Of all of the various memes and conventional claptrap the New York media obsesses over where the Yankees are concerned, by far my least favorite has to be the “What Would George do” style of analysis. To be blunt, the answer to that question is almost always “something incredibly petulant and ill advised that does more harm than good to the Yankees in the long run.” Remember those incredible dynasties the Yankees built in the 1980’s and mid-aughts? Yeah, me neither, and there’s a reason for that. On the one hand, Steinbrenner’s brand of hyper-reactionary management is simply ill suited to running a team in the sport of the 162 game regular season, and on the other hand, it’s incredibly hard to consistently survive and advance in the modern postseason tournament, even for the best teams.
Not that silly little facts like that have ever stood in the way of a good old fashioned tabloid narrative, however, so today I bring you the stylings of Mike Lupica:
The comments from members of the Yankees’ high command after the team doesn’t make it to the World Series have become as predictable as their baseball team not making it to the World Series.
Once the bottom line for Steinbrenner the Elder was winning it all, or else. For his heirs, it seems the bottom line is more about profit and loss, and that sure doesn’t mean the kind of loss the Yankees just suffered at the hands of the Tigers.
You better believe the Yankees are the most successful regular-season team of all time, even more successful than the Atlanta Braves were when they kept making the playoffs in the 1990s. And the Braves, by the way, didn’t just make the playoffs, they made it to four World Series in that decade.
This is 2012. Starting in 2002, the Yankees have made it to the World Series twice over the past decade, have won one. The people in charge still make it sound as if the Yankees not making the Series is some kind of aberration. Actually it’s become the norm. In that decade we’re talking about, the Yankees have lost in the first round five times.
There’s some level of truth here: the Yankees’ brass is certainly more content to accept that a season that includes a division championship and an ALCS appearance is a successful one than they were when George Steinbrenner was running the team. I, however, would contend that this is an unmitigated good thing for the organization. Of all of the silly things Yankee fans believe about their team, the “World Series or bust” attitude is by far the most ridiculous and unrealistic, a standard that not even the Golden Era Yankees could actually live up to.
Let’s go ahead and use Lupica’s standard, even though there’s something rather obviously arbitrary and beginning our count with 2002. In addition to the Yankees, only six teams (Giants, Red Sox, Cardinals, Tigers, Phillies, and Rangers) have made the World Series more than once, only St. Louis has made the Fall Classic three times (the Giants will add their name to that list if they come back in this year’s NLCS), and only the Cardinals and Red Sox won the Series more than once. The Cardinals appear to be the class of this list, but then they probably deserve an asterisk of some sort for their two World Series victories, given that they won just 83 games in 2006, and backed into the wild card in 2011 as part of that Game 162 madness. Call me crazy, but I don’t think a team that was a Craig Kimbrel save away from sitting at home in October is really much of a case study in building a consistent champion.
And all things considered, which other franchise that won’t be making the World Series would you rather be? The two best teams in the National League both lost in the ALDS, and each in rather spectacular fashion. The Nationals blew a big lead in Game Five at home to allow the Cardinals to advance, while the Reds lost three straight games at home after taking a 2-0 lead in the series. The Rangers, once thought to be the consensus best team in baseball, didn’t even win their division and lost the new wild card game to Baltimore at home. Add in Oakland’s loss to Detroit, and the Yankees were actually the only top seeded team in all of baseball to advance as far as the ALCS.
This is the simple reality of the modern MLB, and the 2012 Yankees are a perfect example of it. After all, who are you going to peg as the new “Mr. May?” Robinson Cano, who set a new standard for futility at the plate this October? He was plenty good in the postseason in 2010 and 2011. C.C. Sabathia, who became the only Yankee starter to give up more than three runs in Game Four of the ALCS? he was fantastic in the 2012 ALDS, getting all but one out in his two starts and pitching the Yankees to a win over Baltimore with a complete game in Game Five. Raul Ibanez could have knocked in the go ahead run in the ninth inning of Game Three in the ALCS and turned the series around, and instead he struck out to put the Bombers on the brink of elimination. Then again, who can forget his heroics from previous games in the playoffs? Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher? Their struggles didn’t keep the Yankees from advancing to the ALCS, did they?
At the end of the day, there’s just nothing you can do to guard against a postseason let down. There’s no magic formula to putting together a victory in three consecutive short series, and the only thing you can do is hope that the bounces go your way and that you don’t go into a team wide funk at the wrong time. That’s what happened to the Yankees this year, but it doesn’t negate the fact that they won more games than any other American League team and went deeper into the postseason than 26 other teams did, including some pretty darn good teams in their own right. If the Yankees need to engage in some ritual self-flagellation and blow this team up or change their organizational philosophy over a span of four games, what about the other 28 teams who won’t be winning the World Series this year either?