Faces of the Yankees

Several of my colleagues here have shared thoughts on Derek Jeter‘s retirement announcement. Coming on the heels of Mariano Rivera‘s and Andy Pettitte‘s last year and Jorge Posada‘s the year before, the Core Four will be no more. I guess I have sadness at the end of these players’ careers, but not overly so. They all fulfilled great careers, two of which will end with the Hall of Fame beckoning. What I am more sad about is the Yankees of 2015. I have struggled to put my thoughts to words for a couple of weeks. So I guess I will go with a stream of consciousness to get it out. The overwhelming feeling is that the 2015 team might be a team where fondness is more difficult to come by.

The great thing about the Core Four was that they were home grown. We who observed their careers got the entire experience. We saw them as prospects, then coming to Spring Training for the first time. We got to see them as babies. We saw them develop into stars and great things happened. And then we watched them grow old and pile up satisfying numbers.

The reality is that since Lou Gehrig, with a year or two lapse here and there, there has been a long line of such players. Gehrig begat Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto. DiMaggio blended into Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard and Whitey Ford. Then there was Mel Stottlemyre, Bobby Murcer, Thurman Munson, Ron Guidry and then Dave Righetti. After a couple of dry years in the early 1980s, there was Don Mattingly who then led us to the Core Four.

There have been other players brought in that became stars, but there were always “our kids” who grew up to be long-lasting players that we enjoyed through the full cycle of their careers.

It has been well documented that the Yankees’ farm system has had a tough spell. Part of that is a product of success where you draft higher. There are other factors that have been discussed here before on these pages. So who will there be left in 2015?

We will have David Robertson and Brett Gardner. Robertson might be closer to being a star than Gardner, but do they fit the previous criteria? As such, the team has brought in a bunch of players from the outside. They will make the bulk of the team this year. Jeter, Gardner, Robertson, parts of the bullpen and the bench and Ivan Nova, who has a chance to be a star, but we still don’t buy it yet.

I was struggling to come up with some analogies to describe how I feel about all of this. And yeah, this is not anything close to an analytic or history piece. This is a fan piece, so thanks for coming along for the ride.

The closest I could come up with were these two:

Say you were a patriot during the Revolutionary War and you heard the American army was going to be parading through your town on the way to their next position. You drop your hoe and your scythe and run to the main street to see your army and cheer them on. When the army finally arrives, it is four units of French Soldiers. Uh. Well. Okay. Thanks and beat those Red Sox Coats!

Now imagine that you start with a bunch of kids learning instruments and you go to school concerts starting in early elementary school. You continue to follow them as they get to high school and then watch them in concerts and marching during football games. They have come a long way and then they get an invitation to march in the Macy’s Parade.

You turn on the parade on HGTV, because they don’t have commercials, and wait for your band to come marching by the camera. When they finally do, they are a bunch of hired musicians to make the band look better than it would have been with “our kids.”.

This is a fan experience that is quite different than say Cardinals and Red Sox fans are experiencing. All teams enhance through trades, free agency and overseas markets. But there is still a core of home talent that gives you some sense of ownership and pride.

The Yankees have long been associated with the Roman or evil empire. But the Romans were more fun when they were fighting their own battles than when their army became largely mercenary.

Perhaps I am making too much of this. Maybe this is just my problem. You might not see things the same way. You might just require a competitive team wearing the appropriate cap and uniform with a chance to win. Maybe I should too. Maybe I probably will.

This feeling for me started last year when Jeter was unavailable. It was only broken on the occasions where Pettitte or Rivera pitched. Most of the rest of the time was an uninspiring wish for some Overbay or Wells or whomever to get a hit. Last year began an ennui for me of not having a feeling of association for the team.

The sadness of Jeter retiring is not for the loss of watching Jeter play. I am satisfied with the career and success he had. I don’t want him to embarrass himself. The sadness for me is not feeling some sort of connection to those that are left after he is gone.

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.

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