I wanted to write this post before the Wild Card Game and before a 162nd game that will be meaningless on Sunday. The Red Sox have won the AL East and the Yankees have home field and will host the Twins on Tuesday for the "All or nothing" format. I did not want any of those events to color what the 2017 Yankees have brought me this season. The season has been the most fun I have ever had watching this great franchise I have been rooting for since 1965 (or thereabouts).
I say all this despite the glory years of 1996-2000--including the 1998 juggernaut. I say this despite the 1976-1978 Yankee seasons. I also say it despite the absolute joy of watching the marvelous Mariano Rivera and the suave Derek Jeter. My conclusion might differ from yours but there is a reason. For many of you fans of this site, you live in NYC or the suburbs and get to watch YES or WPIX every day and have for years. But that is not the case for me.
I am an ex-pat and moved away from the metro-NYC area in 1975 and have not been back except for a handful of brief visits. The timing of the move is very important in my bottom-line fun meter. Frankly, I did not get to see a whole lot of the great teams of 1977, 78, 96, 98, 99 and 2000. I did not have cable for several of those first years and was lucky to catch the Saturday Games Of The Week and the playoffs and World Series.
Even once cable became a reality, MLB.tv was not a "thing" until the last several years. So there were still only twenty or thirty games a year I could watch. And, yeah, 2007 was a year to remember and I did get to watch many of those games. That last hurrah of Mo and Jetes was very gratifying.
But there was something else. The Jeter-captained teams were all business. Oh, maybe Nick Swisher was an outlier, but the team never really made you laugh and share in the experience (except when Mo cried). They were all about class and dignity and professionalism. I am okay with most of that as it sure beat having teams with players that looked like cavemen. But Jeter set the example and there was a remoteness to it all.
When I finally did get to watch the team on a full-time basis, the glory years were fading. Jeter was still getting accolades though his play no longer deserved them and Joe Girardi could never quite replace Joe Torre in my heart. These teams always seemed to be missing something. The ghosts were gone from the team's home park and the playoffs were mostly failures with a few exceptions.
And the last couple of years were pure drudgery. Old players. Stubborn players who were pull happy and easy to predict. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner never seemed to gel as a tandem. Mark Teixeira's taped interviews were much more fun than watching him hit. There was the constant A-Rod drama (though I was always in the guy's corner and still am). CC Sabathia lost his fastball. It was boring baseball except for the goodbyes and drama of the inevitable retirements.
This year's fun actually started with the trading deadline of 2016 when the Yankees finally allowed their General Manager to clean a little house and add a ton of young talent. It also began with the call-up of Gary Sanchez. His outright replacement of the boring Brian McCann said that change was coming and we had something new to look forward to for 2017.
And then the year began and Aaron Judge became back page news everywhere. The 23-year-old Luis Severino became the new ace of the pitching staff. Ronald Torreyes was fine when he filled in at short and at second. For the first time in recent memory, a young player like Aaron Hicks was allowed to replace and kick a highly paid guy like Ellsbury to the bench. It was just different.
Even more different was that this team seemed to really have fun playing baseball. Is there a more infectious smile in baseball than Sir Didi Gregorius'? The "all-business" approach of Jeter was gone and the team always seemed loose and fun. Torreyes has become the center of the circus as the recent "Toe-night Show" interviews in the dugout is just the latest example. I have never smiled or laughed this much while watching the New York Yankees.
What follows is a list of my favorite parts of 2017:
- Of course it starts with Aaron Judge. How can anything top the season we just watched!? The Home Run Derby. The resurrection of September. The bombs he hit that amazed even players he played with and against. I don't know how Judge can top this season. But I'll worry about that later. Right now, it was the most fun ride I've enjoyed by a Yankee since Ron Guidry's 1978 season.
- I never thought Luis Severino would be a good starting pitcher. I was convinced he would become a bullpen guy. I was wrong. He has been amazing. He needs to be amazing for one more game!
- CC Sabathia's season. I love a good comeback story. And yeah, he still had a four and a half FIP, but the old guy went 15-5. I loved that.
- The return of David Robertson. When he comes in a game, I just feel better.
- Chad Green. Was that fun to watch or what!?
- Didi Gregorius. 3.7 rWAR, 3.9 fWAR. I never thought I would see that. But he carried the team at several points in the season.
- Gary Sanchez proving that last season was not a fluke. He is this good. Yes, it would be nice if he could concentrate 24-hours a day. But maybe he'll get there.
- I have to throw this one in there: Wasn't it great that Jose Bautista sucked this season? Well, call me twisted, but I sure enjoyed the heck out of that. It was also nice not to have to look at David Ortiz anymore.
- I did not even miss Michael Pineda. Am I a bad person?
- The respect I gained for Chase Headley. He never complained. He tried hard and had his share of good moments.
- Jordan Montgomery's season. He wasn't great. But he was good on several occasions and he's only 24.
- Every endearing thing that Torreyes does. Even his refusal to take a walk is sort of charming.
- Aroldis Chapman coming back and spitting fire again after his dismal stretch.
It sure was fun. There were a few non-fun things:
- Joe Girardi willing to throw away games to give players a rest.
- The constant lineup changes.
- Every time Starlin Castro swung at a pitch outside or in the dirt. I'm still not sure he is the second baseman of the future for this team.
- All the strikeouts by the offense.
- Dellin Betances walking and hitting batters.
- Greg Bird losing most of another season.
- The maddening inconsistency of Masahiro Tanaka.
- The heartbreak of Dustin Fowler.
- The lack of a backup catcher.
But those are the kinds of problems that every team faces during long seasons. The bottom line is that there were no expectations for this team. None. Yet, they won over 90 games. There were thrills, new superheroes and a youth movement that we can root for for years to come.
But best of all was watching the team in the dugout having a blast playing a game they are all blessed to play. I thoroughly enjoyed the season. I hope they go far in the post-season. If they do, it will be icing on the cake. If they do not, there is still much to look forward to and no matter what, 2017 was a season to savor until Spring Training brings us our next adventure.