a team that succeeds in the regular season, only to follow it with a surprising collapse in the playoffs.
Their most recent loss to the Detroit Tigers in the AL division series had an air of predictability to it. Players who had looked dominant during the regular season failed to perform at a level necessary to move the team to the next round.
Did anyone, Yankees fan or not, expect Alex Rodriguez to deliver with the bases loaded in the seventh inning last night? Anybody who has two eyes has watched this movie before: Rodriguez grimacing and tensing up, and then looking hopelessly overmatched while swinging at strike three.
While watching the abject futility of Rodriguez, I was reminded of similar implosions by other Yankee would-be stars of the last decade, almost always free-agent acquisitions playing under the pressure of immense contracts: Jason Giambi looking utterly lost against the Florida Marlins and Josh Beckett in game 7 of the 2003 World Series; Kevin Brown’s meltdown against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS in 2004; Randy Johnson’s flame-outs against the Anaheim Angels in 2005 and the Tigers in 2006; and of course, A-Rod in almost every playoff series he’s played in from 2005 through 2011, with the notable exception of 2009.
The failure of these baseball mercenaries may well have to do with the crushing weight of unreasonable expectations the Yankees play under. They all pay lip service to the Yankee Way: that championships are the only real measure. But, then there is this strange quality of their play in the games once they really count and the pressure is ratcheted up. They appear tense, without any spark, and look visibly burdened.
This is an institutional problem. Listen to what GM Brian Cashman had to say after the game last night: “Winning the World Series is the responsibility of being a Yankee and this franchise and the commitment this ownership group has on behalf of its fan base. The bar is set high for a reason. That’s the model that the Boss (George Steinbrenner) made it, and that’s how it has to be and how it’s always going to be."
Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Winning a championship is now, somehow, a player's "responsibilty". Is it any wonder Yankees fans have such a dismal sense of entitlement? This is the law as laid down by Steinbrenner—that anything less than a championship is a failure. I can’t imagine that playing for a team which breeds this particular ethos is conducive to staying loose and enjoying yourself. No wonder A-Rod looks like he’d rather be anywhere rather than at the plate when the game is on the line.
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